It seems like a new VR headset is announced every few months now. First there was the Oculus Rift, pioneering a newly discovered market segment. Now we have Sony’s Project Morpheus, Steam and HTC’s Vive, the Samsung Gear, and a whole host of other companies clamoring to get in on the topic while it’s still hot. Since they’re not widely owned yet and are still very much in developmental stages, it’s tough to tell exactly how it will play out, but it’s an exciting time for sure.
To date, most of the focus has understandably been on the hardware. Before developers can really show off software that’s been developer with these fancy gadgets in mind, it’s important to talk about the hardware and what it can do first. This past week I was on-site at GDC and got to play around with a few of the headsets and other VR-minded peripherals and came away more impressed than I expected. The tech is finally getting to the point where it actually works as intended for the most part and I can imagine the benefits it may include. Speaking of, let’s take a look at five ways those new-fangled VR headsets could benefit MMOs.
5) They’re Just Plain Cool
This one’s a bit vague and nebulous – how do you really define what’s “cool” anyways? Well, I like to think that some things in this world are just objectively cool. To that end, VR headsets are one of those things. They look like something out of a sci-fi movie and they just sound sexy. Virtual reality. Oculus Rift. Morpheus. Vive. Those phrases aren’t like anything that’s going around in the industry currently.
Add in some handheld motion-control peripherals and everyone is pretty much ready to start remotely piloting some Jaegers in the next Pacific Rim. Scenes from The Matrix come to mind, hooking up and booting into different programs. Full-immersion virtual environments are closer than ever. This technology is the cause of wet dreams for nerdy gamers like me across the world and excuse me while I choose not to hide my excitement.
4) More Immersive Roleplaying
What better way to roleplay than to virtually become another person? Every form of roleplaying has its limitations today. Sitting around a table and playing a game of D&D is awesome – your mind is a powerful tool – but it’s not the same as being immersed in a visually convincing virtual environment. A lot of people engage in Live-Action Roleplay, or LARPing across the world, but you’re limited by the bounds of actual reality. Fireballs don’t emit from hands no matter how accurate your cardboard breastplate looks.
But if the graphics are good enough, the motion detection accurate enough, the world-building detailed enough, and the gameplay varied enough – a virtual reality MMO could really do the trick. Imagine the possibilities of having seamless visual and audio output being sent directly to your skull. Throw in a mic that records your audio and sends your voice to people in the game via party and proximity chat and you may as well be in your own version of Sword Art Online. That would be awesome.
3) Gesture-Based Controls
Speaking of Sword Art Online, just watch that show if you want to see more examples of how awesome it could be. For example, what if we wore gloves on our hands that allowed for gesture-based inputs? We could still rely on the mouse and keyboard, or perhaps a different primary input existed all-together, but then additional inputs from glove movement.
Swipe up to show your inventory. Pull across from the right to show your equipment menu. Pull down from the top to bring up your friends list. This could go beyond just bringing up menus though. How about being able to nod my head to accept something from characters and NPCs, or shake my head to decline invites and quests?
2) Engaging Combat
Let’s take that a step further. Down below is an image of the Sixense STEM VR Motion-Tracking Controllers. They are completely wireless and are based on an electromagnetic field to accurately establish movement and orientation. I tried them at GDC and can confirm that they work infinitely better than any other existing VR controllers on the market – it is real 1:1 movement.
Think about having controllers like that while playing an MMO. This way, you can still move with the control stick and everything, but the movement controls would allow for everything else explained. With the way the controller’s laid out, that means one hand could have something like a sword equipped with a shield in the other and you could accurately move each of them individually. That would dramatically change everything.
1) Returning to First Person
Remember back in the days of the original EverQuest, or even going back as far as Meridian 59, when the games were always played primarily in first person? What happened to that, exactly? I love seeing my tricked out toon with all of his hard-earned gear shining all over my screen just as much as the next guy, but it makes me feel disconnected from the experience. That isn’t me in the game anymore, I’m just the puppet master for some virtual avatar.
VR headsets alleviate this problem. I would both literally and figuratively feel like I am inside of the game. First-person view with a VR headset means that I not only see the world through the eyes of my avatar, but it means my head’s movements are mirrored exactly in the game as my character moves his own head. Instead of sliding a mouse around to look at my environment, I turn my own head around to explore. This would be a massive leap forward for the genre, while also bringing it crashing back down to its roots – a welcome change from the cookie-cutter approach of so many recent games.
Maybe you’re not quite so sold on the potential of VR headsets with MMOs as I am. If not, that’s totally understandable. Are you against using VR headsets in MMOs? Do you think they have anything to offer? Let us know down in the comments below!