How virtual reality is changing the game
Cast your minds back if you will, or can, to the 1980s when video games remained very much in their infancy. While consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and its fierce rival the SEGA Mega Drive brought gaming into our front rooms, the graphics were understandably cartoony by today’s standards but still provided a huge thrill to controller warriors the world over.
Fast-forward almost four decades and the gaming world is practically unrecognisable. One recent phenomenon that’s begun really shaking things up is Virtual Reality gaming, which in the past five years or so has come on leaps and bounds (and kicks and punches) and is being hailed by some as the future of this massive global industry.
If you can remember the first time you picked up a Tomytronic 3D handheld game (you know, those ones that looked like space-age binoculars) and the sense of sheer exhilaration you felt as you fought off feisty fish in Shark Attack, times the feeling by a quadrillion and that’s where VR gaming will take you.
As it filters slowly but surely into the mainstream, analysts from SuperData predict the worldwide VR market will be worth $14.5billion (AED53.3billion) next year, eight times what it was in 2016. But what makes it one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet? We speak to some ‘techsperts’ to find out.
WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
VR gaming as we know it only truly came into being some five years ago but man, has it been quick to evolve. The general feeling is that it still has a long way to go, especially when it comes to pricing and clunkiness. But thanks to the great strides it’s already making and with the opportunity to incorporate Augmented Reality (the tech used for Snapchat and Pokemon Go) into it, the possibilities appear endless.
With an MA in digital games to his name and several years’ experience in the video game industry with PlayStation and Square Enix, SEGA Europe’s Zamir Bandali is well placed to tell us to believe the hype. “In 2019, VR is passing its ‘primitive’ stages and VR equipment is getting more portable, cheaper and more advanced,” he tells us. “[There are] more user features, such as higher-resolution displays and the ability to track changes in body dynamics – finger tracking, eye tracking, body heat sensors and even the ability to output scent.”
He continues: “Incorporating augmented reality into VR units can also greatly enhance gamers’ experiences. This brings gamers the possibility of a more interactive and immersive way of playing video games.”
Ruchir Punjabi scored a degree in computer science before founding his own digital marketing agency, Langoor. He believes VR gaming “is moving from a hype bubble to investable technology”. He adds: “Fundamentally when a lot of the headsets were launching, the content on them was limited given the early nature of the technology. However, a range of gaming engines such as Steam, as well as consoles like PlayStation, have started offering VR games and content. Some of the older games like Doom and Skyrim have also been converted into VR, exposing gamers to more familiar titles as a soft introduction to VR. This, bundled with new content and fast feedback loops in VR gaming is what’s moving the needle in the quality of content starting to be released.”
Megan Kemp, of the Middle East’s newly launched ITP Gaming, which is set to bring tournaments and leagues to the region, believes the appeal of VR, however, is not necessarily how realistic it is. “What makes VR impressive is that it’s accessible to anyone and the content offering really does immerses you in to the game.
It’s so realistic that it is now used for education and training purposes over and above just gaming experiences.
“However I don’t think gamers themselves are on the quest for realism; they are on a search for escapism. Virtual Reality such as PlayStation VR gives them the opportunity to dive in to new worlds from the comfort of their bedroom and in fact allows all audiences to experience things in a way they never have before.”
According to Kevin Sebastian, editor of PC Mag Middle East, what we’re seeing right now is nothing compared to what’s likely to come. “Firstly, VR is an emerging technology that I’d only expect to get better. We do have technology to make a portable VR solution very viable. The current ones use a lot of cabling and restrict movement but newer systems are slated to be untethered like the HTC Vive Focus Plus and the Facebook Oculus Quest.”
THE DEATH OF ‘TRADITIONAL’ GAMING?
Yes, there’s still room for retro favourites such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog in our games library but will the advancements being made in VR gaming eventually render ‘traditional’ video games obsolete? Most of our experts don’t believe they will, so don’t go chucking out your old console just yet.
Emirati vlogger and tech TV show host Hameed Yousuf, aka Hami Vlogs, says: “I’ve always loved my controllers. As fast as the speed of light and without any kind of lag – that’s something I can never expect from VR. It’s the difference between clicking buttons and moving your hand to the left or right. Moreover, after a few minutes of wearing the gear you tend to sweat, which can be one my biggest turn-offs with VR.”
Bandali agrees, adding: “It’s unlikely that conventional video games can become defunct because their usability is unparalleled. Users simply turn on the television, the video games console, and play video games with the controller within seconds. This is extremely accessible as opposed to VR, where the user may need to calibrate the play space and ensure the headset is properly positioned.”
However, Punjabi feels VR could replace the traditional if it manages to overcome its “primary challenge”: to make itself more comfortable to use. “I believe given what VR offers as a concept, assuming the comfort factor is overcome, it will fast catch up as a source of entertainment and content with the ‘traditional’ format of games, potentially even replacing them within the next decade.”
We’re not professing to be Nostradamus here but as forward-thinking individuals, we can’t help but ponder what’s in store for the world of VR gaming. We’ve left our crystal balls at home and instead asked our industry insiders what they think the next few years hold for it.
