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Valve's SteamVR: Solves Big Problems, Raises Bigger Questions 124

An anonymous reader writes: When Valve debuted its SteamVR headset recently, it came as somewhat of a surprise — it certainly hasn't gotten the same level of hype as the Oculus Rift. But people who got to try out the new headset almost universally impressed with the quality of the hardware and software. Eurogamer has an article about the device expressing both astonishment at how far the technology has come in three short years, as well as skepticism that we'll find anything revolutionary to do with it. Quoting: "R demands a paradigm shift in the thinking of game designers and artists about how they build virtual space and how players should interact with it. We're only at the very beginning of this journey now. ... but this process will likely take years, and at the end of it the games won't resemble those we're currently used to. In short, they won't be Half-Life 3."

The author thinks simulation games — driving, piloting, and space combat — will be the core of the first wave, and other genres will probably have to wait for the lessons learned making sims good. He adds, "...the practical challenges are great, too — not least in persuading players to clear enough space in their homes to use this device properly, and the potential for social stigma to attach to the goofy-looking headsets and the players' withdrawal into entirely private experiences. I still think that these present major obstacles to the widespread adoption of VR, which even more practical and commercially realistic offerings like Morpheus will struggle against."
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Valve's SteamVR: Solves Big Problems, Raises Bigger Questions

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Will VR addicts be called meat heads because of the neck muscles they'll build up?

  • I'd use it to work on my horrible spatial navigation skills and figure out exactly why I consistently think I'm going the right way when I'm going either 90 or 180 degrees away from it.

    • Re:Navigation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @07:52PM (#49263757)

      Have you changed hemispheres semi-recently?

      I had the same issue when I relocated from Australia to the UK, I had gone from have a good sense of direction to always being about 180 deg out. It wasn't till my old man said it is because the sun is on the wrong side that it clicked. In the southern hemisphere the sun is always to the North, in the Northern it is to the south. Sub-consciously I must have been drawing on that.

      • I had something similar in the US from the UK, my spatial awareness is not great anyway, but I was travelling around Florida and could not for ages figure out why kept going in the wrong direction. I'd look at a map, know the turn, take it and then later on realised I had gone exactly the wrong way.

        It turned out not to be the sun, but how I mentally stored a turn. Because the roads are the opposite way, I must mentally store a left turn as coming immediately off the road, and a right turn as crossing t
      • Nope, I've always lived in North America. However, I have moved a lot, and it might be that I'm subconsciously relating which way I'm going to where I think the water is. It's west on the west coast, north when in Ottawa and south when in Toronto. Hard to say. It would be so much easier if my brain could just use the sun. :)

  • R? (Score:5, Funny)

    by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @07:18PM (#49263607) Homepage Journal
    From the summary:

    Quoting: "R demands a paradigm shift in the thinking

    Yup, I bet it does if you're used to something like Python or Matlab for your data munging.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We all know that's what we want to use it for.

  • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @07:32PM (#49263649)

    I think people are too focused on the VR headset and not considering the problem of peripherals enough. When you put on a VR headset, you essentially demand a HOTAS [] type control system, so your hands never have to wander around searching for where to go, as you're not essentially blind to the world.

    I've been thinking a lot about what sort of controller would be optimal for a shooter or other first-person game in which you wanted to be able to look, aim, and move independently. You'd essentially need a movement control for your off hand, and an aiming device for your main hand. It could be a concept similar to the Wii remote with it's attached single-hand joystick - only I'd prefer an aiming device with a proper pistol grip and trigger, and they'd both need to be independent and wireless so you're not getting cables caught on anything. A standard two handed gamepad is just not going to cut it, I think. If this can be cracked, then we'll certainly *may* see shooters and first-person adventure games. If it ends up feeling clumsy, then probably not. It's really hard to say until someone tries it out.

    Hell, even if the technology is really only broadly used for flight sims and other "in the cockpit" sort of games, it's still a win. I used to play quite a few flight sims ages ago, and the limited field of view was incredibly frustrating. The prospect of being able to look over my shoulder to track potential targets sounds incredible. Granted, not everyone is going to have a HOTAS system, but for those of us who do, it's going to be awesome.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Keyboard and mouse will work just fine, thank you.

      You're looking for solutions to non-existent problems.

    • I don't think so. I think you would be surprised at how well you type with your eyes closed. You can find a keyboard easily on your desk and all you have to do is locate the bumps on the F & J keys (assuming Qwerty).

      Mouse only fits in the hand 1 way.

    • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @08:18PM (#49263867)

      Valve already had a pair of position-detecting wands for your hands (similar to the playstation Move system). The bigger problem is movement. Movement by pressing a button detaches your apparent movement from your physical movement, which is going to be incredibly disorienting. The treadmill-style system someone else has been working on will probably work as a solution, but it's likely to be very expensive.

      • by pepty ( 1976012 )

        The bigger problem is movement. Movement by pressing a button detaches your apparent movement from your physical movement, which is going to be incredibly disorienting.

        I think movement by button while sitting at your desk won't be disorienting at all, but movement dependent on walking/jumping on a device that provides feedback entirely unlike the environment being simulated will definitely take a lot of getting used to for each implementation.

        • by aliquis ( 678370 )

          Bouncy castle controller environment?

          I'm in =P

        • by GNious ( 953874 )

          Any in-game (visual) acceleration, that is not experienced physically, can cause nausea and disorientation.
          This is why e.g. EVE:Valkyrie is looking to have players constantly fly forward, with limited speed-controls (e.g. no coming to a full stop, or making extremely sharp turns).

          • It can, but I don't think that actually affects the majority of the population. And you can probably already pick out the people that'll have the most trouble with it as they already avoid FPS style games because it gives them motion sickness.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The treadmill-style system someone else has been working on will probably work as a solution, but it's likely to be very expensive.

        Not merely expensive, but also extremely tiring. My guess is this will mostly remain a niche, for exercise and therapy. I don't really see the point of playing games if it requires me to engage in strenuous activity, avoiding which is exactly why I play games instead of sports.

      • The Omni [] is what you were thinking about I believe. I'm not a backer (I don't Kickstart hardware; too risky) but assuming it comes out and works well, I'll be buying one. They are targeting a ~$400 price point, which is doable.

    • We've had wiimote/nunchuck style controllers for VR going back to the bulky arcade VR systems of the mid-90s, accessories are really not the problem. The true killer here is the lag between input and render. For almost any PC game unless I'm getting unplayable performance the response time between me moving the mouse and my screen moving with it is effectively instant. Every VR system I've ever seen though has a substantial lag time between moving and your view updating. That's just not going to work.

      • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @09:24PM (#49264095)

        Well, for "faux-VR" interfaces like the Wii you need to consider that it has to do a *lot* of procedural faking of response (gesture recognition), which adds a lot of extra lag since it typically can't recognize the motion and initiate it in-game until after you've already completed it in real life.

        For more "hardcore" VR (well, at least not for most of the consumer-oriented stuff being done since the Oculus was announced, professional stuff has had different priorities) the problem is generally not that the lag is any worse than on a traditional PC - but that the same amount of lag is *much* more obvious. Your brain has a lifetime of experience correlating head motion and visual response to build a consistent map of the world, with continuous response times that make 60FPS look glacially slow in comparison. Insert more than the slightest amount of lag and it thinks something has gone very wrong and acts to correct it: the nausea/vomitting response - which helps correct the vast majority of lag-inducing effects in the natural world.

        As for interaction: Consider - when you move a finger there's a roughly 1/8 second lag between when your brain sends the signal and when your finger actually moves - that's a hardwired signal propagation delay, but under most circumstances you'll never notice it because that lag is built into your brain's understanding of the interface and has been continuously updated as you've grown and the lag increased. Suddenly add another few milliseconds of lag though, and suddenly your brain is constantly saying "Hey, WTF!?! I just moved my hand, why isn't the damn thing respond... okay, NOW it's moving".

        It's not that the interface is substantially more laggy, it's just that you're going from a completely artificial interface (button-presses, etc) to one that closely mimics what your brain already knows how to operate. Any discrepancy is going to throw it off-kilter. In fact I would suspect that hard-core VR enthusiasts are going to have some issues with real-world coordination. Maybe not to much of an issue if you're already a klutz anyway, but you may have to make a choice between being good at virtual or the real thing.

    • For first person games you just use keyboard and mouse like you always have; moving with the keyboard and turning with the mouse. The only difference is you can also independently turn your head without turning your entire body by using the head tracking on the VR set. You can also tilt your head instead of being constrained to an axis so it really adds a lot to the immersion. There are some games in development that already do this. It is simply the next logical step for first person games.

      There ar
      • You could be right. I hear a lot of people talk about how disorienting this is, though, and I was trying to address that issue. My feeling was that a joystick for movement and actually aiming a physical device might feel more natural with a VR headset on.

