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Two Weeks with the Vive

PolyBlog & Videos

Two Weeks with the Vive

Brian

I've had my Vive for two weeks now, let me tell you all about it.

The Vive

First off, let's get quick impressions of the Vive itself out of the way. It is a tad front heavy, but putting time into finding the right fit has let me play for 3 hours at a time without any discomfort. The only reason I stop after 3 hours is because I realize it's late and I need to go to bed.

If you've never tried a VR headset, don't put one on expecting crisp HD resolution. The resolution and pixel density leave something to be desired. I imagine these will be the first things addressed in the next generation of headsets. But until then, you will notice a slight screen door effect and some pixelation, usually when reading small text or looking at something in the distance. But don't let that discourage you; during gameplay, when you start focusing on the game rather than the tech, those things tend to melt away.

You'll also notice circular glare on the lenses during high-contrast scenes (i.e., bright object on dark background), but again I usually forget about it when I'm actually playing. The above image, taken from roadtovr.com, is an extreme case, and makes it look worse than it actually is.

The tracking system is nearly flawless. I've never lost tracking on the headset or either controller during gameplay. I have experienced hitches in the framerate on 2 or 3 occasions, but I think that was based on the performance of the game; not the tracking system. In any case, it was only for a brief moment, and not enough to cause any discomfort.

SteamVR

The SteamVR interface consists of 3 components:

  • A virtual space with a customizable background
  • A virtual "big screen" menu
  • A desktop menu

Think of the virtual space as the waiting room. It's where you go when you first start up VR, and it's where you go in between games, or when you want to view the menu. Your physical playspace is represented as a rectangle on the floor, so you can readjust your real-world position whenever you return to the menu. There's also some neat customization options. In the current release of SteamVR, you can browse the workshop to download different background images and controller skins. Backgrounds are sort of like sky boxes with a 3D effect. If you opt into the SteamVR beta, you can also customize your "environment" which is a legit 3D platform or room. I'm currently using a background image from the Talos Principle, a circular stage environment, and an Aperture Science controller skin.

The actual "big screen" menu adequate. It's nice to be able to access all your games without ever having to take the headset off, but that's really a bare minimum requirement. The menu is not always intuitive, especially for people not already familiar with Steam. I've had to try and talk some guests through the menu a few times, which makes you realize things could be easier. Additionally, it's a menu designed for a flat screen and a gamepad. It works well enough, but there's plenty of room for improvement.

The desktop settings menu shows icons for each of your devices, which show whether they're working correctly or not, or if they need firmware updates. It also let's you easily mirror video and/or audio to your desktop and access other settings. This menu is great. I especially appreciate the ability to automatically change sound input and output devices when SteamVR starts up or shuts down.

The Games

First, let me say that I've been having a blast playing with the Vive. And games like Space Pirate Trainer and Holopoint, which looked really boring and generic to me before I got my Vive, fucking blew my mind when I actually tried them. These kind of games work amazingly well in VR, and those two games and Audioshield are what keep me coming back for more Vive every night.

With that said, I feel like I'm running low on games to play after 2 straight weeks of playing every night. Here is my current list of games/demos:

  • Abbot's Book (demo)
  • AltspaceVR
  • Audioshield
  • Budget Cuts (demo)
  • Big Screen (beta)
  • The Brookhaven Experiment (demo)
  • Call of the Starseed
  • Cloudlands Mini-golf (demo)
  • The Cubicle (experience)
  • Fantastic Contraption
  • Holopoint
  • Hover Junkers
  • Irrational Exhuberance (experience)
  • Jeeboman (demo)
  • Job Simulator
  • The Lab
  • Minecraft
  • Portal Stories VR
  • Realities (experience)
  • Sisters
  • Space Pirate Trainer
  • Spell Fighter VR
  • Tilt Brush
  • Vertigo (demo)
  • Virtual Desktop

You'll notice there's quite a few demos, and experiences, and a distinct lack of single-player narrative games. Only Call of the Starseed fits this category, and while it's great, it's unfortunately only 2 hours long. My desire for a game with real depth remains unfulfilled. Minecraft is the closest thing to a fully fleshed out game I have, and while it is pretty awesome, I want something more than a sandbox.

There are currently 213 Vive games on Steam at the moment; almost all of them indie games of varying quality. Many are not actually out yet (like the very promising Budget CutsVertigo, and Raw Data), many are just short experiences or experiments, a lot are variations on the same theme, and at least a handful seem like cheap cash-grabs. I think this is the Vive's biggest weakness right now. Someone give me a game with an 8 hour campaign, please. I would kill for proper VR support for Skyrim or Fallout (not this Vorpx VR injection crap). Hell, I would pay good money for Half-Life 2 (again) with proper Vive support even though I've beaten it twice; once on a flat screen, and once in VR with a Rift DK2.

I imagine multiplayer games such as Hover Junkers (which I just bought last night) might help bridge the gap by giving me a game that feels different every time based on my interactions with other players, so we'll see how that goes.

Let Me Sum Up

The Vive is great, and I don't regret dropping $800 on it at all. There's obviously room for improvement, but this first generation of VR hardware is already pretty magical even with its limitations. And the software line-up will only get better with time. I truly do believe this is the start of something big, and not just a fad. According to estimates by uploadvr.com, there are already 50,000 Vive owners out there, and more are being added every day. And that's not even counting Rift owners, and what I expect to be a huge launch for PSVR in October.

If you'd like to check out some Vive gameplay, Travis and I plan to do a "Friday Night Vive" livestream on Twitch starting around 9pm EST. You can find my channel here.