EGX 2015: HTC Vive Hands-On Preview


GameSided Staff Writer Fraser G. recently attended EGX 2015 in the UK, gaining access to hands-on previews of some of the hottest upcoming AAA titles and indie games. Our EGX roundup series has now concluded, but you can find links to all of our features below.

#1 Mirror’s Edge Catalyst Hands-On Preview
#2 Soul Axiom Interview
#3 Star Wars Battlefront Hands-On Preview
#4 Aaero Interview
#5 Rise Of The Tomb Raider Hands-On Preview
#6 Indie Showcase – Fire Fu
#7 Just Cause 3 Hands-On Preview
#8 Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Hands-On Preview
#9 Indie Showcase – Just Shapes and Beats
#10 HTC Vive Hands-On Preview

Before I begin, I should note that the HTC Vive was the only virtual reality device that I tried at EGX (regrettably), so I will not be making any comparisons in this article. Instead, let me walk you through my journey with HTC’s incredible peripheral.

As I sat in the exclusive pre-booked HTC Vive booth, I felt nervous. This was to be my first virtual reality experience, and I didn’t know what to expect. A few minutes later, I was led to a small, dark room (don’t get any ideas) and greeted by two HTC Vive representatives who advised me that they’d be helping me through the preview.

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The HTC Vive appeared menacing as it laid on the floor in front of me; a large device with a bombardment of wires attached to it. However, when the time came, it naturally slotted into place and felt much comfier than I had expected. Then, I was given two vertical controllers which contained two buttons each – a clickable touch pad and a trigger button on the back.

As the demo started, I had to take a minute to accustom myself with my new surroundings. It felt overwhelming, but oddly natural. I didn’t feel as though I was in a video game, but a different world. Suddenly, the two controllers in my hands appeared infront of my face in virtual form, and I was able to see all of my movements.

My initial task was to inflate a balloon, which was achieved by clicking the touchpad. I was then able to bat the balloon around the room with my controller and chase it on foot. I was stunned at how real everything felt. It felt so  real, that it barely crossed my mind that I was still technically playing a video game. The balloon acted as a real balloon would act, and as a result, my brain struggled to differentiate between the HTC Vive’s virtual surroundings and the real world.

Next, I was presented with a demo that was set in the middle of the ocean. I looked down to find that I was standing on a boat, as a representative reminded me that I could walk around (“just don’t fall off the boat”). A variety of fish swam in front of my eyes as I navigated the watery world, before a huge whale swam over to me and stared me right in the eye as it made its way through the water, flicking its tail at me as it departed. I almost fell backwards with shock.

The next demo was an airport simulator in which I had to direct mini-planes to their destination by literally walking over to them and clicking on them with the trigger in my hand, and from there I dragged a line towards the runway. There was also a short paint tool simulator, which was probably my least favorite of all the activities, but an artist’s wet dream. With a variety of Photoshop-inspired tools on display, I was able to paint lines, shapes and other graphical features in front of my face, and then physically walk around them and watch them sparkle in glorious 3D around the room.

It felt so  real, that it barely crossed my mind that I was still technically playing a video game.

Finally, I was introduced to the Portal VR demo, in which I was tasked with the job of robot repair. I had to walk across the room to find various tools, open drawers, and interact with different characters. It almost felt too real at one point, as I staggered backwards and stood on the HTC Vive’s set of cables, getting tangled up in the process. Finally, the virtual room opened up to reveal a warehouse which took my breath away with its sense of vastness.

Eventually, the floor started collapsing in front of me and the robot fell through. When I began my HTC Vive experience, I had trained my mind to remember that none of this was real, yet as the floor opened up I tried to reiterate that information to no effect, and I panicked. It’s indicative of how incredible this technology really is; that my brain could no longer differentiate between the VR world and the real one.

As the experience ended and I took the device off my head, I chuckled to myself. I knew that I had just experienced something special, and I lavished praise on the HTC representatives. I was told to take a minute to get my bearings, but I really didn’t need to. As previously mentioned, it didn’t feel like I had just stepped out of a video game, it simply felt like stepping back into a different world.

I was able to paint lines, shapes and other graphical features in front of my face, and then physically walk around them and watch them sparkle in glorious 3D

I still have my concerns for this technology. I’m not convinced that standing in a room in which so many signals are bouncing around a device that’s attached to your head can possibly be healthy, but I’m not sure how you tackle that issue at this stage.

The ability to walk around the room is incredible, but not practical for home use, and there’s no awareness of the real world when you step into the world of the HTC Vive, but the same scenario exists for many other VR devices at this point. Finally, the hefty set of cables that attach to the Vive’s headset are an annoyance and ruin the immersion when they get in the way.

The HTC Vive is the most surreal thing I have ever experienced. I went into my demo session expecting to be impressed; I came out feeling speechless. It’s hard to put into words just how close to reality the experience was. It may not be viable as a mass-produced device for the home just yet, but the HTC Vive’s future possibilities are practically endless.

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