There is a myth surrounding one of the first ever films shown to the public. ‘L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat’ released in 1896 or, ‘Train Pulling into a Station’ as it is known in English, was supposed to be so new, so real, that as they watched a film showing a train moving towards the camera the audience panicked and frantically left their seats to escape the danger. After experiencing Steam’s Virtual Reality through the HTC Vive, I can safely say I believe this myth to be true, as during my twenty minute demonstration I felt an abundance of emotion that no entertainment experience had ever given me before.
The Nvidia booth at this year’s Euro Gamer Expo was a large square section with three smaller rooms, all behind a black curtain. Behind this black curtain was a room big enough to walk around in, with a computer in the corner and a wired HTC Vive VR headset in the centre of the room. I was given the headset, some headphones and two white controllers. Later an Nvidia representative would inform me that these controllers were actually just a Steam controller merely split in two, though they were shaped more like wii motes with the circular touchpads added. Two base stations placed in the room tracked the movement of the headset and the controllers.
Immediately after placing the headset on, I was in a white blank room with hovering screens in front of me boasting screenshots of the demo’s experiences. Presumably there to introduce you to the basics of VR and the controllers, the person manning the corner computer told me to press the left touch-pad, and immediately a balloon erupted from the end of it, I was then told to use the second controller to hit it away. This is such a simple task but it feels real; as I hit the balloon the controller vibrated enough to give just the right amount of feedback, and looking around the room to see where the balloon flew to once you hit it, is a bizarre experience.
After knowing the basics, the next program loads and I found myself stood on the bow of an underwater wreckage. Initially I just looked around, up and down, left and right, behind me, there was no lag, there were no blank spaces, it was full immersion. I then began to walk around the boat, as I moved towards the end of the deck I looked over and felt vertigo as I stared into the depths of the ocean. My chest fluttered and despite being fully aware it was not real I could not bring myself to step over the edge, before I could a massive whale emerged from my peripheral vision and swam past me. I couldn’t feel the water, but as I reached my hand out towards the whale the specs in the water moved, and the smaller fish swam away. Before the whale left, its tail swooped down quickly and I immediately jumped back, just like the people running away from an image of a train, I jumped away from a virtual whale.
The next program loads and is more comical, I was stood in a kitchen with each controller representing a white glove, there were instructions on the wall with ingredients for a soup and a pot to the right, using the triggers to grab items I picked them up and put them in the pot, simple enough. Then I needed a third mushroom but it was nowhere to be seen, the person over the headset told me to look in the fridge and I suddenly realised I was playing as if it was a 2D screen, I stared only forward and saw only what was in front of me. Turning around I saw I was in a fully rendered kitchen and my goal was to walk over to the fridge, open it, and grab the third mushroom. The motion was tracked perfectly, I moved through virtual reality in the same speed I moved in reality, I grabbed the mushroom and walked back to the counter to place it in the pot. It was a completely new way of playing a videogame and took me time to adjust and learn to play it that way.
A more artistic program launched afterwards, stood in a black room the circular touchpads became animated and the left one became a colour wheel, whilst a 3D box was generated at the end of the controller. I used the right controller to select the items I wanted from the box, rotating my left hand to reveal the side of the cube I needed. My right hand now a paintbrush I painted swirls in various colours, and brush sizes that remained still in mid-air. I could move around them as I painted and followed the mid-air strokes as they appeared, the potential for artists to construct fully 3D immersive images is incredible and I’m already excited to see what people make with this simple program.Aperture Robot Repair
The final program showed Steam’s influence as it featured characters from Portal 2. All the elements of the previous experiences prepared me for this one as I was tasked with fixing the Blue Robot. After moving around the room to grab certain tools and press switches eventually a door opens and Blue stumbles in, broken with sparks flying from his chassis I jumped back from the robot, terrified, I even covered my eyes from the virtual sparks. Eventually I neared the robot, tried and failed to fix him and was confronted by GLaDOS the psychopathic computer program from the portal series who informed me I was useless and not fit for life anymore, the room began to dismantle in front of me and robots tore sections away, I frantically looked around as the floor began to fall from underneath me, as each panel left I jumped to the next, genuinely scared I pushed myself up against the virtual wall to remain safe as the demo ended.
I left the room, steeled myself and chatted to the Nvidia rep about the tech used (GTX 980 ti apparently) and walked away. Holding back the emotion built up as I just experienced the most incredible ground-breaking experience of my life, VR made me cry.
Video Games play a huge part in people’s lives, for many they are the way friendships are made, they are a way of interacting with people in an entirely modern way, whether they are sat next to you on the sofa or at the other side of the planet. They transport us to new worlds and allow us to be immersed in stories and experiences that no other medium of entertainment can. Virtual Reality, I can safely say is the future, it takes these experiences that we love and makes them real. No longer a separate entity you become part of the experience, you are the main character as you look around the virtual world you inhabit. Your instincts react as naturally as if they were surrounded by real life, this will change the way we see the world, the way we teach and learn, the way we work and the way we build relationships, Virtual Reality is almost here and it’s going to change everything.
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Currently living in a tiny Village in North Yorkshire with the Missus and our two cats, Knuckles and Snape. I've been into gaming ever since having to decide between the Sega Mega Drive or a SNES at age two, (Sonic won me over in the end) and I'm a collector of all things Zelda. Mistook my adoration of Videogames and ended up doing a Bachelors in Film production, then ended up living in America for a short while and then Vancouver, Canada for 2 years. Now I'm back home, living in the middle of no-where ready to live the dream and write about Video games!