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Yeah, still no forums, but virtual reality!09:38 AM -- Mon August 15, 2016

Haven't even started. It's been Player Appreciation Week in Growtopia which not only means the usual update launch, but actually significant time every day managing daily releases of the new stuff, and watching for all the potential blow-ups they cause (we did well this time, no major bugs!). On top of that, I am rushing big-time on certain future updates that are majorly complex and need to get done and tested. So I'm not really in a place where I can spend time on the site (surprise, surprise). It is yet another thing dragging on my mind constantly though, if that's any consolation.

In other news, I got the HTC Vive VR system about a month ago! VR gaming is ... hard to describe. It really is something new. I mean, on the one hand it's exactly what you think: you play a game, but the "screen" is all around you. But how that actually works out in practice is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Witness Solorien play Fruit Ninja VR:

Now, when I say it's so new and strange, I'm actually speaking specifically of the HTC Vive. I got one of the Oculus Rift development kits way back when and tried it out for about half an hour, and it was... okay. This is a whole different story. This is what's called "room scale" VR. That means you've got a lot more going for you than just a 360 degree view. There are sensors on the walls (you have to drill and install them! Or put them up on tripods), which track the position of the helmet and controllers, so you really are in a full 3D space. It's not a very big space, mind you (4m x 3m is about the biggest I could get going, and that's not too much smaller than what they claim is the biggest their sensors support), but it gives you enough room to sidestep, crouch, step around things and more. There's a system that shows you a holodeck-style grid when you get too close to the edge of your space, so you don't walk into any walls.

It's really amazing to actually be in that virtual space. It's completely convincing, whatever it may happen to be showing you. You are there. At least as long as you don't run into any glitchiness - sometimes the view will start to jitter, or much much worse, you can end up 'shifted' vertically so you can no longer touch the floor, or you're a little under it. That can make some games unplayable. But glitches have been rare. For the most part, it's just this immersive world.

As you can imagine, with such a small space, your game options are actually pretty limited though. There have been a variety of attempts to get around this limitation with varying success. First, I should note that almost every VR game you can get at this point isn't much of a game. They're all either "My First Unity Project", or if they are professional quality works, they're tiny little tech demos rather than full-blown games. So there's not that much going on, it's really just the experience that's so impressive, not the games themselves.

So with that said, some games get around the space limitations by offering a teleport ability - you can hold a button to aim a target somewhere in the world, and then you teleport to the spot you chose. This works pretty well, actually, but it's not really great for fast-paced action, and it doesn't make sense in most games. It also has a strange effect of almost making you feel like you can't walk - having two different methods of moving around, one of which is confined to a small space, makes your brain just stick to the teleporting one, even for tiny distances (If I could teleport in real life, I probably wouldn't walk much either!). It also requires a sort of arbitrarily amazing technology in the in-game world: "Oh, my character can teleport? Okay". One game, Unseen Diplomacy, has a whole different take that feels incredible (but requires a huge amount of space - more than I could fit in the room you see in the video. I had to put my sensors up in tripods in a bigger room to try it): you explore tiny little rooms, much smaller than your whole VR space, then go through a door into the next room. Then from there, into the next, to the next, to the next. You can explore an infinitely large complex with this system. How? Simple: each room's exit is 90 degrees turned from the last room's. You end up just walking in a circle around your VR space! But what was so great about this was that it really felt like I was traveling through a real world, even though topologically the new rooms were actually in places that previous rooms were earlier. Unseen Diplomacy is fun, but like most VR games, it's about 5 minutes long in total.

There are a million other things I could say about my VR experience, but here's the gist: VR games are in their absolute infancy. You're basically playing Pong (in fact, you can - there are at least 2 pong games I know of for the Vive). But the sensation of doing that in a virtual space is just amazing, not to mention way healthier than sitting at a desk. At this point, it's amazing enough to make it worth your time, if not your $800 (OUCH), but I do hope developers start producing more robust games. It can certainly be done, and I'd love to do it myself one day. Right now people are just beginning to figure out the basics, but as they get their footing, I think we'll see a whole new world of gaming. Not one that replaces traditional gaming, but an alternative that becomes popular in its own right.
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