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CFFJR
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I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CFFJR Tue Aug 24, 2010 6:39 pm

So I was in Las Vegas this past weekend for a short vacation, and as the topic title says, I found a new virtual reality game that I got the chance to try. According to the company website, this thing was demoed at E3 this year, but I sure didn't hear anything about it. They're marketing it for a lot of different uses, but I used it to play a video game and that's what I'm going to talk about, obviously.

If you're in Vegas anytime soon and interested in trying this out, it can be found just inside the main entrance of the Excalibur hotel. They'll charge you 12 bucks to play for about 3 minutes, twenty if you have a buddy with you to jump in the second system they have available. I don't know if the game had a two player mode where you encounter each other, because I couldn't get my wife to try it with me, (Which is probably for the best, she's uncoordinated as it is, heh) but most likely its just a way to give people a discount for playing.

Anyway, I neglected to get any pictures while I was there (I simply didn't think about it) so you'll have to settle for stock photos from their website.

Its called the "Virtusphere".

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As you can see, its pretty big, about 10 feet tall, and the user goes inside the ball to operate it. The entire ball is one solid structure with the exception of one removable panel, about 2 feet in diameter, that allows the user to step inside, which is then locked from the outside (don't wanna fall out, :lol:).

The game I played was a first person shooter. No game in particular; it was clearly made to demo this system. The player's equipment consists of a simple plastic gun modeled like a shotgun, and the Visor.

The visor fits around your head and settles comfortably in front of your eyes. Its fitted with a small full color screen that's centered in front of your eyes, right about where your point of view from each eye converges. In short, it feels very natural and is not headache inducing like similar headsets we've all seen before. Its possible to look away from the screen, but when you are looking at it, it feels very normal, and you don't really pick up the "noise" of your peripheral vision. The gun and headset both feature a reset button in case things go wonky in game. My gun died while I was playing, but it only required a battery change. After that it worked properly. It should be noted that all of this is wireless.

The interesting thing here is that the gun is not strictly necessary. Its simply a hunk of plastic for you to hold that gives you a trigger to pull. You could hold a remote control with one button to shoot, but doing that would kill the immersion. Here's why. All aiming in game is done with the visor. Wherever you look, and by that I mean however you turn your head, left, right, up or down, is where the games camera turns, and that in turn is how you aim. What makes this funny is that when playing, its technically simpler to just turn your head, making minimal movements to aim, but doing that doesn't "feel right". I tried it that way on purpose to see how it felt, but it wasn't long before I let my mind take over, and my body was twisting and turning, "pointing" the gun (even though you don't need to) to keep up with the enemies. The whole thing really gives you a sense of immersion that I was very impressed with.

Now to the main event, that sphere itself. All movement in game is controlled by the ball. It sits on a platform that has a set of rollers, and the ball rolls based on how you walk. You're movements dictate you're characters movements in the game. This takes some getting used to, to say the least. You're instinct when you're in the ball is to push when you walk, but this is not at all necessary, and doing so will get the ball spinning far too fast. The best thing to do is forget that you're in a ball, and walk as naturally as possible. Once you do this, and adjust for the sphere by leaning slightly in the opposite direction you're moving, (which you'll do naturally. the less you think about it, the better) it becomes very easy to get around. Again, this takes time to get used to, but once you do, its possible to get a good run going. I wasn't able to get that fast in my brief playtime, but I saw one of the attendants running at a good clip.

I ended up falling right on my back within a few seconds of starting because I overcompensated and couldn't keep up with the sphere's rolling, but once I got used to the movement it was a simple thing to be hopping around, changing directions quickly, and even strafing.

This whole thing was connected to a computer that ran the program, and a set of tv screens are mounted on the outside that allow people to watch the action as it happens. The tv shows everything that the player is experiencing as they play. People were stopping to watch as I played, and I could hear them yelling at me while they watched ("dude, shoot that guy!" "Turn around!").

The game itself was very simple, and it played like the tech demo that it is (hit detection was off, I couldn't die, etc. But that isn't the point of the exercise here). I didn't get far in the time I was allotted, but for the most part I simply walked and fought with swarming enemies. There was more to it I know, as the game starts in an expansive outdoor area, and I saw one of the attendants making their way through some corridors in a building they had entered. I was able to play with three different weapons, (weapon selection was handled by the attendant at the computer) a large machine gun, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher. Shooting the rocket launcher at the ground at my feet (and shooter fans, you should know that looking down did allow me to see my character's body and legs) launched me straight up in the air, which was very fun from my perspective. :lol:

Overall I had a lot of fun playing this thing. The game's technical limits are completely over shadowed by the immersion created by the visor and the sphere. Once you get used to the movement, which doesn't take long, and allow yourself to get into it, you really do feel like you're in there. Obviously, its no "holodeck" (for you star trek geeks, heh) but its very impressive just the same. Its by far the best "virtual reality" experience I've ever had. And if you're curious, yes, it is a pretty good workout.

