HTC Vive’s secret sauce is casual gaming

Chris Davies - Apr 5, 2016, 12:09 pm CDT
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HTC Vive’s secret sauce is casual gaming

HTC Vive isn’t a small investment in time, gadgetry, or of course money. You’d be forgiven for assuming that, with its huge box full of headset, controllers, motion-tracking base stations, and all the many cables and power adapters that keep them connected and running, playing with Vive would be a similarly involved process. Still, you’d be wrong.

In fact, you can go from “hmm, maybe I should play a level or three of Water Bears VR” to redirecting water spouts and dancing along to the jaunty music (hey, no judgement) in a couple of minutes time. That’s including opening the lid of the gaming laptop I have Vive plugged into, signing into Windows 10, starting the SteamVR app, waiting for all the hardware to be synchronized with the base stations, and then loading the game from the in-headset browser.

Sure, it’d be quicker to whip out my phone and play a game on there, but it wouldn’t keep me distracted for anything like the amount of time Vive does. When it comes down to it, the only platform I’m showing any interest in gaming on – beyond simplistic puzzles like Sudoku, which I play on my phone while on planes – is virtual reality.

For cutting-edge hardware, Vive has proved to be surprisingly stable, too. I’ve had a couple of occasions where Steam couldn’t connect to its cloud server when I ran the SteamVR app, but it seemed to have no impact on Vive itself booting and running as expected.

tripod

The only time I’ve had to re-map the space was when my cat inadvertently knocked into one of the tripods I have the base stations set up on in the corners of the room – I rent, and my landlord frowns upon screwing things into the walls, even if they’re kick-ass VR sensors – and set the in-game horizon skewed. That process took about two minutes to do, and then I was back gaming.

$799 isn’t a small amount to spend on a system for casual play, I realize. Factor in a PC capable of running SteamVR and with graphics abilities sufficient to drive Vive’s virtual environment, if you don’t already have one, and you’re probably looking at around the $1.5k mark. I’m not stupid; that’s a lot of money.

controls

Thing is, though addictive little mini-games have proved to be the gateway drug to the Vive experience, they’re nowhere near all it’s capable of.

If you’re a more traditional gamer, as developers get to grip with filling a Room-Scale arena with VR graphics the quality of titles available for Vive – and which, for the most part, just won’t be the same on rival systems that lack its spatial tracking – is only going to improve.

Then there are 3D movies, and experiential apps that take you deep underwater, or to ancient ruins, or the Seven Wonders of the World, or even – as 360-degree cameras proliferate – inside your own vacation memories and family get-togethers.

If I sound enthusiastic, or even surprised, its because I am.

As a non-gamer, I’d assumed virtual reality was almost off-limits to me: pretty much everything I’ve seen so far has positioned VR as a natural companion to the sort of first-person shooters, or MMORPG behemoths, that require masses of time (and gamepad skill) to get the most out of. Namely, the sort of titles I have no interest in playing.

NOW READ: HTC Vive review: the Holodeck you always wanted

Vive isn’t only about casual gaming, and nor is it the only VR system which has mini-games and puzzles to dip a toe in with. Still, the combination of perky ready-to-play load times and that super-engaging support for physical movement around the room does give it an edge over rivals.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a natural candidate for virtual reality, it’s definitely worth hunting down a demo in-store.

You might just find yourself hooked.


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