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Oculus Connect 2 Sees Big VR Pushes in Touch, Social

Phil Hornshaw | 29 Sep 2015 18:00
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Reaching Out and Touching Games

bullet train

Connect 2 had a handful of games available to try with Touch, all of which came off as interesting proof-of-concept demos that suggest even more possibilities.

Puzzler I Expect You To Die casts players as a James Bond-like agent and puts you inside a car, which is itself inside a mid-air cargo plane. Your task is to drive the car out of the plane within five minutes. Then you start looking around the cab to figure out how to escape. Find the key in the visor and you can turn on the ignition, but that triggers a retina scanner-which you fail. The scanner then tries to kill you with a laser, and you have to physically duck clear to avoid it.

After that, it's on to defusing a bomb, finding a way to activate the car's on-board cannon, and more. All the tools are in the car, and you have to quickly find and open compartments with your Touch controls to locate what you need. Find a pocket knife and you can flip it open to cut the bomb's wires, for example.

Some of the same ideas-picking up and manipulating various objects-are at the heart of the demo Job Simulator, in which you find yourself as an office drone parked at a desk. You complete various tasks like making coffee and stamping files, before you're free to mess around at your desk. You might try squeezing a virtual stress ball or throwing virtual paper airplanes, or photo-copying your head by leaning forward with your headset on (do so and a brain comes sliding out of the copier's paper tray). It's mostly just a space to mess around in, but with titles such as Surgeon Simulator that are built on screwing with your ability to manipulate an in-game world already out there, it's not hard to see where Touch could open up a lot of avenues for games.

But probably the easiest gaming transition for Touch, and VR at large, is in first-person shooters. Demo Dead and Buried gives players a couple of revolvers and an Old West location to shoot targets in, and it's hard to overstate how intuitive Touch controllers feel when they represent guns. The same was true of Epic Games' Bullet Train demo, which makes more use of the controllers' face buttons, but mostly just focuses on picking up, putting down and shooting guns.

More Than a Gaming Peripheral

Oculus' big push with VR isn't just limited to Touch, however, or with adding a head-mounted display to existing games, as has been done with Alien: Isolation. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg showed up at the Oculus Connect 2 keynote to tout the future of consuming content on social media, mentioning things like 3D video and interactive spaces. It's been obvious Facebook sees VR as more than a gaming device, and Oculus looks to be working to make sure it's not just the hardest of the hardcore who shell out for VR gear.

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Among the other things to show off for Oculus were Medium, a Touch-based sculpting program that Oculus bigwigs referred to as the platform's Paint app, and social viewing experiences. Oculus Arcade lets you wander around playing games on virtual arcade cabinets. And on Samsung's GearVR, which uses a Samsung Note 6 phone as the computer component of the headset, you can create a virtual viewing party for services like Twitch and Netflix. Strap on the headset, and it becomes like you're sitting in a virtual theater, watching a Twitch stream projected on the wall ahead of you. Turn your head and you can look at avatars representing the people you're viewing with-presumably your friends in most circumstances. It's weird in practice, putting on a screen to sit in a pretend room to watch another screen, but these social ideas do seem like it might be interesting to do with pals who live miles or even countries apart from one another.

There are other ideas at play with VR, and one can't help but feel like the people at Oculus and its partners know they have an uphill battle ahead of themselves. You can play games and talk to other people and make art and watch Netflix on your headset. Just in case you thought you get bored, they seem to say. And the possibilities are definitely there.

But the big questions remain, and Oculus Connect 2 didn't answer some of the hottest-burning ones: when the Oculus Rift will be out, and how much it will cost. (Samsung was the only company with solid product info, announcing a new version of its GearVR for $99 that will be compatible with all its flagship 2016 phones.) And then there's the question of the Touch controllers, and the camera (or maybe two) that you'll need to make them work. And you can't forget about the space VR requires to work well-you might not need a big empty room to use the Rift or Touch, but it's also not a static, lay-on-your-couch-and-game kind of experience, either.

Right now, Oculus and others seem to think that the best way to overcome those issues is to make sure VR provides a variety of great experiences, and they're probably on the right track to do so. As I mentioned above: Even when it's ridiculous, it's hard not to get caught up in the infectious VR excitement.

Disclosure(s): Oculus Rift hardware and games were provided to The Escapist by Oculus.
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