They had a good amount of mostly unfinished games for the HTC Vive. Best of all: no lines. Bonus: free food and drinks.
I was pulled into a demo by Groove Jones in which you play a Tron-like disc game in a Tron-like environment against your opponent. I won several matches in a row. Unfortunately, my old body didn’t handle the intense activity well and I ended up with a torn hamstring.
Regardless of my injury, they found us graceful enough to get me on their Twitter:
Since I was already downtown, I decided to walk around a little bit to see the sights and get some free toys. This in spite of my leg pain.
As I strolled down Sixth Street, I saw a large crowd of barely clothed good looking people walk towards me. I had to double check: it wasn’t Halloween nor Mardi Gras. What could it be?
This is SXSW, so of course it was an advertisement for something. However, just to make sure, I decided to stick around and pay close attention to all details in order to make sure.
It became obvious that I wasn’t going to get a free t-shirt from this crowd (maybe a free trash bag), but luckily Panasonic gutted out Parkside and turned it into a giant booze and t-shirt dispensing advertisement.
The main difference between the Playstation VR and the Rift/Vive is that it works with the Playstation 4 gaming console instead of a high end (~$1500 and up) decked out gaming PC. The headset itself is cheaper too: $400 vs $800 for the Vive. So if you don’t have any pre-requisites, this is a much cheaper way to get into VR – and no, I don’t think of Google Cardboard as a viable alternative.
The VR headset itself is slick, as one would expect from Sony. The way it sits on your head feels comfortable. There’s no elastic bands nor cushions involved.
They would let you play one out of five games, and that’s it. I chose to play Eve Valkyrie in which you get to fly a spaceship and have space dogfights. I had never played before, and the demo dude didn’t explain how to play, so I was on my own. This compares poorly to the Vive demos at Microsoft, where they guide you through a few very simple, very different games.
But whatever, I got to fly a spaceship. You see yourself sitting in the cockpit and it wasn’t too hard, although I had no idea who I was shooting at. You can do barrel rolls and those made me a little sick. Interestingly, I felt mildly sick for a few hours and it was those barrel rolls. YMMV.
The headset seemed to be of good quality and the immersion and tracking seemed to be on par with the other systems in spite of the cheaper price and specs. But the fact that you can walk around in the Vive still sets it apart, in my opinion.
They have an HTC Vive demo setup at the local Microsoft Store (a. k. a. Bizarro Apple Store). This is a Virtual Reality headset, the biggest competitor to and not too different from the Oculus Rift that I tried out two years (!) ago.
So how is this different? Well, other than the obvious two years of software polish and CPU/GPU advancements, this thing has two really cool things:
Positional tracking: you can walk around a small area/room and it knows where your head is. What you see matches your movements. The Oculus Rift I tried two years ago doesn’t have this, although the one going to consumers does. It doesn’t allow you to walk around though.
Really cool controllers: This is very impressive. While “inside” VR you cannot really see yourself. But you can see the two controllers you are holding floating in the right spot.
They had 3 demo apps.
theBlue: Encounter puts you under the sea on a shipwreck. You can walk around a little but it’s mostly about looking around and listening. Very pretty.
Tilt Brush by Google really wowed me. You use one of the controllers to “paint” in 3D space. With the other controller you can change brushes and colors. You can walk around your “paintings”. I started with a life-size stick figure, but when I reached the feet I figured I can draw in 3D space so started doing a running pose, one feet in front, the other in the back, etc. So much fun.
Space Pirate Trainer is a shooting game in which. It’s really well made. You can hold a see-through shield on one hand. You can move around and dodge shots against little floating robots. Very neat.
Am I going to get one? Who knows. I rarely play video games lately. But I can see this being extremely fun. It’s expensive though, $800 for the Vive + ~$1200 for a decent gaming PC that I don’t own. I’d need to set it up in a room. It sure is an attractive idea. But one needs to keep in mind that trying out demos for 10 minutes in not the same as using this for hours at a time.
At this stage these VR rigs are really impressive, and they will only get progressively better: higher resolution (pixels are still too obvious), faster response, smoother tracking, wireless headsets, lighter headsets.
Do yourself a favor and try it out. It’s worth trying on off-peak hours in order to avoid lines.