Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Friday, 15 July 2016

Why the HTC VIVE?

I took me about the last three months to get clear about this question. The Oculus Rift was the forerunner, it has a cooler name, and lots of celebrities in their ranks, and their publicity made the whole VR hype start firsthand. I talked about the Oculus Rift here in my blog for two years, the HTC VIVE seemed like a "cheap" copy which profits from the pioneer work of Oculus. Reading some web articles, one showing off a long row of prototypes from Steam, it could as well have been the other way around.

My final decision was based on two reasons.

First, the goodwill. Oculus Rift, since its sale to facebook has lost heaps of it. Not long after people, including me, started to see that getting financial backup from facebook was probably a good decision after all, they joined a venture with Microsoft, a no less evil empire as Google is nowadays… And it showed. Man do I remember that corporate speech PR event on the Touch controllers. The whole image of Oculus Rift as an independent kickstarter upstart, a “one of us”, had disappeared. So, no. No fandom shopping from me. Add to this all that crap which happened about the pre-orders, the late deliveries and that attempt to make Oculus Home a walled garden. And those very inconvincing explanations from Palmer Luckey on reddit. Yes, he is mostly treated unfair, but that does not make him right, either. I have read both sides to come to my own opinion. And my opinion is: OMFG, it can hardly get worse. Oculus Rift behaves like they want to become something like a PS4 exclusive market. And according to Palmer this was not bad for me a as a consumer!? Like I want to buy two VR-goggles just to be able to play all of the best games, or what?! And a Microsoft gamepad? Come on! At this point I was even ready to not buy Oculus Rift anymore, even if it was the better product.
A little relativizing is on order, through; I don´t think that Steam/VIVE is a white knight, neither. Their public comments seem to be always suited for a little bite versus Oculus, a little bit of subtle negativity versus Oculus, and I never heard any similar downlooking comments from Oculus. And who knows what went on behind the stage between those two companies, who cheated who or something. I only note that both companies don´t have good words for each other any more, as for example Frontier and RSI do have and always did, despite all that fanboy wars between Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. A shame.

Second, what do you get. I had to choose between a VR-goggle only (with later-on VR-controllers and 180 degree room-scale VR), and a VR-goggle including a built-in camera plus included VR-controllers and full 360 degree room-scale VR. 
The price tag hardly matters for me at this point, as the Oculus Rift is still not available in Germany, except for some ridicously overpriced few, for about 1000 Euros by Amazon, of all! Never mind that the Halfmoon-Controllers are not included in that price, but they will be necessary for some real VR. So, even if you aready got the Rift for the "real" price of about 650 Euros, with estimated 150 Euros for the controllers, the difference to the HTC VIVE would be only about 90 Euros. Instead, Oculus forces me in the meanwhile to buy a gamepad, and, man, do I hate gamepads!
Otoh, the HTC VIVE promised fast delivery and had me pay 889 Euros. Basically, the decision was glass clear to me. The only thing which held me back for a long time was, the problems of the HTC VIVE with my favourite VR game, Elite: Dangerous. Lots of forum posts about a bad graphic quality, up to the point of some claiming it to be unplayable. Thankfully, the latest patches seemed to alleviate the issues for most, and this restored also my confidence that Frontier will tackle and solve the issue in the end. And my first tries with Elite: Dangerous turned out to be ok.

So far, after using the HTC VIVE in some room-scale games, I can just say, correct decision. No wonder that the HTC VIVE sells better these days! Nothing bad about Elite: Dangerous in VR, but the real fun starts with roomscale-VR. Shooting that virtual longbow is insane fun, plus it might even train my RL archery instincts, even if it is by far not an accurate simulation. Walking around in VR, touching things, if I had bought the Oculus Rift, I would have had none of those so fantastic experiences.

However, if Oculus manages to bring out a better product with the Halfmoon touch controllers, they will be mine. Their layout seem to be suited much more ergonomic and smoother in the hands than the VIVE controllers are, and they are supposed to simulate not only hand, but also finger movements.

In the end, all will depend on what software is available. Right now, I am scanning the gamestore and the offers are very rudimentary and expensive. The simplest games like Zenblade dare to ask for 15 Euros? WTF, you can have 5 Euros if your game works nicely! For those who follow the path of rudimentary VRgames, it must feel like for me when I was young and bereft of those clunky Commodore C64 graphics, and had even to content with those ASCII-based Nethack on my dads first PC. Enjoy the voyage, but I will stay to sip some coffee until the higher tiers of gamings are going to be reached. It should not take long, because by principle, we are already there, it is just a matter of entering this new and so exciting market.

So far, here is my choice of really exciting and already available games. All of them early-access, but they work fine and provide for a lot of excitement and fun:
- Elite: Dangerous (of course)
- The Lab/Longbow (Archery, jay!)
- VR-Lightsabers (They feel so real!)
- Raw Data (omfg... omfg... omfg... buy it, already!)

Just play those four games, and I promise, you will be blown away, despite still obvious shortcomings. I am. And this is just the beginning.

I should probably also mention that I have some sore muscles by now. Nothing bad for a notorious mouse pusher, right?

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