It’s always funny how technology comes around. From the days of 90s palm pilots to today’s smartphones, from awful resistive touchscreens which couldn’t detect an anvil dropping on the screen from 3 inches away to the current J. J. Abrams future we’ve got where everything looks like a bloody Apple store full of lens flares, technology has a habit of repeating itself. It’s the true spirit of innovation. Walk before you can run. That’s not a phrase that’s applicable to people who invent things. “Oh man, a screen you can operate with your finger. That’ll be incredible. I mean, all I’ve got to build it with is this dryer lint and some golf balls but let’s go!” Humanity’s got a long and storied history of making things before they have any comprehension of how to go about doing it. Laserdisc players, betamax, the Sinclair C5…these are all pieces of technology that litter rubbish dumps and garages across the world. Video games lie at the forefront of this technological marvel. People are always trying to figure out how to get hot gaming action into your face. The aptly named Phantom was a console designed to circumvent the use of discs and cartridges and provide downloadable content on demand for the player. This at a time when my internet was slower than tar smeared over the back of a particularly sleep-deprived snail. One of the most promising and exciting developments in both the world of video games and immersive media was the thrillingly named virtual reality. No longer would you have to fixate on a screen, you would be in the game. Part of the world. Able to manipulate and play in the environment. It was going to be incredible. Blurring the lines between what’s real and fiction, it’d be a level of immersion that would be unparalleled. And then the Lawnmower Man came out. Oh dear. I mean say want you want about that film, but I’m not sure that Pierce Brosnan is the best advocate for VR headsets. And that brings me to today’s topic du jour…the HTC Vive.
At the recent PC Gamer Weekender, I got the opportunity to get a hands-on demonstration of the HTC Vive, Valve’s official foray into the world of virtual reality gaming. My limited experience of VR has been confined to the Virtual Boy, which gave me a migraine, and a 10-minute demo of the Oculus Rift, which gave me motion sickness – I wasn’t to enthralled with the idea of playing video games with a scuba mask strapped to my face. Still, I’d heard some incredible things about the Vive, so I decided to give it a go and see what all the fuss was about.
After queuing early in the day, I was placed in a bare room covered in the Nvidia logo and the device was smushed onto my face. The paddles were a lot bigger than I thought they were going to be, and it was actually a relief to be holding onto something so substantial.
The demo started. I was underwater, on the wreck of a ship. Schools of fish swam by me. It was astonishing, I actually felt like I should be holding my breath. But then, I turn around and there is a full-size blue whale. Right there. And that’s the moment I fell in love with this device. I’d always been told how huge a blue whale was, but really, this was mind-bending. It was the first thing to ever give me a sense of true scale, of how small I am compared to this beast. My mind immediately went to Shadow of the Collossus, and what an experience like that could be made to be with this technology. The mapping of the paddles was perfect. The second demo was an office life simulator, where I could move and pick up all the objects and throw them about. It was incredible, just the sense of being in this other world is astonishing.
A thought did strike me though – who’s going to use this? With the massively high specs your PC needs to be to run it, to the amount of space you need to effectively run the HTC to it’s full potential is pretty big too. I had the fleeting thought that it’ll be confined to demos at shows like this for a long, long time. Who knows though, if anyone has the capacity for innovation and surprising you, it’s Valve, let’s just not let this go the way of the Virtual Boy. Please.