Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How to Stomach the VR Revolution

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 10, 2016

I guess I got my first hint that I wasn’t cut out for a real career as a fighter pilot when, as a teenager, my parents cut me loose at the Hershey Park . Back then we didn’t have cell phones, so it was simply a case of “meet here at 4:00” or something. There I was, at an amusement park, with complete freedom to ride any ride I dang well wanted to without having to go at my parent’s pace. I went on wild ride after wild ride – anything that provided some G-force thrill.

After a little bit, I didn’t feel so well. It took me a while to recognize it, and by then it was too late. I was really motion sick.  The long car ride back home was miserable.

Descent_ScreenSadly, some games caused me motion sickness too, especially in the early days of First Person Shooters. Too much Doom or Duke Nukem 3D in one sitting could leave me feeling a little unpleasant. By far, the worst was the day that Descent came out. I played that game for about two hours straight, multiplayer. I was so sick that I was still feeling it the next morning. I have never played another Descent game ever since (not including the awkwardly-branded Descent: Freespace, which I loved and played a ton of).

However, the improvements in 3D have made those kinds of problems largely go away. I remember getting a little bit motion sick playing some Might & Magic 6 a few years ago, but that might have been something I overcame. I later played some marathon sessions of Might & Magic 7 with no problem, and its graphics were largely the same.

I first started getting interested in the potential of Virtual Reality back … oh, around the same time as the dawn of the first-person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D and Ultima Underworld were big deals, and I was reading lots of cyberpunk novels. I remember fiddling around with some early VR toolkits, which were just waiting for the tech to catch up. It took a long time.

Dactyl-NightmareBut now, finally, consumer VR is here, and everybody’s jumping aboard. And… there’s the motion sickness problem. As with my first experience playing Dactyl Nightmare back in the 1990s, ten minutes with the Oculus Rift DK1 a couple of years ago wasn’t super-pleasant. For me, I think it was largely a case of a disagreement between my visual motion and the rest of my body. It was especially acute in that there were no translation sensors, only rotation.  So as I was leaning and bobbing – something we do just naturally – I was getting warring perceptions. Within ten minutes, I absolutely needed to quit.

The newer versions have proven much better. Then there’s Valve’s HTC Vive, with its emphasis on room-based experiences, is not too bad. But restriction your movements to a few square feet is pretty limiting. My VR fantasies have always involved fast action and extensive exploration. Neither work great for someone with a tendency for motion sickness (or VR sickness).

VoidTempleTen minutes of The Void led to no such ill effects. The tracking was good, and it was all based on our real movement. Maybe an hour of it would have cased problems, but ten or so minutes of adventure went just fine. In my mind, this was what Virtual Reality was supposed to be from the get-go … but it requires a small theater full of sensors and non-consumer-level hardware to work.

My hope is that as I keep playing around with VR, I will adjust. It’s kind of embarrassing for a long-term gamer like me to get sick from playing games, after all. Especially a guy who was all about first-person 3D before it became a thing, and couldn’t be pulled away from flight simulators even when they were made with flat polygons and wireframe planes. But in the meantime, I’m probably a pretty test case for the vomit-inducing potential of a VR experience. If I can go for 20 minutes with little or no ill effects, it should be good enough for almost anyone. If I can’t, things ought to be reconsidered.

VanishingRealmsBetween getting acclimated to VR and the continued advancement of the technology (we are in the weird, wild-west early adopter days of the technology still, after all), I suspect that my giant dungeon-crawling, monster-bashing experiences of my fantasies are still within grasp. A half-hour of Vanishing Realms is sadly still enough to make me ill, but it gives me a glimpse of what the future might hold for VR. It’s pretty dang cool right now, but hopefully within the next 3 years it’ll be both cool and comfortable.

Filed Under: Virtual Reality - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    In real life eyeball movement is always smothered.

    And this is really shitty in that aspect:


    I fear VR has a looong way to walk till “human usable”.