Wanna play a game?
Setting up the Vive appeared to be fairly simple. Unfortunately, playing a few games revealed that it isn’t quite so easy. I’ve acquired some of the more popular VR titles from Steam, and I’ve had a few hours to play around with them. Here are some thoughts on each and the experience overall so far.
Hotdogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades
This was the game that sold me on the Vive, and one of the reasons I pulled the trigger on buying it. While your average US citizen can fire all sorts of weapons with few restrictions, here in Australia the vast majority of people will never see a gun up close, let alone fire one. Having a virtual firing range playground is pretty damn fun, especially with the awesome tracking for the Vive.
It actually worked quite well – I was able to load, aim and fire a large assortment of weapons, and move around the range in my (admittedly limited) room. I had enough space to easily go select new weapons and then go back to the firing position. I could crouch, duck, lean and do whatever I wanted. It felt pretty natural. There are a few extra game modes, one of my favourite being a breach-style room-clearing exercise. This does highlight one of the limitations of VR – movement. I could go to a fixed position by teleporting, but getting the game to reorient my real space into something useful was another matter entirely. The room orientation never changed, and since it isn’t a perfect square (like most people, my room is rectangular) there were times where I couldn’t adequately make use of real space tracking.
Instead, I ended up using the traditional free movement mode – which initially gave me instant vertigo, way worse than anything I got with the PSRVR. Strangely enough, I actually adapted fairly quickly – maybe because I was standing, or because I could move a little bit and it would still react? I don’t know – it’s something that I couldn’t get used to on the PSVR. I found that if it got really bad, marching in place sort of made me feel a bit better. Once I got used to it, I was clearing rooms like a pro.
Google Earth VR
Surprisingly, this one was a little disappointing. While I can go to all sorts of places in Google’s simulation of the planet, and while it initially seems pretty impressive, you’re limited to where Google has 3D generated geometry, otherwise all you get is a flat expanse of 3D satellite images. Where the 3D geometry is present and well done, it’s visually impressive. But if you were to go to the Pyramid of Giza for example, you’d find there’s nothing to see, because there’s no 3D geometry. There’s also no Street View or Photosphere functionality – something that would probably work fairly nicely (if somewhat limited by image quality and the fact that it’s static).
JobSim is available for the PSVR as well, and is generally considered to highlight the limitations of PSVR’s tracking. That said, JobSim actually highlighted some weird tracking issues I’m having with my Vive – or perhaps one lighthouse in particular. JobSim needs roomscale to work, so to get anywhere with it, you need to have a decent play area. Unfortunately for me, whenever I go close to one particular lighthouse, one of the controllers loses tracking, and there’s no other way to move except via real space tracking. As a result, some tasks in the game are way harder than they should be – and there isn’t an easy way to diagnose tracking issues.
When I didn’t have tracking issues though it was great, and it was way better than anything the PSVR can handle… but when the tracking broke, it was an exercise in frustration. If the PSVR isn’t tracking, it’s almost always because the camera can’t see you – or the room is too bright. If the Vive isn’t tracking properly… shit, it could be any number of things. More on that later. Like I said though, when it works, it’s near flawless and it’s a lot of fun. Being able to naturally move around, rotate your hands, and peer over or around things significantly increases your sense of presence within the game world. It’s something the PSVR doesn’t do very well.
I haven’t played too much of this, and I technically don’t meet the minimum requirements of a 2m x 2m play space, but I ended up having a crack at it anyway. It’s a sort of RPG-lite game with physical combat… quite physical combat, as I found out. It uses teleportation locomotion as well as real space tracking, and god damn is it cool. Combat is a physical affair – you have to block and attack with natural movements, and with the awesome display in the Vive and the great tracking, it all feels very natural. I didn’t really think about the controls or how to attack or block – I just did what felt natural and it worked. I could duck and weave to dodge attacks, I could parry with my sword, or I could use a shield. Drawing back and loosing a bow is easy and there’s no real explanation needed.
This was probably one of the most impressive games I played when it comes to control schemes and a feeling of being in the game world. The combat AI is rudimentary and I wouldn’t say it’s been an overly difficult game so far (so long as you’re careful), but if you let yourself get caught up in the combat, it’s pretty damn fun.
Space Pirate Trainer
Haven’t played much of this arcade shooter but it’s been pretty fun (and physical) for the brief period I have played it. Again, something that the PSVR simply can’t manage with its rudimentary tracking.
Tracking Issues and Setup
The PSVR wasn’t exactly fun to set up. It’s an arseload of cables and an inconvenience. The HTC Vive is far worse, and despite the inherent advantages with the lighthouse tracking system, it’s still far from foolproof, as I found out.
