With Iron Man VR having just come out, I wanted to take a look at how Virtual Reality gaming has advanced over the years, and what we can expect from the future of VR. Also, we recently looked at the history of Video Game Consoles in general, and with the 9th generation having been recently announced, perhaps there will be more advancements in the world of Virtual Reality as well.
If you (somehow) are unfamiliar with VR, it usually is based on a headset that you put over your eyes, wherein there are two little screens that you look at. The headset keeps track of where you are and where you’re looking, so that it confuses your brain and you perceive whats on the screen as your actual reality. This video should help:
So hopefully now you have a brief understanding of VR.
One of the first instances of VR was used in a system called “The Sword of Damocles” in 1968. This was a heavy head-mounted display (HMD) system that had to be suspended from the ceiling, where the actual system was located. Because the goggles were translucent, means that this was more of an Augmented Reality (AR), than full VR. In another room would be a camera that followed the movement based on the headset, so that the user could have a “telepresence.”
As the technology continued, it was used primarily for flight simulation, design, and medical and military training exercises.
One company in the ’80s, VPL Research, created the DataSuit, a full body outfit, complete with HMD so that your entire body could be tracked in virtual space.
Later in 1995, a company called Virtuality created a system called Project Elysium, which was used in large part by IBM for architectural and construction needs, so you can see a completed project during the design phase.
At the same time, the CAVE was created, which can best be described as the holodeck from Star Trek, which was used to drive the Mars Rover from Earth.
VR took a huge pause during the early 2000s, so one of the biggest modern HMD systems is the Oculus, was invented in 2010, had a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, bought by Facebook for $3 million in 2014, and is now the second largest VR device, beaten only by Sony for their PlayStation VR system. The rapid response of consumers for the Oculus Rift is what caused such a massive spike in new VR systems today.
For a moment, when at-home VR was regaining traction, the HTC Vive was unfortunately off-putting for a lot of potential consumers, as it required you to “install” infrared lights at various places around the room in order for the system to know where you were more accurately.
Meanwhile, in the world of video games, the Power Glove was created around the time of the DataGlove, by the same people that made the DataSuit. The Power Glove didn’t reach much popularity in use, as there were only two games that it could be played with, and it was an alternate controller for those games. Also, this wasn’t true VR, as there was no HMD, it was only a way for your hand to influence the gameplay.
The Sega VR, however, was made for arcade cabinet games, but was never released because testers were getting headaches and motion sickness. There was also concern of users forgetting their real life spatial awareness and injure themselves on objects around them. We still are figuring out a way to deal with that today.
The first released VR gaming system was from Virtuality, which had both a standing and sitting option, depending on the game. Not only was there a HMD, but also a Virtual hand that was tracked via magnets, and a joystick that moves the player in the game, or a machine you would stand on/in that would track your intended movement.
Sega decided to try again with the Sega VR-1, which was less of a game and more of an arcade attraction, or ride.
VR took a pretty big dip in popularity during the early 2000s, but the Oculus revived the idea, and since then PlayStation VR has taken over as the leader in the space.
Some popular games include Batman: Arkham VR, Job Simulator, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Superhot VR, Skyrim, Beat Saber, and just recently Iron Man VR.
The difficulty with these games often comes in the fact that you can’t actually walk around in VR (yet). While there are HMD and handsets, there is nothing (popular) that tracks your legs/feet. Therefore these games have had to decide to either keep you stuck in one place (Job Simulator, Superhot, Beat Saber), or the less popular “point-and-teleport” option used in Skyrim (except in the gif above). There is a third, even less popular option used in some games, where you move like you would in non-VR, with a joystick or D-Pad. The main problem with this is that you see yourself moving, but you don’t feel yourself moving, and that is largely the cause of motion sickness.
Another interesting form of gaming VR is gaining popularity, called VR Arcades. In these specialized arcades, you can rent a booth that is decked out with several VR enhancements, and you can play a game alone or with friends in this VR space. There is even one in Utah where their storefront is a mini-maze, and you choose which VR setting you want, and they have overlaid their space with that “skin.” This way you can feel the walls, heat, and traction in real time, as you are walking through a real space. It’s called “The VOID.”
As VR becomes more readily available and affordable, some people are using VR for non-gaming or industry purposes. In psychology, a new form of exposure therapy called “virtual reality exposure therapy,” which is exactly what it sounds like, has evolved into a safer way to attempt the therapy. For elderly people with Alzheimer’s, VR allows them to navigate the world and simulate experiences that they are unable to regularly, due to their disease. This can help fight off the depression many experience being stuck inside all day. It is even being used to help with phantom-limb pain experienced by amputees.
In Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian on Disney+, it was explained that the virtual space that they would be filming on was recreated digitally and displayed on a massive wall, instead of filming on a green screen. While this is a different form of VR, it is still accurate to call it a virtual reality, and has many implications to the future of filming.
Future of VR
It is clear in the past decade that VR is quickly gaining popularity, both in industry and private use such as entertainment. It is most prevalent with the Corona Pause, when everyone is having to become much more digital in their day-to-day lives than before. Whether for education, work, or even socializing, the pandemic has forced everyone to try to figure out how to do in-person activities, from home. This will not only create a new paradigm in work, but also lead to a more realistic environment, potentially leading to a boom in VR.
In gaming, something new that has recently hit the market are vests that give a more tactile reaction to the VR space, allowing you to feel getting hit and taking damage.
Below is an infographic by RS Components that go through many predictions on how VR will advance in the next 30 years.
VR is a rapidly emerging technology, and I’m sure within a week this article might be out of date, so please forgive me if that is the case. However, with so many things happening in this space, it is clear that there is a lot to be excited about.