        I guess we'll probably have to wait a bit and see whether you're correct that a mouse and keyboard will work well enough for first-person games. It could be just a matter of tuning the controls properly for a FPS/VR experience, or of players adapting to

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I just want to have an infinitely large computer screen with no additional cost beyond buying the VR glasses. I don't give even one tiny shit about the "virtual reality" part. I basically want to be able to set my virtual desktop to some ridiculously large size, then look around at it using the VR glasses as a viewport.

      Then I can drag windows off to the side, look at something on the other side of my virtual desktop, and basically never have to maximize a window ever again. Bonus points if I can have a few

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Then I can drag windows off to the side, look at something on the other side of my virtual desktop, and basically never have to maximize a window ever again.

        I hope you're not a coffee drinker, because if you are, I can foresee the demise of a lot of keyboards from this setup :)

      • I just want to have an infinitely large computer screen with no additional cost beyond buying the VR glasses. I don't give even one tiny shit about the "virtual reality" part. I basically want to be able to set my virtual desktop to some ridiculously large size, then look around at it using the VR glasses as a viewport.

        Wouldn't that be a fun Window Manager to write? :-) However, instead of an infinitely large flat surface, I'd rather sit inside a ~6 foot virtual sphere. Important programs go right in front; reference docs, database queries, and utility/diagnostic apps would be to the left and right; email, IM, Facebook, news feed, and other "status"-y applications would be above or below. In hectic/messy work situations, you might end up with apps fully surrounding you, though obviously you'd be able to rotate the sp

        • Infinite Window manager 'eh? You should have a look at Eagle View [].

          Works exactly as it does in the video. I think it needs a little 'lock-to' as it can be a little sensitive (that could be my mouse though).

        • by smaddox ( 928261 )

          Short-term though, you're going to fuck up your eyes using any first-gen consumer VR for 8-10 hrs per day (a la any work situation), and it'll be cheaper/more expedient to just buy an extra monitor.

          You're eyes are focused at infinity with this gen. of VR, so no eye strain. It's unclear if there will be any long-term physiological affects, though. Eventually, retinal displays will have shifting focus based on the in-world content.

    • by pepty ( 1976012 )

      When you put on a VR headset, you essentially demand a HOTAS [] type control system, so your hands never have to wander around searching for where to go, as you're not essentially blind to the world.

      While I agree with the below comment that a mouse and keyboard will do just fine, that's probably only true for more serious gamers. For more causal gamers (and for all sorts of other situations that will pop up) I'm guessing there will be a forward facing camera on the headset. If you look down at your hands, you'll see your hands (and the keyboard). Probably with the keys used in the game highlighted and labeled.

  • Being old enough to have lived through the last VR fad, the Oculus Rift and its imitators hold no excitement for me. On the other hand, some new space combat games would be terrific - Freespace 2 is getting a little long in the tooth. Presumably we'll be able to play them on regular, non-head-mounted displays as well. Just need some new force-feedback joysticks. Don't know why, maybe it's for lack of space sims, but they've pretty well disappeared.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think a lot of people are unaware of just what a huge paradigm shift in gaming is on the way, once VR and kinect-style motion capture are integrated. Giving the player a character in a game, the model of which seamlessly moves to remain in sync with their real body, matching their innate sense of proprioception, is going to be a game changer (pun intended).

    Imagine a world like Skyrim, but one where if you look down, you see yourself as your character. Arms and legs doing exactly what they're doing in real

  • When we get to VR5, then the tech will be ready.

  • by duck_rifted ( 3480715 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @08:43PM (#49263957)
    I shouldn't get into the details of my project, but I've been thinking this over. We're going to need lots of testing for a paradigm shift in interfaces.

    Okay, so your basic game camera modes are top-down, isometric, third person, and first person. Simulations build on that with chase cams, orbital cams, fixed cams, and mobile cams that rotate around the subject. In VR, each one of these will have consequences, and those consequences need to be known.

    Let's start with the obvious. First person will work, right off, no changes. It's the most suited to VR. Third person will work, but where we feel like we're watching our characters when we're in third person mode on a screen, in VR we it will feel more like an out of body experience. That is, if we continue to identify with the character, otherwise we'll feel like some kind of disembodied entity following a protagonist. We have to keep the player from feeling compelled to look "around" things, so keeping from obstructing the player's view will take on a new importance. If a tree gets in the way of the shot, instead of feeling like a tree is in the way, we'll feel like we've run into a tree.

