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 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.
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.
There are constant developments in 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).
AR vs MR vs VR: Competition or Coexistence?
However, with Apple pushing AR Kit 2 and augmented reality being a technology that is also growing in this space it will be interesting to see how long VR’s legs will be in this regard. In some ways the two technologies of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are competing for marketshare, at least in smartphones as they share many similarities. Augmented Reality is based on using the camera and seeing objects that are virtual or digital appear in real-time around the space the viewer or user is looking at. It is less virtual or immense, in my opinion, than virtual reality, which is based on going into a completely different view and world after the glasses are put on.
I actually covered Augmented Reality (AR) a couple years ago when it was still in its infancy (arguably still is now) and Microsoft and Google at the time were its heavy proponents. The title of the piece was „How Augmented Reality is Defining Entertainment” and was published on TechHive and PC World. 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.
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 for 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.”
There is also a relatively new concept that I see mentioned more and more and I did not hear about when I published that feature for PC World on AR (again: here). Mixed reality seems to be about adding virtual or digital objects onto the real world that we can see with the aid of smartphones, mobile devices, glasses or other peripherals. 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.
Personal Experiences with VR at Warsaw Cafe
The bottom line is there is a strong future for both of these technologies, but I want to focus on my experience using a full-on virtual reality headset for the first time. This occurred last week when I ran into this VR gaming cafe or shop called
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.
So, when I ran into this shop specializing in VR, called ImperiumVR, here in Warsaw where I am currently living. It was a pleasant surprised 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 with very little advertising or notifications. 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. The place is worth checking out to anyone who lives or visits Warsaw. It is also fairly inexpensive and because of how it is located in the back of the strip, I imagine not too many people know about it, which is a shame.
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 ssalony gier or gaming saloons. The American equivalent to these places would be the traditional arcade, but 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 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:
When I played Superhot, I felt for the first time the potential of VR. The game outs you in a role of an action movie star where you do both bare hand fighting and gun shooting. You also have the ability to throw objects at enemies, but this is difficult to pull off with precision in my experience. However, the movement is awesome. The ability to look 360 degrees for enemies and move out of the way of punches and bullets truly was 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. Than 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 zi 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 including 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 vsrious 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.