Sebastian is excited by the software coming out this year and the games in the pipeline but believes the hardware could use a design and price overhaul ‘to make it accessible’.
“I’d like to see VR systems develop controls that work like gloves so you can use the dexterity of your fingers as opposed to using two bulky remotes,” he tells us. “Wearing a VR headset is still by some measure, a cumbersome affair, especially for people who wear glasses.”
However he concludes: “I’m pretty sure Ready Player One will become a reality. A lot of the media and entertainment we consume has now put video gaming in the mainstream. There are outlets and industries dedicated to making video game e-sports a thing and right now, kids are flossing in Fortnite. Who’s to say they’ll be the first generation to experience virtual entertainment with complete immersion without the need to wear a headset? It’s not an impossibility.”
Bandali says: “Going by the speed at which the virtual reality industry is growing, both VR and AR will be as portable as your mobile phone, be accessible everywhere, and as present in our environment as AR. Large area tracking mixed with better mobility will surely play a large part. The upcoming Oculus Quest, Vive Focus and Holo Lens 2 VR platforms show a bright and innovative future on the horizon for VR. We look forward to seeing what new possibilities these bring to
Kemp adds: “Traditional gaming is never going to be defunct, sometimes people just want to go home from work and switch off with a videogame. The more diverse the technology, the more options you can give gamers. So VR just another way to play.
“VR can improve by becoming more affordable and with more companies investing in improving the experience. Latency issues still make it a potential motion-sickness device for many. It’s getting there though.
“In ten years? Who knows… Maybe VR won’t require any wires or consoles to run games. Maybe we’ll all be watching movies in VR. But I see the future of VR gaming being more AAA titles getting released, and a much wider audience looking for interactive play.”
HOW TO PLAY
Always at the top end price-wise, HTC has dropped the cost of its original Vive after bringing out the Vive Pro, which it’s convinced will change the way we gamers think about VR. But unless you have limitless funds (those bar bills won’t pay themselves after all), the Vive remains a fantastic piece of kit. Ignore the fact the Pro offers you a higher resolution and built-in headphones because just getting it set up is a task in itself (plus you have to buy the extras). Vive la révolution?
We still are…
AED1,999 at uae.souq.com
Another of the soon-to-be-called ‘first generation’, the Rift is hard to beat when it comes to rotational and positional tracking (the less dizziness, the better) and with its integrated headphones, the audio comes through with a fabulous 3D effect. The Oculus Quest will soon try and usurp it as Mark Zuckerberg’s favourite, but until we have one billion of them wrapped around our collective heads, the Rift won’t drift from our list of top buys.
AED2,170 at uae.souq.com
Sony has done us all a favour by not trying to flog us a stand-alone system but instead making its existing PS4 a conduit for the ‘future of gaming’. By doing so it’s fervent fans won’t feel the need to ‘cheat’ on them by shelling out for yet more tech. Plus, with it dispensing with the need to own a PC like its rivals, the PSVR now comes in a perfectly packaged bundle that will let you run free as the wind, and feel the elements flowing through your ears at the same time.
AED895 at uae.souq.com
WHAT TO PLAY
Taking its innate skill at making first-person shooters and turning them into a rough ride through several pairs of pants, Farpoint shows off the PSVR at its finest. Chucked onto a hostile, Mars-like planet you’ll love blasting the backbone out of various furious lifeforms, just like you wanted
to at school.
AED115 on PlayStation VR from uae.souq.com
Lone Echo 2
Prove you’re a Jack of all trades by joining forces once again with your human commander, Olivia ‘Liv’ Rhodes, some 400 years in the future from the first game. Liv will be bringing you back to life as we rejoin this intriguing intergalactic tale of space wars, with deadly biomass as your unlikely but very real
Price TBA, on Oculus Rift
Having been created purely for VR, this a shoot-em-up that will test every sinew of your very being as you try and stay alive in the world of Eden Corp. So ignore your personal trainer’s calls for a mid-morning workout and dodge fists and bullets while repelling wave after wave of robots who are intent on tearing your head off.
AED145 on HTC Vive
Resident Evil 7
As if the first six weren’t scary enough, along with that jumping-out-in-your-face version you played on the coin-op at your local arcade, the Resident Evil series was one of the first ‘proper’ games to be brought to VR. It will still make you regret your decision to play it with the lights off...
AED68 on PlayStation VR from uae.souq.com
Nearly two years since its release, we still can’t get enough of this beautifully in-your-face first-person shooter. The premise is simple, blast the rogue robots to smithereens while preventing them from taking over a beautifully crafted metropolis. Recalling them all doesn’t come without a whole host of shrapnel wounds, though.
AED111 on Oculus Rift
Star Trek: Bridge Crew
Perhaps you’ve never watched Star Trek. Perhaps also you’ve never had visions of captaining a crew of intrepid space soldiers as they take on a sworn enemy determined to scupper your plans to help your allies find a new home. Oh, how you haven’t lived. Let this fans’ favourite by Red Classic and Ubisoft show you why.
AED146 on HTC Vive