HOLY CRAP, I just had my first VR “wow” moment!

As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, I bought a PSVR today. I mean, I talk about games for a living, I had to own at least one of the big ones, even if I wasn’t sure VR would ever amount to anything. Potential? Sure. Certain success? No, not certain. But I had to try it for myself, obviously.

NB: If you just want the good stuff, go to the “Batman: Arkham VR.” section directly. 🙂


First things first: the device itself.

“Very competent” is the best way I can describe it. From a build standpoint it’s lighter than you’d think (important when you wear it on your head), and it does let a bit of light through from the sides. It also feels a tiny bit like a toy, but in a really bad way.
The screen does have a little bit of screen door effect at times, and the resolution definitely isn’t the best. The field of view is also more limited than what I imagine to be ideal; it doesn’t strictly cover your entire field of vision.
All of this is true. But the reality is: none of it really matter all that much, because the moment you start focusing on the game or the experience, these things fade away completely and you don’t notice them all that much anymore. The light from the room doesn’t matter, the quality of the screen doesn’t matter. You’re just not paying attention to them. Will this thing look insanely silly in 5 or 10 years when the VR headsets are smaller and better built? Sure. But for now, it does its job, and it is, as I said, “very competent”. That’s what matters, for now.

Now on to the software.

I’ve tried a few of the demos from the demo disc and more. Most of it was interesting, but not engrossing. Some are fun, like the “dive in the ocean” experience of VR Worlds, some honestly seem a bit silly; Rigs (the robot combat game) and even Eve Valkyrie (the space shooter game) didn’t grab me at all and felt like “the first think you think to develop when you are introduced to VR. These experiences need serious refinement and figuring out, which will inevitably happen as developers understand what VR is good for. So fun, but not amazing. I also played Thumper, a strange psychedelic rhythm game that the press is recommending. It was cool, but not THAT cool. I wouldn’t rush to play it (or something like it) again any chance I got. I’m sure there might be better things out there, so I’ll reserve full judgement until later, these are just first impressions.

And finally, Batman: Arkham VR.

So… Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it, but it was… an experience. Most of the previous games I had played sitting down, and all with the standard controller. For Batman, I was standing up, and more importantly, using the PS Move controllers. These motion controllers allow the game to simulate and render your “hands”, and it is difficult to overstate the difference that this makes. I swear, the moment I realized I could see and move “my” hands in game, the immersion was immediately multiplied tenfold. It is an incredible joy to be able to reach out and grab items in the game, interact with switches and levers like you would “in the real world”. It changes everything. Similarly, moving, just a bit, to take a closer look at something, or more importantly _someone_, is an amazing experience. I’m sure you’ve heard this bit before, but it is true: it’s not a character you’re controlling, it’s you, you’re moving around.

Now again, the technology is nascent, and the Playstation version is not the best there is. Movements aren’t exactly one to one, there are glitches here and there… but here too, it doesn’t matter much. This is all new, and “very competent” is enough to do the trick. This is true for the game as well: there are only a few elements of the world you can interact with, so the immersion can break here and there. But this is the kind of thing that makes you imagine what could be, which is already a lot.

Let’s get back to the game though. I have to tell you this, because it was an… “experience”. From the first few minutes, I felt like it was something special, and I started grinning like I have rarely done. I was living through something different. I was in that room, opening the boxes, pressing on the piano keys… And then I was in the bat cave, putting the gloves on, putting the mask on, and again, I was smiling like a little kid. I was grabbing tools from my utility belt, throwing batarangs around… Not pressing buttons on a controller to do it; *I* was doing it. Magical! It was magical.

Throughout the (short) game, there were multiple similar experiences, and the end was genuinely disturbing. Not in a horrible way (I never lost track that this was a game), but in an impressive way. I won’t say more, but again, it gave me an impression of “what could be”.

The game is short, but I went through it in one sitting (standing?), and I would do it again for another similarly skillfully crafted experience, with great pleasure and anticipation. The promise to “be the Batman” works, and I’d love to “be” other characters, for sure. Or maybe live through other adventures that great developers like RockSteady Studios manage to put together, with that understanding of what VR is and enables (which is very different from “standard screen” video games. I’m actually very excited for those. Maybe some of them are already available, and I am definitely going to find out.

So, bottom line, there are two questions worth answering:

First, “should you buy a PSVR?” Well, this was an awfully expensive 90 minutes, and there’s no garantie that other games will be as cool. This is so very much generation one of this technology… The next ones will be so much better. If you’re not super excited about VR, I’d say wait. Or at least try it at a friend’s house before you decide.
But the second question is even more interesting: “is this VR thing gonna stick, or is it a fad?” In other words, is it an iPhone or a Kinect? Today, I’m leaning towards “it’ll stick”. There IS something that happens when it works, even with these super early versions. Imagine what we can do with 5 or 10 years of development!
Certain success? No, I’m still not there. But I’m way more “there” than I was before I became the Batman…

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask, I’ll be glad to answer. And of course I’ll discuss all of this in my shows (Pixels, RDV Tech & RDV Jeux) in the coming weeks.

Addendum from October 15:

Hey all, I’ve been thinking about this VR thing a bit more, and tweeted a few things you might be interested in if you want more details. So here you go, my collected insomnia VR mini tweetstorm. 🙂

How impactful was my Batman VR experience? I’m lying in bed at 3am, think of that Joker model I could walk around and look at up close.
I was walking around it, looking at the detail on the face, pick up the “tablet” with my “hands”, everything was smooth and “real”.
The feeling of presence was really what sold me on it. It’s not 100% there yet, but I can’t wait to see what gen 2 and 3 will achieve.
I also think these 90 min experiences might be the best format for VR. Not “games” as we think of them now; closer to interactive movies.
In the sense that you would buy it not for 10/20/30 hrs of intense gameplay, but rather to go experience a “vision”. Do “this”, be “there”.
Bottom line: Batman VR really did a number on me, and if VR can repeat that about 3 or 4 times a year, it’ll be worth it for me. We’ll see.

October 14th, 2016