Most of the time it works fine – and when it works fine, it’s outstanding. But when it doesn’t, it’s an exercise in frustration, because there usually isn’t a clear reason why things are failing. I can get Steam to display a positioning window that tells me where the controllers are and the field of view for the lighthouses, but when the controller suddenly flips out and drifts away, it doesn’t really show me much at all (maybe the refresh rate is too slow). I’ve tried lots of things, including adjusting lighthouse position, covering up reflective surfaces (seriously), swapping the lighthouses, setting up the room about 10 times, and using the included sync cable to manually connect the two lighthouses. No matter what I do, whenever I get to one end of the room, the tracking fails, particularly when I go near the floor.
I did find a partial fix… by using Standing Mode. When I reconfigured the system in standing only mode, the tracking seemed to get quite a bit better – even in the area of the room that would previously have lots of tracking issues. I don’t understand why this is. Even when I had room scale active and I shortened the virtual area to avoid that part of the room, it’d still routinely fail heading towards that particular edge. Standing mode mostly fixed that issue. Emphasis on mostly because it still has random issues with tracking in that area, and I have absolutely no idea why that is. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it to work reliably in that area. I can make it better but I can’t fix it.
I’ve done my best to eliminate tracking confusion, but it still can get lost, sending the controller off into space (and it’s usually whichever one I hold in my right hand – the controller itself seems irrelevant). It’s annoying, but I don’t know what else to do to try to fix it.
PSVR Comparison so far…
Well, it’s sort of mixed, if I’m perfectly honest. In terms of comfort, the PSVR is much better. People have likened wearing the Vive to wearing a brick on your face. I wouldn’t say it’s that bad, but it’s definitely a lot less comfortable than the PSVR. The PSVR naturally redistributes weight to the frontal and occipital regions of the skull, which is much nicer than the Vive. You can fiddle with the straps to get a similar fit, but it’s still not as good. The PSVR’s adjustment system is goddamn genius too, while the Vive’s velcro straps are fiddly.
It’s much easier to set up PSVR, and it needs fewer power points. The PSVR needs one power point. The Vive needs three. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s difficult to set up the Vive, it’s much more involved than the PSVR. Setting it up properly does require drilling holes in your walls – as opposed to just shoving a camera down for the PSVR. Getting the Vive set up properly is another matter – especially if things go wrong. While I didn’t have any software issues, plenty of other people have. Instead I had tracking issues that I couldn’t diagnose and still can’t figure out. You can have tracking issues on the PSVR, but it’s usually because the camera can’t see you, or because the system just isn’t all that robust.
The Vive’s visual fidelity is better, but only because it’s attached to a PC. This one is probably one of the more surprising parts of the experience for me. The screen door effect is much worse on the Vive than the PSVR (where I pretty much never noticed it). Godrays are visible, but I found it easy to look beyond them – but still, it’s something the PSVR doesn’t have. The images project into the headset are far, far better than on PSVR – but that’s not because of the headset. It’s just because it’s plugged into a vastly more powerful processing unit than the PSVR. My 1070 can push much, much better quality images than the PSVR. The difference is night and day – I’d struggle to figure out what was going on sometimes in PSVR, but on the PC I’ve got a nice visual quality (although most game visuals are simplistic to maintain high framerates) and I don’t struggle to see what’s going on.
The Vive’s tracking is much, much better. My PSVR had tracking issues every so often – but usually it was a problem with what I’d probably term a ‘floating origin’. In other words, the headset would drift or lose its alignment, but it could be fixed by resetting the positioning. The Vive’s tracking is much better by comparison, and it reliably tracks no matter what direction I’m facing. I can stand up, walk around, kneel, bend, hell even lie down and it’ll usually work. The headset tracks reliably. The controllers? Well, that’s a bit of a different story, as I’ve already discussed. But this extra tracking translates to a better sense of presence. The Vive instills a sense of vertigo and successfully fools my proprioception way more often than PSVR ever did.
In terms of content… well, it’s honestly pretty mixed. There’s more stuff for Vive (or the Rift, but the Vive in general wins out). That said, the vast majority of it consists of indie games or things that basically count as tech demos or experiments. There’s some gems in there, but there’s loads that aren’t worth playing more than a few times. Lots of the better titles are Early Access and who knows if they’ll get any better? There are also quite a few games getting VR ports, but the ports of these traditional titles are pretty hit and miss. Serious Sam has a port of the first two games, and while they’re fun, they don’t quite seem to translate well to VR (try circle-strafing in real life – you’ll run into something).
