Please note, I have edited and posted a modified verison of this blog post as an article on Medium as my first Medium article. I will also be updating this version as it had many typos and errors dur to being typed on an iPad’s touchscreen keyboard.
Virtual Reality Defined
Virtual Reality is something that has been a long time coming. It was around in concept form since the 90s or earlier, particularly in sci-fi film but the 90s had the early machines showcasing stereoscopic 3D in gaming form. However, the technology never caught on and was forgotten basically until a couple of years ago when the Oculus Rift started making headlines as it secured an acquisition and funding from social media giant Facebook.
This meant that for the first time the technology was being taken seriously and serious money was at play to make it a success. This news followed competitors also emerging on the scene in the form of Valve-backed HTC Vive and Playstation VR — maybe the most interesting and promising of them all as it is affordable and an at-home console solution not reliant upon expensive gaming PCs and high-end graphic cards.
Well to fast forward a few hears of development and mixed results in terms of adoption rates (there is a paid report available here showing the growth and trends in this nascent industry), we are basically at a point where the Oculus Rift is still dominating and is the biggest name in this space while a number of other companies are competing with their own headsets. I previously mentioned the Playstation VR having in my opinion the greatest adoption potential due to its console and living room experience, however in terms of overall tech I think the all-room VR experience of HTC Vive has the greatest immersion potential and technological advantage right now.
The topic of virtual reality is huge right now as it is projected to be a $165 billion industry at some point this year (2020). It is also spawning other ideas and potential for other industries and technologies to run with in their own unique ways.
Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality vs Mixed Reality
Augmented reality augments digital objects onto a real landscape or scene in front of the viewer. The viewer and AR user usually has a digital camera from a smartphone in front of them that works alongside AR software in order to see digital objects pop up from their phone screen while looking at a landscape in front of them with the phone’s camera.
Mixed reality does not just rely on a camera system and the use viewing objects through a mobile device’s lenses. It is based on the ides of the user seeing virtual objects around them in real life without the smartphone reliance. It can use a wide range of lenses or cameras from different sources to augment a whole surrounding or area. There seems to be a fine line between defining mixed reality vs augmented reality, but augmented reality could simply be using Yelp’s landmark finder or restaurant finder and not see virtual objects like spaceships flying, which would be more of a mixed reality experience.
Some of the big players in tech are pushing for VR, while others are for pushing for AR to succeed. Mixed reality seems to be still nascent and less known or utilized by the major consumer tech giants. But this may change in the near future. Facebook is pushing its Oculus platform, for instance, while Apple is doing the same with its AR Kit 2. Lesser-known tech firms, like MagicLeap, are making wonders happen with mixed reality implementations however and they include things like 3D exploration of virtual and real landscapes. Microsoft is also exploring this technology with its HoloLens system that is tied to holographic imagery appearing in front of a user.
In some ways the three technologies are competing for the same marketshare, at least in consumer tech and the future or mobile devices — deciding which direction they will head in. Augmented Reality is less virtual or immense, in my opinion, than the other two technologies, but easier to implement right away and non entertainment applications like Yelp can make use of it for a wide audience. It also requires no external HDMs or displays.
However, in other ways these technologies are not competing at all and are in fact carving their own niches. A gamer may want the most immerse experience and purchase an expensive HDM for personal use. Someone looking to travel and use apps like Yelp to find good restaurants nearby while walking has less upfront costs and expected hassle from users.
VR & AR Analyzed More Scrupulously
I actually covered Augmented Reality (AR) some half a decade ago for PC World and IDG’s TechHive blog, when the tech was still mostly in its infancy (arguably still is now). Microsoft and Google at the time were its heavy proponents. The title of the piece was „How Augmented Reality is Defining Entertainment.” The cover feature focused on mostly various mobile apps and headset implementations that were becoming popular at the time and this was before even Google Cardboard. Since thst time, many more interesting apps have been created that I may need to cover in a separate piece.
There are some differences in what works better in AR vs VR and vice versa as specific maps or Yelp-type of geolocation services may be more practical or efficient using AR, particularly in mobile where we are moving around while looking around for interesting landmarks. However, VR has many benefits and advantages over other technologies, including AR, in terms of various industries and not just gaming as well.
