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Guns, audio and eye-tracking: VR nearly ready for prime time

The future is finally getting into gear

Hear, hear – let's talk audio

Well, the sound engineers are all over the problem. And alongside a number of companies coming up with new and unique spatial audio systems, they are also developing feedback systems so developers can test and refine how they use sound in a game.

At the THX stand, they have a very interesting demo when the sound of a drum kit being played is put in a specific point and you are asked to turn, look directly at it, and click a button when you believe you are doing so. The results demonstrate just how good human ears are at defining where noise comes from.

No doubt developers are excited about the prospect of a zombie horde suddenly bursting in behind you, but to our mind, the real advantage will come in being able to turn down the intensity of noise while maintaining the gameplay. Developers can be more gentle and more precise.

Taken together, all these incremental but significant improvements: better screens at lower prices; less required head moving, and better, simpler gameplay thanks to eye-tracking; and a less overwhelming environment thanks to better sound – all of that means that VR is going to become more of a pleasure and less of a chore.

And now to the gun: Striker VR has come up with a futuristic looking gun – like something from a sci-fi movie – that could usher a new world of Laser Quest.

It has eight infra-red lights that can be picked up by the latest gaming systems (OptiTrack appears to be the current market leader) and translated into movement in a virtual world.


The StrikerVR gun: creating a sociable VR experience?

The guns have haptic sensors and kick back, similar to a real gun (but much lighter), when fired. They work for two hours before needing to be recharged, according to the company.

Laser Quest 2.0

Why is this something worth flagging? Because it is very possible that it could open up massive public use of VR in dedicated warehouses – where you run around and play games. Laser Quest was a massive thing in the 1990s, although somewhat out of fashion now, and people love paintballing.

This sort of technology could well usher in the next era: virtual reality games where you can switch up the game and interact physically in the virtual world. That adds a social element that could well pull non-gamers into it – and throw that into home VR playing.

It is still early days, and the biggest issue is the cost right now (plus the fact that some high-end VR headsets still need to be tethered, requiring a complex system of pullies in the ceiling). But apparently there are already VR warehouses in Europe and more are planned soon in the US (and, apparently in San Leandro in the Bay Area).

Anyway, this is one to watch as it can fill in a missing social element of this technology.

Of course, despite all these improvements, widespread adoption is still some way off. When all the elements that we've seen at GDC are pulled into products, it will be a big step forward. But there are still issues. For example:

  • There is no quick way to allow you to switch between the virtual world and real world. People are betting that augmented reality, or AR, will resolve this. We'd go for a simple button on a headset than puts everything on pause and let you see the real world.
  • Screen resolutions are still a little uncomfortable. It's hard sticking a screen so close to your face but that doesn't make it any less annoying.
  • A truly comfortable headset. A lot of effort goes into making the headsets as comfy as possible but the truth is that it's still always a relief when you take them off. Once it becomes like putting on a pair of shades, things will really take off, but that could be a decade away.

So, here's hoping these issues are tackled at next year's GDC. But as for this year's improvements, they are seemingly small but push VR from early adopter to mainstream fun. ®

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