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Why the HTC Vive is still the most captivating VR headset on the horizon

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 14, 2015
We get on our feet for a second HTC Vive hands-on.

The Oculus, by contrast, tracks your position in a much a smaller area—perfect for sitting in front of a computer (or, at best, standing relatively still in front of the same desk). People have cobbled together walking-around-VR for the Rift, primarily by hacking a Kinect into games, but it’s not officially supported as yet.

oculus rift consumer june 11 2015
The Rift and its position-tracking sensor are designed for desk (short-range) use. Credit: Hayden Dingman

That’s a shame, because walking-around-VR makes for more interesting experiences. Not everything I’ve played on the Vive has been perfect—some of it has been downright gimmicky—and I know there will inevitably be people who either won’t or can’t play games standing up. Both are fair.

The things I’ve done, though.

Fantastic Contraption. You might recognize the name from both the popular Flash game and, later, the similarly-revered mobile game. It’s like a slightly-less-goofy version of The Incredible Machine. Using tubes and wheels you build a vehicle to convey a pink ball into a pink “Victory!” zone, with each level adding new obstacles.

Now imagine that game in virtual reality. Instead of pixels on a screen you’re building vehicles with rods the length of your arm, with wheels the size of a collie. Vehicles six-feet-tall that squeak and squeal as they trundle down the track because they’re seemingly made from balloons. And all your building materials are housed on the back of a floating cat that you can pick up and toss around.

It’s one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in 2015, and it was only two levels long—one to get me used to the controls, one to let me build something crazy. I could’ve played it for hours, attaching balloon rods to balloon wheels in all sorts of configurations. The first thing I wanted to do as soon as I left was see if I could build a massive balloon tank. Honestly, I think you could.

And yeah, it would work with the Oculus Rift. It could work with both Oculus Touch and the less-intuitive-for-VR Xbox controller. There’s something about the Vive, though. There’s something about standing up, walking around your silly vehicle, seeing where you forgot to connect two axes so your whole vehicle falls over halfway down the track, kneeling down, and attaching a new rod.

HTC Vive - Lighthouse
The biggest problem with the HTC Vive? The experience requires you find a place for two of these Lighthouse stations. Somewhere high.

This is going to sound stupid, maybe—especially to the VR naysayers. But I didn’t feel like I was playing a game. When I think back on those moments with Fantastic Contraption, it’s not the same way I think back on playing Metal Gear Solid V, for instance. It’s not like seeing a game on a screen. It’s like for five minutes I was actually a weird balloon mechanic constructing my latest squeaky masterpiece.

 

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