Over the last couple of months, I’ve been tinkering with the virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive, and today I have the pleasure of writing about this exciting new device. Pre-orders for the HTC Vive opened on February 29th 2016, with expected shipping dates to start in April. I placed my order in the first week of March and even after rumored delays, received my device in the third week of April as promised. With my pre-order, I received the entire VR experience including the headset itself, two controllers, room tracking sensors, and an assortment of wires and cables. Because I pre-ordered, my package also came with three free games: Fantastic Contraption, Tilt Brush, and Job Simulator.
After unpacking the box, I used the included fold out illustration to mount the sensors and connect the device to my PC. I then went on to install Steam VR, the setup software, which I was pleasantly surprised to find was an experience in itself. When I started it up, the system prompted me to select either room scale or a stationary setup. I was well prepared and had cleared the 1.5 x 2 meter size minimum area for room scale, which I had to trace out using one of the controllers. After a successful room scale setup, the system instructed me to put on the headset.
The whole idea of virtual reality for me was to get an immersive experience in gaming that I could not get from staring at a screen. The HTC Vive was introduced as a room scale VR device, meaning you could physically move around the room and interact with objects inside a virtual space. There's something incredible about how the mind understands what's happening but doesn’t remind your senses that it’s not real when you physically interact with a virtual environment. That’s exactly what happens when you enter the setup though Steam VR. An all-white, shimmering environment folded away as a quirky flying robot guide helped me to get familiar with the controls and how virtual reality worked.
The wall mounted sensors track the headset and controllers nearly perfectly as you move about your play area. The room scale parameters that you set up are apparent within the virtual environment by way of a soft illusionary field that glows when you approach it. I briefly lost all sense of physical awareness during the setup process until I felt the headset cable wrap around me as I twirled around to look at my surroundings. The controllers were intuitive with sleek futuristic design, working triggers, menu buttons, squeezable grip buttons, and wrist straps for safety and convenience. On top of the controllers are track pads that could be used with your thumbs to emulate mouse cursor movements or act as a directional pad as well.
After setup, I proceeded to check out the available games through the virtual steam browser and found an impressive availability of compatible games and demos available for purchase and download. Steam has its own category for compatible games that could be searched for in its native browser or through the web page and PC client. Some games that were already in my library were listed under the Steam VR section and could be launched using the Vive. While some of these games had limited compatibility with the headset, it was really great to see I already had a good selection of things I could try without spending any money.
One of the first games I played was Job Simulator, which had come with my pre-order. There were a number of different jobs I could pick from including mechanic, gourmet chef, office clerk, and store clerk, which is the one I decided to make my first video with. The game starts out in a lobby with a selection of cartridges of jobs that you can insert into the simulator. I pulled the lever and was transported behind the counter of a convenience store. After a brief overview from the guide, I started waiting on customers coming into the shop I proclaimed as the Zevel Eleven! One-by-one, wacky characters with crazy dispositions came in asking for items that you had to fetch and ring up: things like candy, magazines, and even frozen hot dogs. A mom came in with her kid who begged for candy when she went into the restroom, a snooty office executive that was a total jerk, I even got held up by a criminal with a loaded banana… yes, I said a banana.
Everything worked so intuitively. Using the controller's triggers to grasp items felt like second nature and allowed limitless freedom to grab and manipulate everything around me. I was throwing trash across the room into a wastebasket, pelting customers with hot dog buns, and racking up sales while being completely silly. The experience was an incredible ride of sensations and emotions that I can only explain with encouragement to try it for yourself, if your hardware can deliver solid performance. Deep immersion is defined by a smooth and lag-free visual experience without any jitters or jerking in frame rate. Gamers will find the device is very intuitive and comfortable to use for extended sessions of play on a capable PC like the Asus G11. Its Core i7 processor and Geforce GTX 960 GPU can run the games smoothly so that you can focus on the experience the Vive can deliver.