On Saturday night, at a friend’s stag do, I saw a glimpse of my future – but enough about whatever my best man has planned for me, because I also got to try out some VR tech.
We’d just called it quits on our poker game for the evening – which I was definitely winning – and decided to have a game of Wii bowling. While the others were setting up, my friend produced a Samsung Galaxy VR headset from the storage room and urged me to try it out.
I’d made my feelings clear about the ‘fad’ that was VR only a little bit incoherently earlier in the night, when asked if I fancied a go. I thought to myself, it’ll be fun, and it’ll certainly be impressive enough, but will it really be a mind-blowing time?
Since everyone went spare over the Oculus Rift – and the ability to walk around a virtual copy of Jerry Seinfeld’s flat from his sitcom – I’ve felt fairly cynical as to how stunning the experience can really be.
I’ve been burned before.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Not that I ever owned one, but the 1990s were a heady time for video game commercials. Convinced that getting myself a Cyber Razor Cut would be awesome, and that playing an Amiga 500 would be the greatest gaming experience of all time (to be fair, the amazing song is to blame for that, too), I’m glad I never saw this advert for the Nintendo Virtual Boy at the time of release because it would’ve been the end of me.
The nerve. Honestly, the gall of Nintendo to have people thinking this would be anything other than a disaster. It lasted less than a year and, 20 years hence, remains Nintendo’s lowest ever selling console.
Predating that shambles of a console by two years, was BBC Manchester’s shambles of a 1993 gameshow which attempted to bring the possibilities of virtual reality to the masses. Naturally, a similarly ahead-looking presenter was needed, so in came Craig Charles – between filming series of Red Dwarf down the corridor – to welcome us ‘cybernauts’ to the virtual reality bonanza.
I was eight years old when this played on BBC2. Even at the age of eight, I could see just how bloody clunky it all looked; from the awkward poses of the ‘cyborgs’ controlled by players using the early 90s equivalent of a Dance Dance Revolution mat, to the puzzles that were thematically poles apart from the game’s concept – “welcome to the future, cyborgs. Now pick up this virtual ball and throw it at that virtual hoop”. Even at the age of eight, I could tell we had a long way to go.
The Lawnmower Man
Don’t even get me fucking started on The Lawnmower Man.
Samsung Galaxy VR
So, back to our evening of revelry last weekend. Engage.
Finding myself in an empty cinema I glanced up at my entertainment options, and chose a little VR trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron – coincidentally, one of only two films I’ve ever watched in 3D at the cinema.
And as I followed the path of Thor’s hammer and Cap’s shield across Avengers HQ, snapping pool cues in half and crushing robot heads – all in slow motion, naturally – I was stunned. The AR capabilities were fantastic, as I looked up and down and all around me to see what else was going on in this massive battle.
I also watched a music video by Squarepusher called ‘Stor Eiglass’ which has been published on YouTube 360, allowing you to get the same immersive experience I did, only by moving your mouse rather than your head.
And again, I thought this was absolutely stunning. It helps that I quite like Squarepusher anyway so the music didn’t detract from the experience, but the relatively inexpensive piece of kit that comes from combining some goggles with a smartphone managed to massively surpass my expectations.
I was absolutely blown away by the tech.
Confession: I was also pretty drunk, so there’s a good chance my eyes were already fairly goggly, but I’d recommend this experience to anybody, just to see how far VR has come since the days of Mario Tennis and Craig Charles’ Cyber Zone. And with Sony’s Playstation VR set to hit the shelves in 2016, we could finally be in for that all-encompassing, all-conquering VR experience that the likes of Craig Charles and Pierce bloody Brosnan couldn’t give us before.