I began 2017 reeling about my office, bumping into my desk, toppling over books, and scraping paint off the wall with a controller. Though I wouldn’t have had a problem passing a breathalyzer test, I was, without question, intoxicated by room-scale, virtual reality (VR).
Competently executed VR is remarkable. Objects feel more immediately present than in any 3-D film and you can almost sense VR rewiring your brain. It doesn’t require a crystal ball to grasp that future generations will judge most of today’s VR tech as the elementary building blocks of a popular medium.
Until recently, however, just one of the VR titles that I played, “Rez Infinite,” held my attention for hours on end. VR reminds me of the old arcade days where novelty often takes the place of depth; presently, the sheer force of technical innovation is bound to satiate many tastes. There is something inherently satisfying about dropping into a near all-encompassing other world without leaving one’s dwelling. I’ve seen people with no interest in video games excitedly respond to simple tech demos designed to acclimate one to a VR space.
Yet, for all of my general familiarity with the titles for Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR I didn’t expect the Oculus Touch, which was introduced last month, to have quite the transformative character that it does.
The controllers recreate the look of a left and a right hand in a virtual environment. This facilitates a range of physical expressions unmatched by the Xbox One controller that previously served as Oculus’s main input device.
The Touch also comes packaged with a motion sensor that, when coupled with the sensor that ships with the headset, allows for larger VR playgrounds. After setting up the Guardian System, which demarcates your activity area by creating a virtual fence, I tried out the tutorial demo Oculus “First Contact” which places you in a room with a 3D printer that’s capable of making butterflies and other doodads. Walking around its 80s-style environment, complete with a boxy-looking robot and a conspicuous VHS tape, while simultaneously walking around my office was an enchanting experience. Ambling about a virtual environment as opposed to surveying it with one’s eyes is radically more transporting.
Of all the Oculus Touch titles that I tried, “The Climb” and “Superhot VR” were the most impressive. It’s not an overstatement to say that both titles provided me with some of the most blissful gaming experiences I’ve had since I was a kid. “The Climb” allows players to scale the Alps and other vertiginous locations. Although I’d previously tried the game using an Xbox One controller, there is simply no comparing how much better it works using the Touch. It’s one thing to scramble up a promontory by pushing thumbsticks around and quite another to have to throw one’s arms into the act.
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I found “Superhot” difficult to play in the confines of my office where, at times, a life-saving weapon beckoned just out of reach past a real-world wall, which was impossible to circumvent. So I moved my computer setup out into my living room and pushed all of the furniture toward the perimeter of the room.
Over the past week, I’ve had a number of friends come over to try out this temporary arrangement and Superhot was everyone’s favorite. One friend who tried the Oculus took off the headset after a couple of rounds and start pacing about the room. When I asked him why he had stopped playing, he replied over and over, “It’s too shocking.”
Welcome to the future.