About a week ago Britelite had a shiny new box show up at the office (it was actually matte cardboard… but hey) and it was finally time to dive into the world of HTC Vive. We had been looking forward to this for some time, as we had tried pre-production versions of the Vive and the previews were exciting to say the least.
Unboxing and setup
The Vive ships in a nicely designed, large box that houses the many components that you will need to get this unit up and running. While the Vive promises some revolutionary features when compared to Oculus, it also boasts a complementary increase in hardware. The vive ships with the headset, controllers, computer interface and sensors that need to be mounted on the wall or ceiling, oh and lots of cables.
Britelite has a dedicated R&D lab that we use for all our large scale testing and it seemed like the ideal place for a Vive setup. After delivering the unit down to the R&D lab I expected to come back in an hour to check out the awesome. Three hours later we were just putting the final touches on the system. Now, we did take more care than most probably would in setting up the unit, and ran the cables through the ceiling to keep them out of view, but this is still quite a first time setup for a device of this type. We had the new Oculus setup in about 15 minutes.
So I had used the Vive in testing before, but something about really being able to dive in and explore it made this experience that much more impressive, and it really is impressive. The trade off for the extra setup time is that the head and motion tracking on this unit is absolutely fantastic. This is the first VR experience that I can spend time in and really feel comfortable. I usually can only use an Oculus or other headsets for a few minutes and then I feel a little motion sick, however, with the Vive the tracking is so accurate that it feels incredibly natural to hang out in.
The other thing that you notice immediately when putting on the headset is that the graphical quality of the Vive is really spectacular. On paper the specs are similar to the Oculus, but in practice it just looks better. When I put on the Vive, I felt I was in a more colorful, animated version of the real world, not a virtual reality construction like with other headsets. The meticulous tracking and high visual quality just does what VR should do… It takes you to another world. Every time I take it off I am surprised about how low res the real world is.
The first thing we did when we got it working was fire up Tilt Brush for everyone in the office to try. Tilt brush is a really unique drawing program that allows you to doodle in 3d space. For most of our staff it was the first time using this and the tilt brush experience immediately spoke to most people. There is something really unique about being able to drop paint and light into 3d space and just draw with it. We were able to create 3d sculpture like drawings and art that was unlike anything that is possible in the real world.
Tilt brush is really more like a beautiful, 3d version of MS paint than it is a version of photoshop. The brushes are relatively simple and easy to get into, and there are just enough features and effects to keep it interesting without having a steep learning curve. The control is very intuitive with one controller being used to point at and select from a palate of options on the other. It reminded me of using an interface in a sci-fi spacesuit, which feels right for this type of experience.
In addition to free drawing, we were able to see how this could be used for project development. The “draw in a holodeck” nature of this program allows us to sketch out what an installation might look like and then stand in front of it and get immediate feedback on its use. We also see the ability to wireframe VR experiences that we are developing, and actually show our developers what we envision as opposed to trying to describe it. Overall, it could be a great tool for iteration in the VR space where traditional rendered builds would take much longer to process.
The Blu is much closer to what I would call a traditional VR experience, but the Vive allows it to be more immersive and impactful. The Blu is a VR experience game where you are put into one of three underwater scenes and are allowed to explore your limited surroundings. Each experience feels meaningfully different and gives the player something compelling to experience.
I found the deep water experience particularly compelling as you are left in a deep abyss with a flashlight to look at different elements. When you drop your flashlight down however and look at your surrounding you see all the bioluminescent sea life that is surrounding you. It is a creepy yet beautiful experience that really made me realize the potential for immersion that the Vive really offers. It feels so incredibly urgent and real, and unlike any VR experience I have had before.
One of the things I hear a lot from people trying the Vive is, “this is cool, but you could never do a shooter because you can’t move enough.” Well Hover Junkers proved everyone wrong and found a really compelling, fun and simple dynamic for a multiplayer shooter in VR. In Hover Junkers you are in control of a mini version of Jabba’s sail barge as you hover around and try to shoot opposing players with one of several firearms. It is an excellent experience and one that shows a lot of potential for the future of games in the Vive.
Hover Junkers has some really interesting dynamics and you can see where the developers spent time to really figure out the multiplayer shooter dynamic in the VR world. Moving the player around on a junker is a perfect dynamic to keep the game fast but keep you safely in the confines of the Vive’s predefined space. Playing the game gets intense in a hurry. You are started on a Junker and given a case full of scrap that you can place around the vehicle as cover. Once you are ready for combat, you head out in search of opposing players.
As soon as I experienced my first encounter, I was immediately driven to jump behind cover and blind fire at the enemy. It was so fast and visceral, it feels so real (in a fun, laser tag sense) that I was immediately jumping around the VR room and running from side to side in the junker as I raced to find players and teammates. It is an amazingly fun game to play and despite it’s simplicity, or maybe because of it, is one of the most complete feeling games I have ever played in VR. It is amazingly satisfying to drive with one hand and shoot with the other, or dive behind cover and reload your revolver, flipping it closed like every movie hero ever. If you have spent the time to setup a Vive, Hover Junkers is a must play.
HTC Vive has offered a really compelling and immersive VR hardware stack. Where the Oculus has focused on doing many things well, the Vive has focused on doing gaming spectacularly, and they have succeeded. The Vive is a great example of the evolution of VR and how specialization can create a product that is truly great. We are currently working with this unit to see what we can get done from a development perspective, but the availability of this technology says a lot for the future of VR. There is a lot that is possible with this unit. Stay tuned to see what we develop.