As of the last five years virtual reality (here after refered to as VR) has come to refer almost exclusively to the exploding market of stereoscopic headsets. Developed a decade ago in the form of the Occulus which was snatched up by Facebook in 2012; the public would have to wait till 2016 for the HTC Vive but once that was out the potential of VR made itself apparent. Since then the number of different headsets has exploded. Facebook has just released the Oculus Quest 2, Valve has the Index, HTC the Vive Cosmos and the Vive Pro, Play Station VR for the PS4, and a dozen other smaller companies are working on getting into the mix. But all of this is just background to say that I bought a gaming PC and Vive Cosmos back in March and I want to node about it. I'd wanted a headset since Beat Saber came out in late 2018 but when Half-life Alyx was announced I started seriously thinking about getting one. Between that and the shut down I considered this as good a time as ever to get it.
After a lengthy set up and two grueling days of trying to get the firmware to update I had my headset working and I could get to playing. The first weeks (10-20 hours) were weird. VR headsets provide what I'll describe as pseudo depth perception. You can perceive depth but when you try to focus on distant objects they just get blurrier because you aren't actually looking at a distant object. You're looking at a pair a screens an inch from your eye with some lenses that kind of correct for all of the visual weirdness that entails. What this works out to is the experience of having a 3D HD television that wraps around you and moves perfectly with you. It does not however replace vision as you know it and the experience of relearning how to see in a world where there was only one correct depth of field was interesting to say the least. You don't know all of the stuff your brain is managing to create your vision until you have to throw half of those subroutines out. Eventually my brain adjusted but there were some odd moments outside of VR where I'd have brief disorientation including one moment of derealization that I can only compare the few times I was dreaming, became lucid, and right before I woke up I got sensory input from both the dream and my real body. I would advise people not drive for thirty minutes after using a headset during this period. Just saying.
Everything I've just said not withstanding VR is REALLY immersive. Even having gotten use to it I still had vertigo leaning forward to stare down a long drop in a way that I've never experienced with a screen. Having to bend down to pick something up off of the ground and swing my arm to send it flying is exactly as much better than pressing buttons as it sounds. Heck, just having real hands or hand analogs that match your movements down to the millimeter/millisecond is oddly satisfying. The controllers have rumble for a small but really needed degree of tactile feedback (being able to feel when you miss a cut in Beat Saber is invaluable). Each controller has a trigger, grip buttons on the sides where you hold the controllers, a round touch pad that doubles as another button, an two more smaller buttons above and below the touch pad. The button below the touch pad is the headset console menu but the rest of buttons can be whatever the game or app wants to use them for. It's less inputs than most video game controllers but the pair of touch pads pick up the slack. Most VR games are played standing up and involve a significant amount of arm movement. Many will also require significant amounts of head and body movement, ducking for cover, bobbing and weaving, and the like. While I don't think most games are going to replace a well used gym membership, it's significantly more active than a Nintendo Wii. And the range of games is pretty impressive: bullet hells and rhythm games, comedy and horror, single and multiplayer, the only things not well represented is the triple A titles apart from Alyx but that's likely to change in the next few years and the independent scene is arguably healthier anyway.
If the tone hasn't gotten it across yet I really like my headset and the whole project of VR. Despite a rocky start it's gotten really good really fast and the fact that it's new means a lot of people are trying a lot of things. There are so many games doing things I've never seen before with highly experimental game play. Major shifts and innovations are separated by months rather than years. This is first time I've really felt like an early adopter and I'm starting to appreciate why people dump lots of money into new, buggy technology. It makes me giddy. I don't get hyped for much so want to stay on the VR hype train for as long as this sliver of optimism lasts.
IRON NODER THE THIRTEENTH