Sony Playstation VR

E3 2016: virtual reality in review

VR. The E3, its large alleys black with people, its triple-thick carpet that slows down the progress of the visitor, its oversized stands, real small universes to themselves, and these two letters, everywhere, on the pediment of each stand: VR, for Virtual Reality. 2016, for sure, will be the 1 year of virtual reality. Even Microsoft, which had hitherto remained behind, ended up bringing up these two fashionable letters in its pre-E3 conference. Each stand that presented even the slightest virtual reality demo was equipped with its dispenser of antiseptic wipes, an essential accessory when it comes to putting on the faces of thousands of successive visitors video masks that then become real Petri dishes. At the turn of an alley, was distributed free of charge by an equipment manufacturer, the most clever promotional product of the show : a hygienic mask for the eye area to slide between the head-mounted lens and the face.

The audience was there. Sometimes it took several hours to put on a helmet during the few minutes that the demonstrations lasted. And there was something for everyone : budding cowboys let off steam in a virtual saloon, apprentice magicians cast spells and fireballs in their faces in a multiplayer game, and Star Trek fans took their seats on the deck of the USS Enterprise for a rescue mission. If the experiments were not lacking, on the other hand the serious titles they, were counted on the fingers of one hand.

We are still waiting for THE game in virtual reality

In the history of video games, virtual reality is just a bud waiting to hatch. But in the absence of content, headsets could well end their lives at the bottom of the drawer next to an old Wiimote or Kinect camera. And these contents, unfortunately, struggle to arrive. Between publishers who do not believe in it and have not embarked on the adventure, and others who believe in it but take the time to release their games, the panorama is not very attractive. There are many nice experiences, or mini-games, but THE software specially designed for virtual reality, the great adventure that will put everyone in agreement is not yet there. Some titles already released are given a virtual reality version as is the case for Fallout 4 whose VR version is scheduled for 2017. Even if the result is very pleasant, the porting reaches its limits very quickly when it is necessary to move, the system becoming completely unusable in a tense combat situation. Beautiful, but in the end unconvincing. Other titles have opted for virtual reality passages in the heart of normal games : at a specific moment the player will have to put on his head-mounted to complete a task or a quest. No more convincing. Some, like the game Wilson’s Heart, however, make their point by offering a real adventure with scenario, plot and staging adapted to virtual reality. The title puts the player literally in the shoes of a resident of a strange hospital during the 50s who will have to solve puzzles to regain freedom.

EAGLE. Ubisoft for its part, through its incubator of independent games, The Fun Factory, has imagined and designed a game specifically for virtual reality : Eagle Flight. 50 years after the disappearance of the human species, the fauna and flora have regained control of the planet. A Paris emptied of its inhabitants and overgrown with vegetation then serves as a playground for eagles who chase each other between the trees and the streets of the city. Controlled with a head-mounted display, the title is also played using a controller that is used to activate certain features. The free flight of formidable precision is carried out by orienting the head from right to left and from top to bottom. In a matter of minutes, the player masters the techniques of shaving and is able to escape his pursuers by sneaking through the narrowest passages of the capital.

Eagle Flight and Wilson’s Heart are among the games that are not only technical demos, or “experiments” as we have seen too many, but well and truly complete games that you can imagine playing in your living room. But is the future of virtual reality really between the kitchen and the dining room ?

RV facilities reminiscent of amusement parks

Are the thousands of visitors who for three days walked the aisles of the Convention Center in Los Angeles and sometimes waited several hours to put on a video head-mounted are future consumers of virtual reality at home ? Not sure, because for the average player who dedicates a reasonable budget to his passion, the existing solutions are for the moment overpriced. Who can indeed spend more than a thousand euros on equipment dedicated to entertainment ? In addition, what about the space needed to accommodate such equipment ? Some simulations are playable sitting of course, in this case no problem, no need to move the coffee table or put the sofa in the kitchen. Things get complicated with devices like the HTC Vive that allow and encourage movement across the room. Another obstacle to the democratization of virtual reality today : the operator. The use of a headset requires the presence of an insider, a person who sets up the device, helps the user harness and is able in case of problem to reset the device or recalibrate it. The interface of existing headsets may have been worked on in order to simplify their use, the management of a head-mounted helmet is not given to everyone. This part has, it seems, been very developed by Sony for its Playstation VR, which at the moment represents the most ready-to-use solution on the market, without being perfect for all that. Despite the enormous efforts of the builders, a hack aspect remains, high-tech enthusiasts will fare better than others.

ATTRACTION. From the operators, the Samsung stand was not lacking and gave a good overview of what virtual reality could be for the general public. The Korean smartphone manufacturer, also creator of the Samsung Gear VR, a head-mounted video headset in which the latest born of the firm the Galaxy S7 is slid, had dedicated most of its stand this year to virtual reality with an attraction that particularly pleased the public. The device consisted of two rows of 4 seats on which visitors equipped with the visiocasque were installed. The two rows of seats were mounted on hydraulic cylinders synchronized to the rhythm of a roller coaster video broadcast in each of the helmets. Guaranteed effect.

Photo credit-Damien Hypolite

Other booths offered more intimate but equally exciting experiences such as flight and driving simulators, also equipped with dynamic seats. These installations are reminiscent of arcades from the 80s and 90s, or amusement parks. At this rate, virtual reality rooms will perhaps bloom here and there, or leisure parks taking up no more space than a few offices. Samsung, too, has just presented to the BNF an ephemeral amusement park dedicated to VR. While waiting for the first virtual reality room, observers will have their eyes on the launch of the Playstation VR on October 13, 2016. The success or failure of Sony’s headset could well seal the fate of consumer virtual reality.

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