It'll be a long time before something like this makes into the home unless you're loaded. My wife asked one of the attendants about the cost while I was playing and we're talking in the neighborhood of 50 grand for the entire setup, and I believe that only includes 1 sphere (Excalibur had two set up). It'd be great for an arcade or as an attraction somewhere.

All told, it was fun stuff, and I thought it'd be good to share my experience here. What do you guys think of this, and by chance is there anyone else who's tried it?

As a side note, I'm thinking of jumping on the local bandwagon and starting a general gaming blog. I'd probably clean up this post to serve as a first entry, and go from there. Would anybody be interested in that at all?
GameSack wrote:That's right, only Sega had the skill to make a proper Nintendo game.
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MrPopo
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by MrPopo Tue Aug 24, 2010 6:49 pm

Very interesting. I'm going to be going to Vegas in November, so I'll have to give this a try. It seems like it solves one of the biggest problems with the old style virtual reality; allowing people to move around naturally.
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CFFJR
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CFFJR Tue Aug 24, 2010 7:03 pm

MrPopo wrote:Very interesting. I'm going to be going to Vegas in November, so I'll have to give this a try. It seems like it solves one of the biggest problems with the old style virtual reality; allowing people to move around naturally.


Bingo! All it takes is a few minutes to adjust and it all clicks.

You should definitely give it a shot man. I can almost guarantee you'll fall down at least once, but it'll quickly start to feel natural.
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by Dakinggamer87 Tue Aug 24, 2010 7:04 pm

If I go to Vegas I will have to check this out!! :)
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by Anayo Tue Aug 24, 2010 8:11 pm

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading about your experience with this thing and hope I can have the chance to try it out before I die.
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CRTGAMER Tue Aug 24, 2010 10:33 pm

Wild! Love to give it a try. So as an analogy to a FPS woud you visor be as the mouse and walking the ball be the keyboard? The way you described the plastic "pistol" in your hand was non-functioning. What is used to shoot and select various weapons?

Found the Website:
http://www.virtusphere.com/product.html

Military Brochure PDF:
http://www.virtusphere.com/Downloads/Virtusphere%20Mil%20Brochure%2008112009.pdf

I posted this a while ago as my dream controller, someday, someday.
http://www.racketboy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=20491&p=240315&hilit=assault+rigs#p240315
This is approaching the right idea, I think t would need a tinted ball to avoid embarrassment. :lol:
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CFFJR Tue Aug 24, 2010 10:49 pm

CRTGAMER wrote:Wild! Love to give it a try. So as an analogy to a FPS woud you visor be as the mouse and walking the ball be the keyboard? The way you described the plastic "pistol" in your hand was non-functioning. What is used to shoot and select various weapons?


Your analogy is sound. Visor = Mouse, sphere = keyboard. I'll tell you this though, people always say that a mouse is the ultimate way to play a fps. This visor could very well kill that notion. It responded instantly to my movements. As quick as I looked, it moved.

My apologies for my description of the gun. It does function, having a squeezable trigger to shoot (to use your analogy, think of it as your left mouse button, heh).

The reason I talked about it that way is because you could really use any sort of "controller" to function as the "shoot button" because aiming is accomplished with the visor rather than the gun. But that would ruin the experience, as the gun feels totally natural while you play, like an extension of you. It was cool for me because you don't need to aim it while you shoot, but you find yourself doing that anyway. I mentioned this contrast because I think it illustrates the strength of the game's illusion.

I couldn't select weapons manually. The attendant did that for me. "You want to try a rocket launcher?" "HELL YES" :lol:
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CRTGAMER Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:08 pm

I see, even a simple wired button as one used in a hearing test booth would have worked.
I can already see an upgrade, second button in other hand to scroll select your own weapon.

Another reason to go to Vegas!
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by slowslow325 Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:30 pm

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But seriously, things like this are what I see as bringing back arcades. Something that an arcade has room for, and your home does not. Something you'll play once in a while, but not enough to render having it, especially with its large size.
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Re: I tried a new "virtual reality" game this past weekend

by CRTGAMER Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:35 pm

A hamster soccer ball! :D
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