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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.

I’ve had similar feelings in Rift games, but without being able to walk around the scope is more muted. The effect is best on the Rift with cockpit games—driving, flying, piloting a mech, what-have-you. The Vive merely opens up more avenues for both players and developers. It’s a far cry from dreams of Star Trek’s Holodeck, but it’s…closer.

Infinitesimally closer.

The limitations are glaringly clear in something like The Gallery: Six Elements, an adventure game from developer CloudHead. Here, I realized that fifteen feet by fifteen feet is…still not a very large area. And in an adventure game, this meant CloudHead needed a stopgap solution: Like the ol’ HyperCard days of Myst, the player basically teleports from area to area. I’d look where I wanted to go, press a button, and I was there.

And yeah, the system’s sort of busted at times. It’s a bit too easy to get lost or turned around, and people who play a lot of video games would probably feel just as comfortable playing on the Rift with an Xbox 360 controller.

I doubt they’d get the full effect, though. There are moments in The Gallery that have stuck with me—standing around a beach bonfire, shooting off Roman candles. Standing in front of a table strewn with papers and half-deciphered bits of Morse code. Firing off a flare gun. These moments are by-and-large dependent on the fact I felt like I was actually wandering the space, even with the reality-breaking conceit of teleporting between zones of exploration.

It’s little more than a clumsy, groping glimpse at what the HTC Vive could do, but it’s a compelling glimpse. I’ve seen a lot of VR demos in the last two or three years, a lot of half-baked proofs of concept and some that were more refined. I don’t pretend to know what the future holds for virtual reality, but I like to think I (on occasion) recognize where it should go, what developers should be looking into, what’s really interesting. Or at least where it should go in a perfect world where market forces are no object and consumers aren’t inherently fickle.

The HTC Vive is the most compelling device in consumer virtual reality, at the moment. Whether it’s feasible? Whether it gains developer support? All those other questions at the top of the article? Those are all realities of the business, and may ensure the Vive never takes off. The space demands are preposterous, the cost most likely outrageous, the adoption base potentially too niche for developers to take seriously. It’s a pipe dream inside a pipe dream—I’m not even sure virtual reality will survive the next few years, let alone its more-expensive variant.

But damn it, I can dream—of six-foot-tall balloon tanks and walks on abandoned beaches and dumping sriracha on virtual steaks.

 

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