Is Virtual Reality’s “realness” part of what’s holding it back?
By Stephen Gibson, Marketing Manager at RainSoft Games
With its promise to improve everything from entertainment to education, healthcare, and training, VR has long been touted as the next big thing in tech. These innovations have been developed by enterprising companies both large and small. But many end up scaling back as consumers just don’t gravitate toward VR the way they do other cutting edge products. Sure VR does exactly the thing it sets out to do. You put your VR goggles on, and your senses are immediately immersed in a different, alternate world. The trouble with VR is once the goggles come off, many people aren’t quick to put them back on again.
Why this is could be a variety of reasons. Some report that it’s “too immersive.” Perhaps what people want is a little more “Virtual” and a little less “Reality.” When you’re playing a first-person game on a regular 2D screen and get shot, it can be a bit unsettling. When the same happens in Virtual Reality, it can be out and out jarring. Some call it the need to develop “VR Legs,” but the truth remains that VR can induce a sense of motion sickness. While most people are happy to ride roller coasters and experience an adrenaline rush in a controlled environment, in the world of VR that environment can feel far less safe.
Despite all this, there are pockets where VR continues to thrive, even if it’s not drawing the masses the large tech companies envisioned. The most prevalent oasis is PSVR- the platform by Sony and the largest VR game network. Other game developers tend to flock to networks like Steam, where the few and the brave will jump at the chance to don their VR goggles and seek out new titles.
One such title that promises to carry the VR torch forward comes from indie development shop RainSoft Games (which as you can see above, I work for). With just one title under their belt, they’ve embarked on a new game that could well tempt people to embrace VR as their gaming platform of choice. Coming to early access on Steam this winter is Powder VR. It starts with you jumping out of a helicopter. In this ski, snowboard and wingsuit simulator you can experience what it might be like to actually heli-ski.
The closest experience I can compare it to is skydiving. To the pilot, it’s just another flight in one’s daily routine. Pick up some parachuted passengers, reach the requested altitude, watch them leave the plane, and then land. To the jumper, it’s a moment they’ll never forget. Such was my experience heli-dropping out of Powder VR’s helicopter onto the snow below.
Sure I’d agreed to play the game and thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but when it came down to it I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to leave the safety of the chopper. The friendly pilot waited patiently in his endless routine programmed as the only NPC in the game. And there before me was a drop onto the powdery snow. Eventually, I made the leap and hastened myself down the “bunny hill” weaving through a few trees, one of which greeted me with its trunk. I hit the mat and its rubbery texture reminded me I was in the safety of a VR rig, far from a tree that would have landed me in the emergency room.
At first, I had to ask myself the real question “was that fun?” Then I found myself insisting on another run. I began leaning into turns, pushing harder on the poles to gain some speed, and looking for a spot to catch some air. It’s much like skiing at first- it can feel awkward and unintuitive until you get the hang of it. But once you get comfortable you may just discover a life long hobby.
So how does Powder VR address the fact that VR’s “realness” is part of what’s holding it back? Adjustable comfort levels are key. Jim Brodbeck the developer confesses he took the “most real” settings out of the game. If every bump on the slope causes you to crash as it would in real life, it’s just not enjoyable. As you grow more comfortable you can increase how responsive the game becomes to your movements and the environment. When you reach the point of unlocking the jetpack it defaults to “no crash” mode. There’s some discussion of adding a Ski Mask mode so your perception of the mountainside will be a little less immersive. You’d then be able to experience the game through the lens of ski goggles.
One thing that’s not likely to be pulled from Powder VR is the heli-drop. This is VR and it will stay true to its promise to create a simulated world in a virtual setting. If our surgeons are to learn new procedures by immersive VR experience, if athletes are to prepare for the intensity of live competition, if people are to explore entire worlds as if there in person, substitutes will not suffice. The only question remains, are we ready to take the jump?
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