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8 Crazy Examples Of What's Possible In Virtual Reality
Posted on May 4, 2016 by David
By Jonathan Vanian
What using Sony’s upcoming virtual reality headset is like.
Sony made a big virtual splash last week.
The company finally said that its PlayStation VR virtual reality headset will debut in October. With the premiere, Sony joins several other big tech companies like Facebook, HTC, and Samsung that see virtual reality as radical new form of entertainment that will change how people watch movies, play games, and socialize with each other.
Why just laze away watching a serene beach on television when you can instead be transported—virtually—to the sand with water seemingly lapping at your toes?
As part of its press event, Sony and a handful of video game and media companies gave journalists a chance to try out some of the virtual reality products that are being developed. Here’s a list of some of the interesting games and video that Fortune tried out.
1. Free-falling in virtual reality
Social VR, one of the games being shown off, puts players in a cutesy virtual world of green hills and sandy beaches where they can toss beach balls to one another and even attend a dance party. Yes, you can finally do the hand-jive in virtual reality.
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It was in this cartoony and adorable world where I felt my adrenaline rush after using a virtual beach ball to bounce myself up into the sky. Eventually, I bounced so high that I could see tiny trees below, hilltops, and the vast dark blue ocean across the horizon. But of course, what goes up must come down, and I soon found myself free-falling back to Earth. In reality, my legs were firmly planted on the conference room floor. But seeing the horizon get bigger and closer as I plummeted was enough to cause my stomach to drop and my heart to race.
I’ve never skydived, but I got a little taste of it in virtual reality.
2. What being attacked by giant robots is like
There’s no subtlety involved in RIGS Mechanized Combat League. As soon as the game begins, armor-clad soldiers pumped their chests and saluted me as I was strapped into a giant combat robot and was taken to a futuristic arena in Dubai. There, in the arena, I battled other giant machines that resembled variants of Robocop’s iconic robotic villain in a sort of bizarre version of basketball in which I had to jump into a giant hole to score goals for my team that included other players who also piloted machines.
Fans of traditional first-person shooters will feel at home in this world because they use the standard PlayStation controller to fire laser canons, jump, and move around the arena. I got a bit dizzy as I constantly turned my head to see if an enemy was creeping up behind me, but the exhilaration of moving around in the virtual arena was enough to keep me going.
3. Act out your inner Godzilla
Why should Godzilla and King Kong have all the fun when it comes to smashing buildings? One of the demos I played from the upcoming Playroom VR game put me in the shoes (or talons?) of a huge brontosaurus-like monster that apparently had a rough day and needed to take out its aggression on skyscrapers.
Every bob of my head to the left or right would cause my creature to mow down a building. As little WALL-E inspired robots panicked and scattered, I continued my rampage.
The tables would eventually turn, and the little robots started hurling crates and canisters at me, forcing me to duck.
4. Your own private violin concert
After my experience falling from the skies, blasting robots, and smashing buildings, I wanted to relax and listen to some soothing classical music. For this, I tried an intimate musical performance—previously recorded with a 360-degree camera—by acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell.
In virtual reality, I could stand up close and personal next to Bell without bothering him as he furiously played his violin. If this close to a performer at an actual concert, I probably would be tossed out of the theater like some sort of stalker.
Turning to look behind me, I could see the recording gear and microphones that the filmmakers had set up to capture the performance. Being able to see those little details made watching Bell in 360 degrees much more memorable.
Even a glitch in the software that caused Bell to freeze for a couple of seconds was interesting. It’s not everyday that someone suddenly stops moving in front of you and then rapidly gyrates.
5. Harry Potter in virtual reality
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be Harry Potter, Waltz of the Wizard might be what you’re looking for. The game puts players in the shoes of a wizard who gathers magical spheres and dumps them into a big cauldron to obtain special powers. After I placed a sphere into the cauldron, I could shoot bolts of lightning from my hands by flicking the motion controller.
Still, not everything went smoothly. A couple of times my virtual hand would drift to the right of the screen without me actually moving the controller.
A representative stressed that this is still an early version of the game, and sometimes the camera tracking that works in conjunction with the motion controllers can get a little funky. Whatever the case, I had trouble picking up objects on the table, and I’d have to swipe my arm left just to get my virtual hand centered.
6. Watching movies made for virtual reality
Virtual reality is not just for games. The computer-animated short film Allumette served as a great example of how virtual reality can create new ways to tell stories on screen.
In Allumette, I watched a wooden airship resembling a galleon drift across an expanse of thick clouds. By walking in real life, I stepped closer to the virtual ship and peered inside one of its cabins to spy on a mother talking to her daughter. It was like being inside a diorama created by Hollywood director Tim Burton. The feeling of peeking into the set to see what was going on made the film an intimate experience.
I had to stand during the roughly 15-minute movie, which could be uncomfortable to do for films that are more than an hour long. But being able to walk closer to the scenery and turn my head to see shimmering stars light up the night sky in one of the film’s scenes made the discomfort of standing more bearable.
7. A long, strange trip in virtual reality
Megaton Rainfall was by far the strangest game I played on my virtual reality tour. In it, I took on the role of a super hero who must fly around a city and defend it from alien attacks.
It glided past buildings with almost complete freedom. The problem was that the drab buildings all looked the same, which created a sort of lifeless experience. The game’s brownish tint made it seem like I was cruising through heavy smog and the remnants of a long-abandoned Soviet city.
The alien ships I had to hunt resembled San Francisco’s iconic Coit Tower, and when I hit them with quite possibly the world’s slowest lasers, their bottom halves would open up and rotate like wind turbines. It was a surreal experience, to say the least.
8. Now you can work in virtual reality
Job Simulator is the game for anyone who’s had a bad day at work and wants to rage in a generic office without the fear of getting fired. In the tongue-in-cheek game, I sat in a cubicle that resembled the typical dreary workspace of modern-corporate life. There was an old desktop computer that I could turn off and on, a bulky looking copy machine, and boring work-approved books in my cubicle’s bookshelf. Of course, I started throwing my office supplies to create some mayhem.
I chucked some books at the cubicle in front of me, unplugged all the electronics in my space, tried to staple my hands, gorged on at least five virtual donuts, and turned on the coffee machine with no cup to catch what dripped out, causing a spill to spread across the floor. It was cathartic experience that I highly recommend once in your life, at least virtually.