    But speaking of disembodied entities, that's exactly what top-down and isometric views will feel like. So, let's hone in on that. Will virtual worlds feel like shoebox dioramas or will we feel like birds, aircraft, or perhaps deific figures peering down upon the world? These analogies can be expressed literally in virtual spaces, so playing with them in interfaces can potentially do amazing things for the experience. Imagine a city-builder game, top-down, in VR, where the occasional cloud or birds below are timed and positioned just right to reinforce that feeling. Now imagine that the borders of the window and map make us feel like we're looking down on a model. Tilt-shift post processing can become very important, very soon!

    Now we come to sims. Making these the first wave of VR games is a gimmick. It's like the gratuitous addition of objects protruding from the screen in 3D movies; done just to let us get the full experience. What do you imagine in VR? Feeling like you're flying, roller coasters, feeling like you're going very fast. But look at 3D. Having arrows or monster claws or whatever come out of the screen is neat the first few times, and then it takes more finesse. Simulations will probably be just like that. But there's a much bigger issue to think about here. It becomes apparent with simulations, but applies backward through this post all the way to first person.

    Hone in on that rotating cam. Can you see the potential for motion sickness and dizziness? Uh oh. That same potential applies everywhere. The awesome thing about VR is that you can feel like you're there. The tricky thing about VR will be that you feel like you're there. I foresee posts about people throwing up while playing flight sims; not even trying to be funny. So, there's some balance between free movement, the rush of certain kinds of motion, gameplay, and the not-so-nice things our brains will do to us under certain conditions.

    And we have absolutely no idea how to quantify or even accurately describe the balances involved in this. VR is going to rock when it fully takes off! I can foresee even an entirely new cinematic experience where we watch movies shot such that we can feel like the director or cameraman as we go. Imagine The Matrix with a character selector and cam changer similar to video games. Yes, please! Right? But VR is also going to involve some pain. We need labs quantifying these boundaries and building limits into engines, and we need that starting two years ago!
    • Somebody out there decided that as a developer, I'm not allowed to have ideas about the future of development... I wonder how many Slashdot moderation points are spent by people who favor competing sites and want to try and make Slashdot less useful for discussion. Funny thing about that is that a lot of the competitors have made their platforms useless for discussion for years and refuse to improve anything. I guess if you can't discuss, you disrupt, and if you can't develop, you cheat. Well, in terms
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:13PM (#49264239)

    What if I told you that Valve's VR has been here all along and it was hiding in plain sight -- inside the Oculus Rift itself? [] Early on, Valve worked with Oculus to improve their head mounted display. The Oculus Development Kit 1 added Valve technology and became the Crystal Cove prototype. The prototype was re-released as the Oculus Development Kit 2. Oculus continued to receive assistance from Valve, but then in March of 2004, Oculus was purchased by Facebook.

    For reasons not published, the cooperation between the two companies ended. Oculus went ahead and developed a Crescent Bay prototype, which was very similar to the best of Valve's prototypes at the time, but with the alternate camera arrangement that was used on Crystal Cove. The Crescent Bay prototype was not sold to the public, perhaps related to issues involved with the split between the two companies.

    What you've seen with the Valve/HTC Vive is actually the culmination of Valve's ongoing research which Oculus has benefited from. After the split (and losing Abrash to Oculus), Valve continued to work on the hard problems and developed a new tracking technology based on lasers and inexpensive photodiodes, and controller input. The Valve/HTC Vive prototype is the latest public revelation of their ongoing work. It isn't any wonder that Valve's "new headset" has gotten high praise -- they've been breaking ground for some time, you just never knew.

    We can expect both HTC/Valve and Oculus to evolve between now and the release of their first consumer product.

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:37PM (#49264317)

    Remember how crappy controls in 3D games were? Then Nintendo came out with Super Mario 64 and everyone went "oh yeah this is how it should work". But what about fighting in 3D? Ocarina of Time and z-targeting pretty much established that. Now I admit that story wise Nintendo doesnt always excell. But I don't think anyone can make controls more intuitive then they can. Hell even Mario Galaxy with its insane physics is easy to pick up and figure out how to move when you are jumping from one floating asteroid to another.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Crappy control in 3D games went away with Descent and Quake. The former had awesome controls with my Wingman Extreme flight stick and the latter made mouselook a thing.

      Nintendo didn't do anything. In fact, their horrible controller made playing games far worse.

      • Those games are first person which didn't require anything special in terms of gameplay. You were the camera.
        Descent had horrible controls. It was very difficult to figure out where you were going. What made the games I mentioned exceptional was how they coordinated the camera and control for you providing an intuitive gameplay.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court