Virtual reality gaming has a ways to go
BY SHANA BOSLEY
OU News Bureau
If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. That’s how many people feel about the integration of virtual reality with videogames.
Videogames offer players an opportunity to escape the mundane and explore different worlds. Their mediums, genres of stories, graphics, depth and complexities have grown into a gaming industry with a strong community to match.
The introduction of virtual reality headsets inspired game designers to get involved in the new technology. Despite it only being in its early stages, some gamers think it will not be good for gaming.
It was not until 1991 that virtual reality headsets were built for gaming purposes when the Virtuality Group released virtual reality arcade machines that were available only in public spaces.
“Players would wear a set of VR goggles and play on gaming machines with [real-time] immersive stereoscopic 3D visuals. Some units were also networked together for a multiplayer gaming experience,” said virtual reality research organization Virtual Reality Society.
In the next few years, game-developing companies such as SEGA and Nintendo tried to get involved in virtual reality technology. SEGA’s attempt, the SEGA VR, was never released, and Nintendo’s model, the VR-32 or Virtual Boy, ceased production after only one year, according to Virtual Reality Society.
It was too expensive to integrate an entire, well-rendered 3D world with motion tracking. Therefore, game developers did not take virtual reality technology and run with it. Titles such as Call of Duty or Halo need to have some kind of compatibility with virtual reality to bring to it the innovative attention that could exponentially improve its development.
“Big name brands need to make more games for it,” said technology enthusiast and YouTuber Zack Geragosian of Rochester Hills. “The games don’t have as much substance as console games right now.”
He referred to the simplicity of most virtual reality games, which have a few generic controls. He argued that those games are the results of lack of support from game makers with greater means of production rather than the limitations that are present in the early stages of virtual reality development.
Geragosian also suggested that Nintendo get involved more and advocated for the nostalgia strategy. He speculated that if there were games like Mario and Zelda produced for virtual reality, it would be easier for players to get comfortable with the idea of an immersive 3D world because they would be able to anticipate how gameplay might work.
Controls are also a major determinant in game design. If the controller paired with a virtual reality headset is awkward or uncomfortable, the headset alone runs the risk of flopping. A bad controller can break a game, no matter how well developed or graphically pleasing it is.
“Controls need to be improved because learning a brand new medium is difficult,” Geragosian said. “We need to figure out the best controls because they aren’t perfect yet, and they’re different on all of them now.”
He pointed to differences between a Nintendo 64’s controller and today’s console controllers. It had only one joystick in the middle with the D-pad located all the way on the left of the controller.
These could not be used with the same hand at the same time, so players would have to let go of the entire controller and readjust their hands to play, which caused disruption of the experience. Players lived with it because they were playing their already beloved games such as Mario and Zelda.
Controllers today usually feature two joysticks with the D-pad in between for a seamless transition. Immersion is maintained by details like these that offer no disruption in the way a player moves within a game space.
“Even though VR puts the player into a world better than any other medium, it still fails because there’s a bad disconnect with controlling the character,” Geragosian said.
Immersion is arguably the greatest asset and ambition of virtual reality gaming. However, graphics are imperative in making players feel like they are in another reality. Traditional consoles are only just now reaching this level of precision in graphics.
“Why buy VR when you can get better, more in-depth games on already established consoles?” Geragosian said.
The development of virtual reality gaming has been so slow that virtual reality devices had $2.7 billion revenue while consoles had $6.6 billion revenue in 2016, according to SuperData.
While the virtual reality headset can eliminate the distance and real-world interference between the player and the screen on which the game is displayed, it is simply not powerful enough to support and run such texture engines, according to gamer Will Snider of Clarkston.
A beautifully rendered 3D world in which the player can see every blade of grass, for example, is easier to get into mentally and emotionally. A story is more likely to reach a player who is well immersed.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to justify about virtual reality gaming is its price. The negative features at this stage are not worth it to players who find value in building PC gaming setups, because those are powerful enough to run beautifully rendered games and are supported by all game developers.
Ed Faver, a contributor to Guardian Radio, suggested that virtual reality game developers offer bundle deals with consoles at reasonable prices.
The PlayStation VR alone is $400, with an extra $100 for controllers. The promise of better immersion is also not enough to convert PC gamers because they can add more monitors to their set, which provide higher definition and quality than a virtual reality headset screen.
With shipping, the HTC Vive costs $1,215 through its website. Prices like these are not taken seriously by the gaming community, which is currently enjoying powerful consoles at half those prices.
At this point in virtual reality development, the pros do not outweigh the cons, according to Snider, and the graphics and motion tracking must be improved and seamless.
If players want strides taken to meet their standards they must enthusiastically encourage game makers, because virtual reality needs “commitment from top tier game developers,” Faver said.
According to Geragosian, “I don’t think gaming is VR’s forte. It is definitely a form of entertainment, but I don’t think gaming will excel with it.”
Overall, “It’s important for people to remember VR gaming is still very much in its infancy,” Snider said.
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