Thursday, April 7, 2016

More on the HTC Vive and why I'm not buying it

Both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are now out and available. I have written several previous blog posts about them, and their problems. Read them if you want some context for this continuation post.

Unlike my worst predictions, according to reviews, the Oculus Rift seems to be more or less what it promised to be. In other words, stereo vision with head-tracking, to be used in not only custom games made specifically for it but, more importantly, in existing and new generic triple-A games if and when support is added to them. The available game library with support is still pitiably small, but hopefully that will be remedied in the months and years to come. The price of the unit is still way too high for me to even consider it, but hopefully it will come down in the future. (It might take years, but well... I'll have to be patient.)

The HTC Vive, however, seems to have gone exactly to the extreme I predicted and dreaded. Or at least it seems so at this point. In other words, they have emphasized the "augmented reality" aspects (with which I mean walking around your room, in a laughably small space, with the computer creating a virtual environment around you, and reflecting all your real-life movements within the game) and de-emphasized, if not even outright completely dismissed, the visor's use in actual existing games.

If you watch the promotional videos, it's all about the useless "play by walking in your room" stuff, using custom games made specifically for the device. Not even a single mention, not even in passing, of using the visor to play some actual existing game while sitting down. (Which is the polar opposite of the Oculus Rift promotional material, which is all about playing normal games, even some existing games, while sitting on the couch or at the desk, using the normal gamepad or keyboard+mouse.)

Not only that, but if you read the associated forum in Steam, it's the exact same thing. Also, all the development conversation is about creating new games specifically for the device. In fact, most people are actually dissing even the thought of using the visor in actual existing games, such as first-person shooters (like the Half-Life series, the Portal series, Doom, Skyrim or Mirror's Edge).

If this is the direction they want to go, the HTC Vive has no future. (I doubt it will be, because I'm sure that game companies will be adding support for it in many normal games, especially in the vehicle simulation genre, and probably other genres, but so far it seems that Valve is only promoting custom "walk around your room" games. In the worst case scenario the device will actually be limited to this only.)

Why doesn't it have a future? Because the "walk around your room" game mechanic is extremely limiting in terms of game design, and has only very limited enjoyment potential.

How many games can you name where as a playable character you are, during the entirety of the game, confined to a very small space, unable to freely move at will over larger distances (eg. along corridors, from room to room, and on a wide open outworld)?

There is technically speaking one genre that fits that description: The abovementioned vehicle simulation genre (ie. racing games, vehicle simulation, space simulation, flight simulation). But even (and especially) in those, you are sitting down, not walking around. This is not a genre suitable for the "walk around your room" game mechanic. (But it is a genre that most perfectly suits VR visors with headtracking, while sitting.)

Other than that, I can't name even a single video game where you are confined to such a small space during the entirety of the game. That's because it would be an extremely boring game. It would greatly limit game design, and there would not be much to do.

In addition, people can't play a game for hours while standing up and walking around a room. Maybe for fifteen minutes, a half hour at most. But that's about it. Then what? Game over? What a great gaming session. Now toss the useless VR headset aside and back to the couch to play some actual video games?

This form of gaming has no future. It's impractical and extremely limiting. It may make for cool technological demos, which may keep you entertained for ten minutes, but that's it. It would just be a super-expensive toy gathering dust on a shelf, which might be occasionally used to view another technology demo for five to ten minutes, and that's it.

And this isn't even going into the fact that walking around your room blindfolded is only going to cause accidents (eg. swinging your hand against a wall, or somebody else in the room, breaking the controller, and possibly hurting yourself in the process.)

But it seems that this is exactly where Valve is taking the HTC Vive development. To a dead end. Perhaps only third-party game developers can save it, by adding support to actual regular games.

At least the Oculus Rift seems to have better prospects for the future. Despite my fears, it seems that they more or less kept focused on what's important: Playing actual games.

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