Explaining virtual reality to someone who has never tried it is like trying to explain the color blue to a person suffering from lifelong vision loss – it’s difficult to find words that can accurately portray the experience.
This writer’s inaugural virtual reality journey commenced last December, when I had the opportunity to try the new HTC Vive at a VR content developing studio located near Guangzhou’s Happy Valley Mall.
What follows is my best attempt to relay the experience in detail (though extreme feelings of vertigo and claustrophobia have somewhat clouded my memory).
Watch the video below (VPN off):
The mask slips over my head, covering my eyes like bulky snowboarding goggles. Everything is black, but a dark desert-like landscape slowly fades into vision. Directly in front of me are three large, bright images standing upright like paintings on invisible easels. A woman gently puts a small club-like controller in each of my hands, then guides my finger towards a trigger button.
Of the images in front of me, one catches my eye. I point my hand towards an image of a shipwreck submerged under clear Caribbean waters. As soon as I do, a red dot appears on the image and I press the trigger resting against my index finger.
The desert disappears and I suddenly find myself standing on the wooden deck of a sunken vessel. In front of me, fish swirl around with reckless abandon. I reach out to touch the colorful creatures but they zip away before I get too close.
A staff member at the VR facility tells me to look over to my left. I peer over my shoulder and see a large dark figure moving through the water. As it draws closer, I realize it is a seemingly life-size whale cruising down the port side of the boat. As the giant cetacean passes me, the simulation fades into darkness and I’m back in the desert.
“You know the Fruit Ninja game? We are going to try that next,” says a studio staff member.
The dark barren landscape fades again and now I am standing in a cartoon-like town. The controllers in my right and left hand become digital swords and fruit flies through the air in front of me. I slash frantically, like a mad ninja. Fruit bursts around me and I accidentally hit a bright purple bomb hiding amongst the produce. Naturally, it explodes.
Next up, a VR staffer tells me, is a skiing simulation. A mountain landscape opens before me, complete with trees, rocks, deer and, obviously, snow. My controllers have turned from swords to ski poles. I start off across flat terrain, but the grade changes and soon I’m careening down a slope, dodging obstacles at breakneck speeds.
The feeling of velocity is so real that I almost lose my balance and fall backwards.
The simulation fades after I run head-on into a deer and find myself standing back in the shadowy wasteland yet again.
When I finally pull off the goggles, it takes a second for my eyes to adjust and I realize that I have been sweating profusely.
Would I recommend VR to others? Sure – but if you’re prone to motion sickness, take warning.
[Image via Smartapp]
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