On the other hand, PSVR has fewer titles, but what is there tends to be more polished. There’s no H3 but there’s plenty of well developed, finished titles that show a significant degree of effort. What’s missing either can’t be done because of tracking limitations (see H3) or because it’s shovelware that probably nobody really wants. There are three big VR titles coming out this year – DOOM VFR, Fallout 4, and Skyrim – both Doom and Skyrim will be on PSVR. F4, probably because its engine is a colossal pile of shite that barely manages an acceptable framerate, will be Vive only. My point being that I don’t know if you miss out on too much being on PSVR.
Should you jump into VR? What do you get?
VR is pretty damn awesome, and I’m unconvinced that this time around it’s just a gimmick. We’re slowly getting to the point where processing power has gotten good enough to both track movement and push high fidelity images. It’s taken a long time, and the previous attempts were all gimmicks, but we’re almost there. What’s largely missing now is the affordable price point – VR isn’t cheap. It’s expensive. It’ll probably stay that way for a while. But if you’ve got the money, there’s lots of fun to be had in VR. It’s an expensive toy (for home entertainment at least), but there’s a great deal of potential in VR. Those who haven’t tried it won’t understand until they strap on a headset. We’re getting to that point where you really are in the game.
That said, I do suffer a bit of VR fatigue. This isn’t how I’d want to play games forever. I can only tolerate it for short bursts at a time – too long and my eyes start to tire, the weight of the headset becomes progressively more apparent, and for protracted sessions I sort of just wish I could sit down. I play games to relax and unwind – and I can’t always do that with a prolonged VR session.
Which should you get? Well, it depends a lot on how much cash you have and what you want. The Vive’s biggest hurdle isn’t just the price of the unit itself, but the price of the device to drive it. VR is one area where cheap parts won’t do – if your system can’t push frames like no tomorrow, your VR experience will suffer significantly, whether that’s stuttering or nausea-inducing lower framerates. A computer of sufficient grunt to adequately power a Vive is already over a thousand $AUD, and there’s the cost of the headset on top (right now it’s about $1400 AUD). All of this adds up into a very expensive hobby.
The PSVR on the other hand is much, much cheaper. A PS4 (yes, a plain old PS4 will do) isn’t overly expensive – a PS4 Pro is about $560 AUD. The PS Camera is overpriced for what it is (it’s usually around $90) but it’s still fairly cheap. There’s a PSVR bundle deal on right now for about $650. Throw in two Move controllers for $120 AUD, and you’re looking at $1420 AUD. In other words – you can buy everything you need for almost the same price as the Vive on its own. If you already have a PS4, the cost of entry is even lower. If money is an issue, then the PSVR is a very attractive choice.
That said, you do get what you pay for. The PSVR’s visual fidelity is lower and the tracking is worse. The Vive’s superior on pretty much every other front. If you want the best potential experience, the Vive offers that in spades. You will pay dearly for the privilege, but it’s yours for the taking. But with that said, the PSVR is remarkably impressive for its much lower price point. It still has loads of quality games, and for its intended purpose the tracking works quite well. It’s by no means a bad choice. In fact, it’s remarkably well made and performs incredibly well given its price point (and the fact that it’s plugged into a PS4).
So I guess it boils down to this:
- If you have a powerful PC, and you’ve got the money, the Vive is probably your best VR bet right now. It offers the best experience out of all of the headsets. It’s also a pain in the arse at times, and setup isn’t quite as simple as some make it sound, but when it works – it’s goddamn incredible.
- If you have a PS4, get the PSVR. It’s cheaper, and it has a good amount of quality content. It’s not as good as the Vive, but it’s still a really good VR headset that works quite well. Most of the titles worth playing will come to PSVR. You’ll miss out on some good titles, but what you get will probably be fairly good.
- If you have neither, I’d actually stay away from VR unless you were planning to get a PS4 or a high end gaming PC. They’re too experimental now to justify investing specifically for the purposes of VR. It’s more something you’d get if you meet the prereqs. If you really, really want VR, I’d probably get a PS4 and PSVR – the PS4 is useful, it’s cheap (well, cheaper), and it’s easy to set up.
What about the Rift? What about it? Fuck Facebook.
Okay, to be more constructive – I don’t think it’s worth it. The Vive can play Rift games through ReVive. The Rift can do room scale, provided you invest in extra cameras. The Rift just seems like the forgotten headset at this point – it sits somewhere between the Vive and PSVR, yet doesn’t seem to offer any compelling reason to purchase it. If you can afford a Rift, you can probably just get a Vive instead. If you can’t afford a Vive, you probably can’t afford a Rift and should look at PSVR instead.
Next time, on LOST (or the Vive Review)…
I’ll spend a bit more time playing a few other games, testing to see if I can fix the tracking issue, and write up a Final Thoughts. I’m going to leave a good gap between these articles though, so that I can give my honest thoughts about it before I decide to pass judgement. Will I keep using it? Will I keep enjoying it? Will I wish I had my PSVR back? Find out next time…!