To any of my readers, you might know I did a couple articles a few weeks back advocating the uses of virtual reality in sports, teaching, and medicine. Right now I am here to deliver a painful truth: I. Have not. Played. VR. You may be asking yourself “Why is he bringing this up now?” and to answer your question, I had the wonderful opportunity to try out a bunch of VR games at the IndieCade Festival at the University of Southern California, an event showcasing some of the most unique indie games I’ve ever seen.
How was it? Well I woke up as bright eyed and bushy tailed as my coffee would let me and got my little fanny down to USC with my other compatriots at Top Shelf.
In the VR room I was a little underwhelmed at first because A) I have a huge melon in place of my head and B) the images kept blurring in and out because the headsets barely fit. This ruined part of the immersion every time I bent over or made any sudden moves and it continued for the rest of the my time at IndieCade. Every time I tried a demo I had to tell the guy, “I have a big head, so you might want to just squeeze in there.”
After some careful adjusting I had the chance to play my first virtual reality experience, a game called Giant Cop where you’re a giant cop, obviously enough, protecting a small city, literally called Micro City, populated by tiny people only 12 inches tall! The sudden diabolical influx of power from being 40 feet tall in a city full of tiny humans made my experience on the force a bit…interesting. Needless to say, the people of Micro City found my “policing” to be a bit, er, enthusiastic. In other words, it was very exciting throwing cars and people around like Legos.
After the citizens politely asked me to leave (just kidding, I never gave them the chance mwa ha ha), I got to sit down and play a story-driven VR game that called into question my earlier choices. MARE, a game that utilized beautiful set pieces and very little dialogue to tell an engaging story. In MARE you played from the third-person perspective of a mechanical owl as he watches and guides a small girl through the ruins of an ancient city solving puzzles to open gates and progress forward. Flying around filled me with a sense of wonder as well as terror. I jumped in my seat every time I looked down and, well to put it simply, things got a little incontinent.
MARE opened my eyes to the possibilities of narrative storytelling in VR because it constantly reminded me that I have complete control over my actions. Virtual reality is more personal than just looking on a screen. Never once did it physically force me along a given path, but it did make me sit down and think. Full disclosure, I would be lying if I said some of the choices I made didn’t make me feel exactly right inside. For all my boyish charm, humility, and bravado I really do draw the line at certain things. MARE challenged my sense of self more than any other game I’ve played by testing my desire to progress in exchange for (without getting too spoilery) hurting people, and that was just a demo.
During the entire afternoon I played a number of other VR games such as Cosmic Trip where I defended a mining operation on a distant planet, Irrational Exuberance where I literally stood in the middle of a planet-wide exploding asteroid field, SoundStage which allowed me to interact with a fully customizable virtual soundboard, and a few PlayStation VR games such as Psychonauts and the Rhombus of Ruin.
The entire trip also gave me a chance to experience different headsets such as the Vive and Oculus Rift for the first time. This was exciting for me because I’ve already seen a bunch of YouTubers wear these headsets so I wanted to try them out myself. The one headset however that surprised me the most was probably the Playstation VR. For a VR headset that was built by The Man otherwise known as the AAA industry, I was surprised to find it was the most comfortable, cheapest, and gave a more clearer virtual environment, and I’m not lying.
Overall my trip to IndieCade was utterly FANTASTIC, easily one of the top 10 experiences I’ve ever had behind eating chocolate for the first time…I really love chocolate. It reinvigorated my interest in VR and never before have I been more invested in buying a VR headset. Guys, don’t let virtual reality become just a fad. I said this once and I’ll say it again: there’s so much hidden potential behind it and the indie game industry has my complete support. Saturday was probably one of the most literal eye-opening experiences with video games I have ever had. Go out and support indie developers so that they can put together the greatest things on the market and give hope to gamers far into the future.