Vir­tual in­san­ity

GAX (Malaysia) - - SPIN OFF - By Sharmine Ishak

I first ex­pe­ri­enced ‘vir­tual re­al­ity’ in 1996, when I vis­ited the Na­tional Sci­ence Cen­ter to see an ex­hi­bi­tion on the fu­ture of gam­ing. Strapped into a makeshift hel­met, I played a round or two of clas­sic DOOM with a ba­sic hand­held con­troller. While its im­ple­men­ta­tion was overly sim­plis­tic by to­day’s stan­dards, I was quite im­mersed in the ses­sion. With the screen wrapped around my field of vi­sion, I nearly pulled away from the ma­chine in an at­tempt to ‘move’ in game – de­spite there be­ing no head track­ing to em­u­late my move­ment.

“This is what gam­ing will be like some­day,” said the at­ten­dant, as she helped me out of the hel­met. “VR head­sets will be com­mon in the homes of the fu­ture.” I re­mem­ber be­ing im­pressed by the thought of it, but won­dered if such a tech­nol­ogy would be too niche or ex­pen­sive to own, even in the fu­ture.

Fast for­ward 20 years later, we have fi­nally caught up with those dreams of VR. With to­day’s pro­cess­ing power and ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies that en­able depth, ori­en­ta­tion, and po­si­tional track­ing, we are able to ex­pe­ri­ence VR in the com­fort of our homes or any­where on the go with our smart­phone – the lat­ter of which is pos­si­ble, thanks to built-in ac­celerom­e­ters and gy­ro­scopes.

The ad­vent of VR opens up new di­men­sions in video gam­ing, as it en­ables play­ers to see the vir­tual world from a first-per­son per­spec­tive. While video games have al­ready been an ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, VR makes it all the more per­son­al­ized and en­gross­ing, as it lit­er­ally puts play­ers in the shoes of the pro­tag­o­nists, and gives de­vel­op­ers new, in­no­va­tive ways of telling sto­ries.

Cue prod­ucts like Su­per­mas­sive Games’ The In­pa­tient, which will be re­leased later this month. The psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror puts play­ers in the eyes of a pa­tient locked in a strange med­i­cal fa­cil­ity, which slowly un­rav­els its se­crets as play­ers progress in the game. It is an ex­pe­ri­ence that only VR can of­fer, which can be both stress­ful and ex­cit­ing (that is, if you are a hor­ror buff).

From ex­plor­ing outer space to div­ing into the deep sea, VR gives gamers new worlds to dis­cover in ways that would other­wise be dan­ger­ous or im­pos­si­ble. By com­bin­ing the use of re­mote con­trollers, which fa­cil­i­tate in­ter­ac­tion within the vir­tual world, play­ers can get a more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence than be­fore. Gone are the days we play from the com­fort of our couch. Th­ese days, we are ex­pected to move around a vir­tual room by ac­tu­ally walk­ing in the space around us.

The good news is that most VR ex­pe­ri­ences to­day are not ex­pen­sive or in­ac­ces­si­ble, and de­vices can be eas­ily pur­chased from your neigh­bor­hood elec­tron­ics store. While there are vary­ing plat­forms for th­ese dif­fer­ent VR head­sets, rang­ing from Sony’s PlayS­ta­tion VR for the PS4, to the Ocu­lus Rift and the HTC Vive for the PC, the prom­ise of VR re­mains the same: pro­vid­ing com­plete es­capism.

De­spite that, VR as a tech­nol­ogy is rel­a­tively new, and con­sumers have yet to warm up to its of­fer­ings. Not ev­ery­one is able to strap into a head­set with­out leav­ing abruptly when they be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence mo­tion sick­ness and nau­sea, as the body at­tempts to bal­ance and cope with the il­lu­sion of move­ment. This of­ten hap­pens to those who play first­per­son games as well, so un­less play­ers are ac­cus­tomed to nav­i­gat­ing a dig­i­tal space in first-per­son view, ex­pect VR to cre­ate some form of dis­ori­en­ta­tion.

Yet there is a lot of room for growth in VR, and as the tech­nol­ogy im­proves, we can look for­ward to bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ences in the fu­ture. From head­sets with higher pixel den­sity and vis­ual fidelity, to the pos­si­bil­ity of in­cor­po­rat­ing 3D, who knows where VR is headed? One thing is for sure, and it is clear that while VR is here to stay, not ev­ery ‘home of the fu­ture’ will find a place for it.

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