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May 2015 Retro Gaming Article


May 30, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Cardboard Wall-E mask turns out to be an innovative & cost-effective VR solution

Google Cardboard Each decade some product arrives with the notion that "VR is here!"
With each product trial, we are moderately wowed, but Virtual Reality is still not here. In the last several years several technologies have become available and inexpensive enough to allow greater strides in VR.

It's still not here.

A mall near my home in the 90s had a very innovative arcade featuring traditional game cabinets, but also offered console gaming and 2 VR setups. The VR looked pretty cool, complete with head mounted displays (HMD), but as for reality, you were chasing a stick-figure through a maze in a very Tron-like setting.

Oculus has demonstrated a lot of potential, but it's still a series of tech demos. For next to nothing (price-wise), Google's Cardboard is getting a lot of attention as a $20 VR experience. Coupled with your smartphone, it delivers a VR experience. This is a boon to schools that can inexpensively take a virtual field trip to another country or galaxy. For the rest of us... you're getting what you pay for - a $20 VR romp.

Is VR Necessary or an Overused Buzzword?

The film Total Recall implanted the idea in moviegoers that we could have memories of things we never did or derive pleasure from a an experience we never actually had. That was swell for a 2 hour movie, but I have yet to see how today's VR scenarios might become mainstream elements of our lives.

Google Cardboard Many of us can't live without a smartphone. Encasing one's phone in a Kleenex box doesn't necessarily translate into a new "must have" device. There are some amazing medical and scientific feats that VR can improve, but it's still going to be a while before VR is ready for the masses. I don't believe we are yet in the decade of VR.

The base VR experience is still too similar to sitting very close to a TV.
Already we hear of medical VR scenarios where a doctor in one location can save the life of a person in another. That's amazing and imagine it's benefits on a global scale. But such strides won't reach the masses simply because Zuck lets us easily share vacation photos while he scoops up VR companies. What's the endgame? How does this permeate society and do so towards it's betterment?

VR Games?

As gamers, we've seen nearly all aspects of gaming improve with technology. Long running franchises, like Tomb Raider, can be compared from onset to today showing dramatic improvements. Sadly, much of the comparisons surround heaving breasts. So, anyway...

Despite these improvements, retro gamers still love those simple pixelated games. partly from nostalgia and from the sheer joy of games that deliver amazing experiences in a simpler framework.

8-bit games let us engage our minds to fill in the gaps. Those meager on-screen pixels gave us just enough info to let us believe Harry was leaping on the heads of alligators or that I was saving six cities from devastation with only three laser cannons. The mind is a very powerful element of gaming. One that is often overlooked.

PS4 HMD for VR Unless someone brings the Atari Mindlink to fruition, there will likely be a control element to any VR game that doesn't feel natural or reality-based. Gamers can't decide on the best game controller (GameCube, by the way), so won't we still have the same discussions about HMDs? This will likely delay a significant standard from taking hold. VR can't thrive if everyone has their own set of standards.

Even simple things like basic communication between game and player don't lend naturally to VR. Think about all those on-screen maps, hints and dashboards that exist in games today, but don't gel with the notion that VR is about true sight and sound. Things that go through my mind don't appear in my real-life field of view. :)

I know this technology will get better - that's the natural evolution of tech. I wish everyone would calm down about it until it's ready for primetime. VR as I've seen it doesn't present a dramatically different experience from any other immersive technology. They've converted joystick motion to head-turns, but is that what VR is all about?

Just because we can master field-of-view with head-turns and body motions doesn't create a compelling "reality" in which to explore. Especially when such movements make us nauseous - that's your body's way of saying that VR tech is imperfect.

Even when it's perfected, the end result of buying a bad game still exists in VR. Virtual Reality is touted as a technology comprised of incredible experiences. I start to wonder if there's a marketing initiative that keeps telling us "VR is good." I assure you a crappy VR game or scenario will be just as awful as spending $60 on a crappy AAA console title.

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