Thoughts on Virtual Reality

I was recently fortunate enough to be the recipient of a grant for $2000 to learn about virtual reality and develop a video game using the HTC Vive. So far, I’ve mostly been exploring prior art.

There is the problem of cost; the $2000 went pretty quickly, first for a GTX 1080 to produce the graphics and then for the $800 Vive itself, along a bit of money for tripods for the position-tracking lighthouses. Then there’s the issue that making independent games for VR is difficult, mostly due to art assets needing to be fairly detailed. There’s only so much blank, untextured whiteness, so many perfectly flat surfaces, that one can stand when staring at them in virtual reality. Once these hurdles are leapt, however, the result is… pretty impressive.

I started out my VR journey in Valve’s The Lab, a collection of VR experiments, all impressively animated and modelled. I started with the phyics-based games: a Galaxians-like shoot-em-up in which the player’s hand position controls the ship, an archery simulation, a slingshot game. Then I went into some of the more passive experiments: a Scandinavian mountaintop, a magician’s shop, the human body. All in all, very impressive stuff.

From there, I sought out some more substantial games and hit upon Raw Data, the premier full-length game for the HTC Vive. It blew me away with its simplicity: you get a pistol or a sword and you beat up evil robots. Maybe most cliché video game possible, and yet the sense of actually holding the sword, actually dodging the enemy’s blows, made it fresh and new.

I’ve gone through a number of ideas for VR games to make myself. I’m limited somewhat by my relative lack of 3D art knowledge, but one can always buy assets from the Unity asset store, and (as another part of the grant) I’m taking a Udemy course in 3D art, so perhaps my skills will be sufficient. In any case, it’s an interesting medium and I hope I’ll be able to produce something thought-provoking and/or enjoyable.

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Written by Leo Tindall on 26 May 2017