I spent a lot of time in virtual reality. Back in 2013, when I was working for PC Gamer, the very first version of the Oculus Rift, Development Kit 1, came to the office. Compared to today’s VR headsets, this thing was positively Stone Age, with a blurry low-resolution display and extremely high latency. But I didn’t care: I was addicted. I spent the next year obsessing over technology, playing every game and demo I could get my hands on, writing about it, and annoying people with stories of all the amazing things I had. seen as Roy Batty shit.
Then the next version of the Rift, the vastly improved DK2, was discontinued. Sharper! More smooth ! Less disgusting! I was again fascinated and followed every generation of technology from then on, culminating in playing the sublime Half-Life: Alyx on a Vive Pro. But while Valve’s flagship VR game is an incredible thing, and in many ways the equal of Half-Life 2, the best memories I have of it don’t involve shooting Combine or decapitating headcrab zombies. . It’s the feeling of right being there, in City 17, which I watch with the most fondness.
Looking back, this applies to my entire history with virtual reality. For me, the most exciting thing about this technology is being transported to another place. Before it went mainstream, there was a wonderful Oculus Rift homebrew scene. Game developers and artists experimented with technology, usually in the form of explorable spaces based on other media. I remember visiting the Red Room in Twin Peaks, the bridge in the Enterprise, and climbing the towering wall in Game of Thrones more than any game I’ve played.
Oculus Rift’s indie landscape was the best way to experience the hardware’s potential. Artists, coders, and game designers, including industry veterans and avid hobbyists, have used tools like Unity and Unreal to create evocative and transporting VR experiences in their spare time. Locations that previously could only be passively viewed on a flat screen could now be fully explored, from Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment to the bus stop scene of My Neighbor Totoro. It was virtual reality as virtual tourism, and it was incredibly exciting.
I haven’t invested in a new VR headset in a while, simply because the industry seems to have shifted heavily towards gaming. There’s some awesome stuff out there, but I think I’m less interested in VR as a way to play video games, and more in the idea of it being a portal to other places. I’d like to see a subgenre of passive, atmospheric, exploratory games emerge where the focus isn’t on traditional game mechanics, but on being taken to interesting places and just enjoying be there for a while without any distractions.
It’s something I’d like to see film and television studios invest in. The aforementioned VR version of The Wall of Game of Thrones was funded and co-developed by HBO, so there’s precedent for this kind of developer collaboration. As VR headsets become cheaper and lighter, and their wireless technology improves, more and more people will want to try them – and the industry can only benefit from a wealth of unrelated experiences. the game to give to anyone who doesn’t care to shoot zombies or race cars.