1.2 Modern VR Experiences

The current generation of VR systems was brought about by advances in display, sensing, and computing technology from the smartphone industry. From Palmer Luckey’s 2012 Oculus Rift design to building a viewing case for smart phones [122,243,311], the world has quickly changed as VR headsets are mass produced and placed onto the heads of millions of people. This trend is similar in many ways to the home computer and web browser revolutions; as a wider variety of people have access to the technology, the set of things they do with it substantially broadens.

This section provides a quick overview of what people are doing with VR systems, and provides a starting point for searching for similar experiences on the Internet. Here, we can only describe the experiences in words and pictures, which is a long way from the appreciation gained by experiencing them yourself. This printed medium (a book) is woefully inadequate for fully conveying the medium of VR. Perhaps this is how it was in the 1890s to explain in a newspaper what a movie theater was like! If possible, it is strongly recommended that you try many VR experiences yourself to form first-hand opinions and spark your imagination to do something better.

Video games

People have dreamed of entering their video game worlds for decades. By 1982, this concept was already popularized by the Disney movie Tron. Figure 1.6 shows several video game experiences in VR. Most gamers currently want to explore large, realistic worlds through an avatar. Figure 1.6(a) shows Valve’s Portal 2 for the HTC Vive headset. Figure 1.6(b) shows an omnidirectional treadmill peripheral that gives users the sense of walking while they slide their feet in a dish on the floor. These two examples give the user a first-person perspective of their character. By contrast, Figure 1.6(c) shows Lucky’s Tale, which instead yields a comfortable third-person perspective as the user seems to float above the character that she controls. Figure 1.6(d) shows a game that contrasts all the others in that it was designed to specifically exploit the power of VR.

Figure 1.6: (a) Valve’s Portal 2 demo, which shipped with The Lab for the HTC Vive headset, is a puzzle-solving experience in a virtual world. (b) The Virtuix Omni treadmill for walking through first-person shooter games. (c) Lucky’s Tale for the Oculus Rift maintains a third-person perspective as the player floats above his character. (d) In the Dumpy game from DePaul University, the player appears to have a large elephant trunk. The purpose of the game is to enjoy this unusual embodiment by knocking things down with a swinging trunk.