According to MarketWatch:
“AR applications are being developed which will provide map overlays of prominent landmarks for improving geographic awareness and enabling rescue teams with better navigation into difficult terrains. Similarly, the healthcare industry in the region is expected to be one of the most promising users of VR technologies and devices because of surging usage of VR in surgical training, live streaming of surgeries, patient monitoring, pain management.”
VR Beyond Just Gaming
There are numerous other players, some focusing not on gaming, but other VR applications such as military training, motion pictures or video on demand, sight seeing and travel as well as medical training. These are just some examples of how VR can be implemented past gaming and entertainment. However, I think this is where its strengths currently are and gaming is also something VR needs to capture first as the audience and market share is strong in this regard.
Development is also steadily increasing within the VR space with wireless headsets now making headlines such as the Pro version of the HTC Vive (as long as you purchased a separate adapter priced at $300), which can be used without being tethered to a PC or separate device such as a Playstation or smartphone, as is the case with most other headsets. There are also various virtual reality headsets coming out based on Android use and smartphone applications. In fact, Google is a strong player in this regard with its Dream project and support for Android headsets with its own pair of googles (I remember the Google Box being very innovative as well a couple years ago).
Personal Experiences with VR at Warsaw Cafe
I have been reading and even covering VR tech for a number of years without experiencing the technology beyond the old red-and-blue glasses and a stereoscopic screen of my Nintendo 3DS as well as Nvidia’s 3D Vision tech. So with me being quite mesmerized by these technologies using mostly just stereoscopic 3D, I knew virtual reality would be right up my alley.
I actually had a chance to try out other VR headsets available and always missed out on the chance. During my time at the EGX Rezzed show I attended in London (I covered the event here) the VR headsets I saw were always packed with people on them or queued up ready to play whatever was offered. I also missed some other chances due to similar reasons at other locations, such as a artistic showcase at a gallery.
(Edit, the cafe or shop has been closed since the publication of this blog post.)
So, when I ran into this shop specializing in VR, called ImperiumVR, here in Warsaw where I am currently living, it was a pleasant surprise. It was great to run into this place in such a secluded shopping area known for cheap thrift stores and haircuts. How I found this place is a story all onto itself as it is located on the second floor of the shopping strip in the back area near an apartment building and with very little advertising or notifications to boot. In fact, it looked more like an abandoned storehouse or the beginning of the apartment living area that is adjacent to it and behind the other shops.
ImperiumVR is really a cool place. It is small and no one was here besides me and the lady running the place or working there who helped me put on the OculusRift headgear and calibrate it so it fit perfectly on my head. She also introduce me to this crossbow training game first before I dived into the Superhot experience to get a small taste of how VR works.
I actually found out there are other VR venues here including one that offers the option to use a number of headsets, such as HTC Vive, beyond just Oculus Rift. It is called VR Project, but I have not had a chance to go there yet and try it out.
I was pretty surprised knowing this place existed, along with other gaming-focused venues, and even Warsaw gaming pubs such as New Meta Bar, because I never imagined Warsaw to be heavy on gaming or tech before moving here. However, it is and Poland as a country has a history and long gaming, despite its communist and relatively poor past.
When I was young arcade cabinets were lined up in these places called salony gier or gaming saloons. The American equivalent to these places would be the traditional arcade. However, they were quite different because they were set up in long booths with arcade cabinets lined up against the walls inside a very thin walkway and the games were played using żetony or special coins inserted into the machines (yes I understand and remember some arcades in the U.S. using tokens instead of quarters as well, so there is definitely some similarity).
Poland even had a gaming culture before this that I remember well. Various gaming-centric computers such as Commodore 64, Atari ST and the Amiga were popular among the kids who could afford them when I was growing up. The way, I actually found out that Superhot is a Polish-developed game was I ran into this screening in the middle of a square in Warsaw at night showcasing the Polish gaming scene. I caught a bit of it at the end and here is what it looked like:
The game I fired up after playing the crossbow and Scherk-like introduction to VR was none other than Superhot. This was the game that truly captivated me.
When I played Superhot, I felt for the first time just what the potential of VR can bring. The game outs you in a role of an action movie star where you do both hand-to-hand fighting along with shooting action. You also have the ability to throw objects at enemies, but this is difficult to pull off with precision in my experience.
