Hello from the verge of a VR gaming revolution!

I was only five years old when Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the first “portable” video game console capable of displaying 3D graphics, was released in Japan and North America.

What aimed to be the hottest new gadget turned out to be a major failure as the console was not only overpriced and uncomfortable for use but also failed to deliver realistic 3D graphics for the player. Virtual Boy wasn’t truly portable, either. It had to be seated on a table – and the players couldn’t turn their heads while playing Virtual Boy games. On top of that, the games available for the console were scarce, suffered from bad graphics and even induced nausea in the majority of the players.

I never got to try out Virtual Boy; it was discontinued only one year after being released in 1995.

The gaming industry’s first step into the virtual world was a flop, but as we enter 2016 things are about to drastically change.

VR headsets take the mainstream

It will be a couple more years – here’s me being slightly optimistic – before we start playing first person shooters and slashers completely emerged into the VR world and, to be honest, I am majorly bummed out about that. I’d be the happiest gamer around if I could game in something resembling the holodeck I’ve grown up seeing in Star Trek, but I am also happy to settle for the next best thing. However, as amazing as Virtuix Omni treadmill looks and behaves in the demos we have available, the thing costs 699,00 USD before shipping (currently available for preorders) and is definitely not going to be a widely-owned device in 2016, or even in the years to come. In order to truly make it big, gaming technology has to be of high quality (which Virtuix Omni is) and support a variety of titles and genres on top of being affordable (which it is not).

On the bright side, we have some amazing virtual reality headsets about to come out in 2016, and things are only looking better for years to come. Here’s why:

The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is an American multinational investment banking firm that engages in global investment banking, securities, investment management, and other financial services. They are as big as ‘the big guys’ get and they recently predicted the size of VR hardware market growing up to 110 billion by 2025.
It’s no surprise, then, that tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are investing big money in research and development of virtual and augmented reality.

While these giants are not pushing into the VR world with primarily gaming in mind (Google and Facebook are currently very interested in using VR for educational purposes), their R&D money will make a huge difference for all of us who are eagerly awaiting to finally get to play an AAA title fully immersed into a virtual world of our choosing.

Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard all about Metal Gear series creator, the great master Hideo Kojima, leaving Konami (Has anyone ever told them he’s not really on a vacation?) and starting a new independent studio; Kojima Productions. Yes? Awesome!
Well, as it turns out, Kojima is teaming up with Sony, and they are planning something big.

In the official video uploaded to PlayStation’s YouTube channel, Kojima has stated, “I’m thrilled to embark on creating a new franchise with PlayStation. (One) that will give you all a new and innovative gaming experience.”
This certainly sounds like Kojima might be considering using VR technology in the near future, but while he visited Sony’s London studio and enjoyed himself a game of London Heist – nothing of the likes was confirmed by Sony or by Kojima.

Kojima playing Sony VR

My gut (or is it wishful thinking?) tells me Kojima is about to get on the VR hype train, but even if Kojima Productions steers clear of VR for now, we know for sure the studio will bring us amazing games in the near future and that’s all that really matters.

Though Kojima is a ‘maybe’ regarding VR at Sony, these titles are a definite ‘yes’: Final Fantasy XIV, Hatsune Miku, Summer Lesson, Gran Turismo Sport, Tekken 7 (Hell-to-the-yes!) and Robinson: The Journey. There’s something for everyone in here, and I think it’s an interesting mix of games that will start PlayStation VR on a good track.

PlayStation VR is said to come out in the first half of 2016. So close, I can practically feel it. And, by the way, it is said to be very comfortable for wear. I haven’t tried it, but if I ever do I will make sure to write out a detailed review for you!

And then there’s Oculus Rift, the VR headset that has restarted this whole virtual reality craze 20 years after the unfortunate fate of Virtual Boy. Oculus Rift was developed by Palmer Luckey and funded via a Kickstarter campaign. When Facebook realized the potential behind it and the interest it generated, it bought it out for 2 billion USD. The beauty of Oculus Rift is that it plugs into your computer’s DVI and USB ports. It tracks your head movements in order to provide 3D imagery to its stereo screens. Many YouTube celebrity gamers have tried playing various indie games with Oculus Rift, and while most of them like to overplay their reactions for the sake of their own videos, I think a lot of those games show impressive strengths of Oculus Rift and VR gaming in general. Playing games like EVE: Valkyrie with Oculus Rift will be a dream come true later this year – as the game will be released together with Oculus (and PlayStation VR).

A VR headset for every gamer

There are plenty of other VR headsets coming out this year. They differ in price and hardware requirements, and each has a different target audience. (Like Razer’s OSVR, for example, which is completely open-source and geared toward game developers) Most notable ones include HTC Vive, a Steam VR headset made in collaboration with Valve; The Gear VR, an Oculus Rift powered device that uses a Samsung Galaxy smartphone as its processor and display; Microsoft HoloLens, a mix between a virtual and augmented reality headset that merges real world elements with virtual ‘holographic’ images; and Fove VR, which advertises itself as the world’s first eye tracking virtual reality headset (do check it out, it looks great and promises amazing things).

Between interesting hardware and a colorful assembly of games that are coming out to accompany the headsets, I truly believe we are standing on the brink of something wonderful; something nearly every gamer has been fantasizing about even before the Virtual Boy.

2016 won’t be the year when VR makes it into the mainstream, but it will definitely be a year of tiptoeing the line. We are about to leap into virtual reality worlds for the purpose of both education and entertainment, and gaming is about to become an even more of a mainstream hobby than it already is.

Which is great. A bigger audience means more attention, and more money spent on research and development. All in all, I think we’re in for a great virtual ride!

 

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