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HTC Vive review: Reach out and touch the virtual world

Hayden Dingman | April 6, 2016
Living la vida virtual.

But space is also a top concern for another category of games. The best thing about room-scale VR is the whole “walking around” bit, and some devs have taken advantage of that in some fascinating ways. Unseen Diplomacy, for instance, casts you in the role of a spy trying to infiltrate an evil lair—clambering over laser beams, crawling through vents, and et cetera.

Unseen Diplomacy
Unseen Diplomacy

The problem? It’s designed in such a way that you basically go around in circles in an area without realizing you’ve been going in circles. And Steam tells me the minimum area required to play is four meters by three meters (a.k.a. 13 feet by 10 feet).

I live in a tiny San Francisco apartment. I just barely managed to clear enough of my bedroom to meet the minimum room-scale size of 1.5 by 2 meters (5 by 6.5 feet), and I cheated a little bit by including a bit of my bed in the “cleared space.” Unseen Diplomacy is literally unplayable in my current setup.

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d need to upgrade not only my computer, but my living space in order to play a game, but here we are. And what’s more: There’s currently no simple way for these “It’s one big room” developers to accommodate different room sizes. When I spoke to the Job Simulator developers recently they said they had to create three different room sizes by hand and then decide which to use based on what the user has calibrated. Some developers either can’t or won’t have the time to reconfigure their game three different ways to reach people with small San Francisco bedrooms.

It’s not an issue for every game, or even most games. Many of the best experiences (The Gallery, Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, Vanishing Realms) use modular constraints and teleportation so the game is playable in any space. But it’s a real issue to consider if you’re planning to purchase a Vive. Do you actually have enough open space?

Valve’s implementation of refunds for Steam games starts to look prescient.

Bottom line

htc vive vr headset 
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

Video games have been one long journey towards realism. First, it was more realistic 2D graphics. Then realistic 3D graphics, from the earliest days of ray-tracing (think Atari’s Star Wars arcade game) to the PS1/N64 to the incredible virtual environments artists assemble nowadays.

The Vive is the next step. Or, at least, it deserves to be. There are legitimate concerns here, though, from “How much room do I want to empty out for VR?” to “Oh wow, $800 for the Vive on top of a powerful gaming PC is a lot of money.”


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