I put on a VR headset for the first time last week at E3 in a preview session held by Sony. Rather than trying to show off one game, they showed a bunch of smaller games, each of which highlighted a different way to use the headset. Monster Escape had one player as an armless monster, causing chaos with its head. London Heist put you in the seat of a getaway car next to a British tough guy who hands you a submachine guy that you must, using Sony Move controllers, fire and reload. Super Hypercube and Godling showed different ways to use the controller – one for a sandbox sort of environment and the other for a puzzle game.
One of the most interesting experiences, though, was the game demo provided by VirZOOM. It was the weirdest and most disorienting, but it was doing something different.
While other Morpheus experiences looked to try to find standard gaming in a new virtual reality environment, VirZOOM wants to use virtual reality to make exercise more interesting.
While I think gaming is the absolute best place to push the limits of virtual reality, I think ultimately uses outside of gaming will help determine whether the tech is a gimmick or something every home ends up with. VirZOOM’s game felt very early, and I’m not convinced it’s going to be the product to break through that barrier, but I’m happy to see someone trying something different.
Graphically, it felt like something closer to what we expected of virtual reality back in the days of Lawnmower Man. Here’s how it works: VirZOOM’s game hooks up to a bike mounted on stationary brackets (or eventually, the team hopes, onto a stationary bike itself). Once on the bike, you pop on the Morpheus headset, hit a button, and start pedaling.
In my demo, I played as a horse, but the team has other stuff coming like a tank, and interactive elements are something they’re planning as well. I’m hoping for a virtual reality representation of a stationary bike in a room. As the horse, I would pedal faster to move faster, and turn the handlebars of the bike to turn. Here’s where things got weird.
I didn’t find any of the other demos disorienting, but this one threatened to throw me off my upright, stationary bike. Turning the handlebars was exceptionally strange, as my body expected me to lean the way I would on a real bike. Then later, I picked up a set of wings that turned me from a horse into the most majestic of mythical beasts, the Pegasus. I could control my height by pedaling faster or more slowly. It’s not the takeoff that’s weird, but the landing.
Weirdly, it felt something like being in an airplane. The feeling right before touchdown is the same as in an airplane. I felt myself tensing up and anticipating. I’m not afraid of flying (I prefer window seats), but landing has always felt strange to me, and landing in VirZOOM managed to evoke, for better or worse, almost the same feeling.
VirZOOM’s game is in early development, and definitely nowhere near ready for prime time. But it’s an interesting idea that, at least, felt different from the other stuff I played. It was memorable, and I hope the team can help broaden the appeal of virtual reality with whatever their finished product ends up being.