Horde of 2d Visigoths threatening your castle in VR game Longbow

VR: It Still Takes A Village

Fire has had his Vive for a while now, and we hit it, like the fist of a shambling, heavy-faced god, pretty much every night in the beginning. It has stood the test of time. The flow of new, interesting apps for it keep us going.

One thing that's stood out to me is the isolation. Even if you're playing a multiplayer game, passing the controller around is just not going to happen mid-boss fight like it does on your living room console. You're not going to be looking up a guide while in-game either. You can't even see your own nose, much less past it into the exterior world.

And even if you have a way to echo the action to a screen for people watching, due to the limits of the technology, they still don't actually see exactly what the player sees (with a Vive, the screen echo is the right-eye view only in most games). So watching is fun, but the traditional kibitzing from spectators is often not very helpful. Contrasted with my usual crowd's milling around, with lots of joshing and advice, it's a strange change.

But even while it may be the most profoundly single-player setup out there, it's still helpful to have some other people around. There are several roles people can take on while they wait their turn:

  • The Architect/Oracle: The one in charge of the hardware. Usually the one who plunked the cash down for this whole thing. This is early-adopter tech, which means it's far more "Plug and Pray" than plug and play. It takes setup, and someone to ride herd on it when it loses track of where it's backside is and the visor goes black.
  • Dresser: Getting in and out of this thing is not easy. If you put the headset on first, you can't see your hands to pick anything else up. If you pick the controllers up first, you've got your hands full as you try to pull the harness over your head. Even if you leave the controllers dangling on their leashes, you're trying to work over your head with two plastic fish-whackers bapping you in the nose. Then you've got the headphones to deal with. Taking it off is not any easier. And in neither case do you want to drop the components. Also, unless everyone around is a carbon copy of each other with perfect vision, there are some fine tweaks to the googles to make it so each person can see well. Having a White Room buddy to help you put things on and make sure they're adjusted for you really makes it easier.
  • Spotter: You know how at the gym it's a good idea to have someone there that makes sure you don't drop the bar and break your sternum doing bench presses? Well, you want one here, too. Even if you're using room-scale with it's teleport model to Bamf! you around, many games have you move your feet and turn. If you're not careful, you're going to macrame yourself to the machine. It's very hard to be careful of the cords when you can't see your feet or anything else, so it helps if you have someone to watch them for you.
    Also, as you play, moving through the immersive game environments often cause the player to try to lean on or around things that are not actually there. This is one of the coolest parts of this whole thing, but it's also an invitation to falling on your back– or front–side. You may know this with your head and nod sagely as you read this, but you know what they call people who think reading about something will change their reflexes, right? (Hint: It ain't flattering.) Believe me, when you're in the thick of things, it helps to have someone right there to help you get your balance back when you accidentally lean on the virtual parapet as you're firing over it at Cave Johnson's 2D Visigoths who are running up to take your castle. The arrows bounce off of it, but you don't.
  • Doan/Timekeeper: You may have thought Europa Universalis was the worst silicon-based time-vampire out there, but you ain't seen nothin' yet. It feels like you've only been in there a few minutes, but we've ended up realizing it's midnight wayyyy earlier than expected every time we've played. I haven't run into a game or experience yet that gives you any indication of real-world time. And the technology isn't helping to limit you – we're getting eight hours of battery life out of the controllers on a half-hour charge. Weeknights are still a thing, gang, and it helps to have someone designated to remind you of that.

A few other things to think about when you're putting together your setup:

  • Hygiene! Pulling on something soaked with the sweat of someone else's brow isn't any fun. Alcohol wipes are good for vinyl parts. If you have cloth pads, I suggest something like these blue ninja masks. Don't forget the lenses; condensation is no joke. Fresnel lenses need careful cleaning so make sure to follow the instructions that came with the unit.
  • Past the initial giggles watching the way people fangirl-flail at the robot that's killing them, it's kind of boring. You might want to have something else for the spectators to do, or at least find some way to echo the screen where the others there can see the player petting the jellyfish or whatever.
  • Some of the players here have felt more secure by playing barefoot. It helps them keep a better contact with the floor, and if their feet run into/step on the cord, they're better able to cope. Shorts also help, as the cord touching your leg can help you manage your train.
  • Figure out the rules for taking turns beforehand. When we got my daughters into Tilt Brush, it took main force (and the fact that they have to be up for work at 5am) to get them out of there.
  • If you're tall (like 6'4" or something), be aware that it tracks the floor, but not the ceiling. There have been times when my 6'8" son-in-law has ended up bonking the ceiling playing AudioShield when the beats started dropping in from above.

I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it's not you. If you don't like it, don't fret. It is still very early days with this technology, and even the pieces from the big names like Trials on Tatooine from Lucasfilm's MLMxLAB are not necessarily the polished presentations you're used to. I was baffled in my adventures with the Apollo 11 VR Experience and its inability to cope with my shortness and display the COAS so I could tell where I was aimed. I finally ended up just skipping to the cinematic instead of managing the LM extraction myself. I haven't given up – I think know what the problem is – so I'll adjust some things, go back and give it another go.

Just try to be patient with it and yourself.

And, speaking of, I have to get back in there. Mommy's little sniper and Nxnwinad have both beat my high score on Longbow, and that's not something even my aching Team Old And Slow joints are willing to let stand.


I love it when nitch products come out in response to new tech... those disposable masks are hilarious.

Also, can I pick your brain about tiltbrush? I'm interested, when I eventually get my touch controllers, but can you move the "canvas" around, to make really large paintings?

They are funny, but a godsend when you're got a crowd and need to keep things clean as you switch off.

As far as TiltBrush, I don't know for sure. I haven't as much time in it as I would like, and they dropped a huge update not too long ago with all sorts of new stuff. You must be able to, though, because some of the samples I've seen have been larger than the active space.

It helps to think of the art created in Tilt Brush as more of a sculpture than a painting. It really is a different mindset. The app comes with several sample pieces of art, and the way it saves files files it renders stroke-by-stroke. You can effectively watch them do the art as it loads. It's a great way to see some people put the concept to work.

Right you are. Tiltbrush v.7:

Rotate and resize: You can now scale, rotate, or translate your sketches by holding down the grip buttons on both controllers. This feature enables you to make sketches that are huge in scale and to view sketches of any size, no matter what your room bounds are.

That seals it. As soon as I get the touch controllers (and ensure I can use them in TiltBrush)

Woot! I wanted that too, but for the other direction - putting in tiny details.