The movement in the game is truly awesome. The ability to look 360 degrees for enemies and move out of the way of punches and bullets flying at you is truly a captivating experience. I even broke a bit of a sweat and got a chance to try out some boxing and martial art movies I picked up from training in the game.
Note, throwing a body punch and waiting for the enemies to come to you rather than overextend is a tactic I found works well in the game as it does in real life.
I can actually imagine a sequel or a hard mode in the sequel offering real challenge where martial art skills or police training can come in handy if not learn the fine motor sensory skills involved through the VR experience. I actually see such ideas for future implementations of VR in gaming and beyond (think Matrix martial arts training where Neo fought Morpheus).
The game puts you into these levels divided by sequences you have to overcome. For instance, in a sequence, you may quickly have to pick up an ashtray and block a shot from an enemy afar, then quickly turn to the wide where an enemy is running at you that you need to take out hand to hand.
Then, you may have to grab that enemy’s gun and use it at the rest of the foes to end the sequence and move onto the next sequence. Once you overcome a few of these sequences you move on to the next arena or level with its own sequences. If you die, or get hit, you will have to restart the order of sequences again, but not necessarily have to go back to the beginning of the game.
You will truly get some sweat going and feel an adrenaline rush playing this game. It is by far the best implementstion of VR I’ve seen in gsming or beyond. I am also proud it comes from a Polish development studio and I wish them all the best in the near future.
The future of VR: Where Do We Go from Here?
So what does the future of VR hold? I presume that mobile VR, and this includes Google’s Dream, will have a bright future despite the competition from AR in this space. However, I really see wireless showroom and home VR making the most noise in terms of innovation and possibilities the technology can unleash in the future. It is already showing its potential as it is applied to various industries teaching students and being applied in the workforce to give practical experience in various industries before hands-on training is applied.
I previously mentioned military and the medical fields as examples of such usage. I imagine it will grow very strong in both these fields and can imagine a VR implementation teaching soldiers to overcome natural fear of combat and being able to overcome the adrenaline or mental breakdowns that often occurs for first-time combatants. It is still not the real thing, but virtual reality is becoming so immense and life-like that it can really simulate that reality and it will only improve from there.
I can imagine a headset with some form of light pain implementation and sense implementation making an appearance in the future bringing reality and virtual reality closer in this field and many other VR implementations. HTC Vive is already showing grip technology simulating various objects being tangible is very advanced and this is already a roadblock that was once impossible to overcome. Other senses such as smell and wetness or mist may make an appearance (maybe not at home, but at military implementations, for instance, or showroom floor VR set-ups).
Current Implementations of VR Showing Potential for Wide Range of Industries
I also see travel being a huge industry for VR, particularly live-albeit-virtual travel to locations where cameras are set up. Users can get that experience of a particular city or place without having to purchase a plain ticket to get there. it is also a way for people to tour a particular place and compare it to others to get a sense if the trip is worthwhile of if they might as well go somewhere else in person.
There is already some implementation in this regard, as reported by Appreal-VR, for instance, where Youtube is being used by Best Western Hotels to offer hotel tours for users trying to make a reservation choice ahead of time. Quantas Airline VR is also being use don flights to give travelers a chance to check out the places they are about to embark on before even landing. There are even museum tours available as another example of VR finding a home in tourism and travel.
Those are just some examples of uses already being implemented, but to list more and the potential for VR in this regard would be a whole separate article all onto itself. Gaming is where I really see VR being implemented in the most interesting ways for me personally. Particularly after experiencing the awesomeness of Superhot. It was as if the game combined a movie or action film experience with first person shooting and combat to bring me to the forefront of the action like I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing before.
What I want you to take away from my experiences as well as others’ experiences related to modern-day VR, is to not give up on the technology. Give it a try if you haven’t and do not just try one game, title or experience before making up your mind. give Superhot a try and some others. You will not regret it and come away from the experience learning of an emerging technology that has a strong future in gaming and various other industries.
Some of you may have read the book Ready Player One or seen the latest movie coming from famed director Steven Spielberg. It was a descent film and that type of virtual reality and eSport displayed may be closer to reality than many realize. Both eSports and various VR, AR and MR technologies are advancing and gaining in popularity. It may only be a matter of time before eSports and VR are merged.