Just shy of a month since GDC, I finally managed to set aside some time to write up my thoughts on the game development community and how it has changed since 2016. I’ll write up a few more posts these coming weeks over a few topics that I saw at the floor.
The first thing that comes to mind from visiting the Expo floor is just how all-in everyone was on Virtual Reality. Don’t get me wrong, Virtual Reality is a very promising field (I even help to design a class on VR) – but I was a little disappointed to see everyone going in almost the same direction when it came to alternate controls and usage schemes. The Nintendo Switch, sadly, wasn’t present to show off – though admittedly from what I’ve seen since it would have been a welcome addition.
I mean, in the spirit of things, I tried Virtual Reality. And by that I mean I tried nearly every Virtual Reality station I could. I’ll go through most of the ones I saw on the Expo Floor, and give my opinions from what I saw on the floor. Just a heads up, all of the demos I tried were with my glasses on, which most VR platforms now try to accomodate, though some do better than others.
The Oculus Rift – The most well known of these, the Rift is pretty much the standard by which you judge other VR headsets – if they fail to match up to the Rift, they kind of have a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The Rift has a pretty solid VR setup, and unlike some VR setups I tried back in 2014 and 2015, I do feel like the headache issue was no longer present – I don’t get the sense of visual dissonance that I used to, and while I didn’t try it for extended periods (I’m not sure if I could say the same after 2 hours of gaming) – they’ve certainly managed to hit the basics, especially considering that I have to wear glasses under the things. That said…there’s an old niggle that still bugs me with the Rift – its when I’m looking at far off objects, the pixellation on the screen becomes much more apparent – which is probably why nearly all of the demos were kept in short-range objects. Perhaps additional resolution might help, dual 1080p might not be quite enough for long range focusing in wide, open landscapes. That said, the price drop announced at GDC to $499 makes this much more appealing than it used to be.
Google DayDream – OK, this one’s a little interesting – Daydream is something like a more expensive Cardboard for specially designed phones such as the Pixel, with a bit more kick to it. I…actually was reasonably impressed. The quality is nowhere near the level of the Rift or the high end VR setups, but it was decent for the price point – the downside is the high level of hardware specificity – unlike Cardboard, you can’t theoretically swap in any phone – not even any Android phone – and make this work. In the end, it’s promising, but the limited amount of phones that will work with it reduces the chance of it being usable for the general public. That said, the one neat thing about this, is the chance of being able to upgrade the phone in the future and upgrade all the visual and processing capabilities – theoretically you could swap in a hypothetical 8k phone with more processing power than you could want into it, and it would still work.
Sony Playstation VR – I tried the PS VR on a few simple demos set in small rooms, so I can’t speak as to how it would deal with the long-range issue that’s bugged me in mainstream VR, buut unfortunately, the PS VR has two problems – the resolution per eye is only 960×1080 per eye, and unfortunately, its just not quite enough. They went for an interesting subpixel effect to try to smooth things over, but the problem is that I can actually see the individual subpixels giving a weird color effect to anything I tried. Moreover, the price, at $399, isn’t really a winner here either, I’d much rather throw the extra $100 down to pick up a Rift over the PS VR. I would honestly not recommend this VR experience for the price point, if you’re considering getting this, I’d honestly recommend either putting up a little more for a considerably better experience, or scaling back to some of the lower end VR experiences.
The HTC Vive – Ah, the Vive. I’ve been itching to get my hands on a Vive for quite some time now, and the experience did not disappoint. While the resolution on the device is pretty much identical to the Rift, the polish on the device was superior, with a more comfortable set on my head, and it felt more natural dealing with far off viewpoints, despite the fact that I could *still* sort of see the individual pixels when trying to focus on far off objects, it bothered me less on the Vive somehow. So far, I would put the Vive as the best VR experience available right now, though admittedly the price point – at $800 – is considerably more than the Rift is right now. Time will tell if HTC will feel pressured to reduce that to compete with the Rift’s price point, but as of now, it seems Vive feels comfortable that their advantages justify the price. To be *completely* fair, the Vive comes with its controller by standard, which is the equivalent of the Oculus Rift’s $598 package, so the price discrepancy isn’t as high as it first appears. Me personally, I do feel that while the Vive is superior, HTC would be well served by dropping the total package price by $100 in the near future – while I did find the experience superior, it wasn’t night-and-day superior.
8K VR – Out of fairness to the company indicated, I won’t name this company, which claimed they had a large variety of technical issues on the day I went to see the demo – they claimed their computer had broken, and they had to borrow a computer from another booth, rebuild their demo program in a rush, and try to work with it, but this company claimed to have 8k VR (or roughly 4k in each eye, as opposed to the Vive/Rift which has roughly 1080p in each eye). I tried the headset and…admittedly, the screen-door effect was reduced. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that HTC and Oculus have done a lot of effort in reducing the effects of visual dissonance in software, because I almost got a headache in just about 3 minutes of trying it. It was sad to see, but it seems you can’t just solve VR problems by throwing more resolution at it – not to mention that 8K VR will certainly require beefier computers than we currently have – even normal VR is just starting to be reasonably affordable at this point in time.
Well, that’s my roundup of every piece of VR hardware I could try at GDC. For now, it’s back to helping kids learn to program! Next time, I’ll go over the engines and the developments I saw at GDC.