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How VR for PC Elevates Gaming
January 7, 2019
Gamers are leery of gimmicks
The old tried-and-true input devices of keyboards and mice or controllers with d-pads and buttons are time-tested. They have shown themselves to be trusted and adaptable to every style of game.
The history of gaming is full of devices that have proven to just be single-use novelties like the light gun “zapper” of the NES that only had a few games ever made for it. And don’t forget the “Power Glove” featured in the 1989 movie The Wizard which promised ultimate control but was just a clunky controller.
More recently, Microsoft’s motion-capturing smart camera “Kinect” was rejected by gamers as a gimmick, and support largely discontinued.
It is with this jaundiced eye that many gamers view virtual reality (VR); they see it as yet another gimmicky piece of tech that will ultimately go away. That is, until they strap on a quality headset and motion controllers and suddenly realize what it is to be inside of a game environment with full immersion.
It is, for many, a literal game-changer.
The first time many gamers find themselves “in” virtual reality, they don’t realize the “Oh!” face of wonder they’re making as they move their bodies and heads around and see games from the inside at whatever angle they glance. It is a transformative experience.
But that’s the problem, too, vexing the mass adoption of virtual reality gaming: it MUST be experienced to be understood. There’s no real way to convey by pictures or video what it feels like to swing a glowing light saber at a flying box in Beat Saber or reach back behind you to grasp a glowing shield and fend off incoming laser blasts in the wave shooter Space Pirate Trainer.
It simply is different than any other gaming experience, but immediately familiar and intuitive. But to become hooked, you’ve either got to make a relatively pricey leap of faith to invest in the hardware or have access to a demonstration to get a feel for it.
However, as the technology is now consumer level, those price points are dropping and becoming more reasonable and more tempting. PC VR gaming has fully arrived and is here to stay.
How PC VR headsets work
The two main PC VR platforms are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Both are integrated headsets with stereo headphones and microphone, full 6-degrees of freedom head tracking, and both have handheld, motion-tracked input devices that complete the sense of full immersion.
Virtual reality headsets like the Rift and Vive send two separate video feeds, one to each eye, from a slightly different angle. By motion tracking the headset with sensors placed in the room, and sending data back and forth between computer and display, it dynamically shows a fully 360-degree world, wherever the headset-wearer looks.
In so doing, they mimic the way we view the real world. And with low-latency feedback input and high frame rates, they successfully trick the user’s senses into feeling like they are inside a real space, free to move and look around it. Or they can swing swords, cast spells, or fire laser pistols inside it, depending on the game.
It was not always so. Early generation attempts at VR, with laggy motion tracking or insufficient frame rates inadvertently simulated the feeling of being sick or poisoned, and caused instant nausea.
In order to deliver visual information that the human eye sees as “real,” a frame rate of 60 frames per second (fps) is needed. With the proper VR-ready gaming PC powering it, Oculus and Vive delivers 90 fps. And the home console PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset add-on for the PlayStation 4, delivers 120 fps.
The input devices
Games are all about controls: joysticks, gamepads, buttons, and keyboards. So how does one control virtual space? Well, it depends on the game and experience being delivered by the software.
Many VR games place the user as the true “first person” point of view, and at that point, the user’s own body, as it moves, ducks, dodges, and turns acts as one part of the control scheme.
The motion controllers for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have sensors that understand finger placement. So depending on the game, the controls “become” different items that you move around in space.
Each design is markedly different:
- The Vive uses a kind of wand with sensors, an intuitive trigger, and a round thumb disc that appears to be a blank, flat face in real life, but when viewed “in-game,” can display dynamic controls that change as needed.
- The Oculus Touch controllers are moon-shaped, lightweight hand-gripped controllers, with buttons and sensors. Without VR goggles on, they resemble the bottom end of a pirate’s cutlass. With the goggles, they can look like whatever the game programmer wants them to look like.
Other games use standard gamepad controls or PC-compatible steering wheels for racing games, and the virtual reality aspect is about the immersion and field of view.
VR-ready PC systems
What kind of rig do you need to run VR games for either Vive or Oculus Rift? Gamers understand that a VR-ready gaming PC is necessarily a powerful one.
VR games even more so, as they need to deliver two high-quality video feeds (one to each eye) and dynamically display camera angles depending on where the user moves their head and body in real 3D space, while tracking motion controllers and displaying their representations in real time.
The specs Oculus Rift recommends are:
- Graphics card: NVIDIA GTX 1060/AMD Radeon RX 480 or better
- Alternative graphics card: NVIDIA GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 or better
- CPU: Intel® i5-4590/AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater
- RAM: 8GB or more
- Video output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
- USB ports: Three open USB 3.0 ports, plus one open USB 2.0 port
- OS: Windows 10
The Vive lists its specs as:
- Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or better
- CPU: Intel i5-4590/AMD FX 8350 equivalent or higher
- RAM: 4GB or more
- Video output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
- USB port: One USB 2.0 or better port
- OS: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later, Windows 10
As VR gaming is becoming more of a draw, consumer gaming PCs are being offered as VR ready.
HP VR-ready gaming systems
HP collaborated with HTC and Oculus to ensure that select systems provide the ideal VR experience with HTC Vive and Oculus Ready certification - stressing their hardware with the most intensive games to achieve at least 90 fps.
The HP OMEN lineup is prepared for the future of gaming as a VR-ready PC build that’s tested and tuned for optimal VR performance. Powerful HTC Vive hardware is included with select HP OMEN or HP OMEN X desktop options built with the hardware that you need for an amazing, seamless, and out-of-the-box VR experience.
And if you’re looking to really throw yourself in the world of VR gaming by seriously decking out your gaming rig, check out the PC VR bundle. The HP OMEN X VR gaming backpack bundle includes the HP OMEN X compact desktop PC, HP OMEN X desktop VR backpack, and the HP Windows mixed reality headset.
You can unleash yourself from your desk or your couch and walk around in the virtual world by simply strapping the HP OMEN X compact desktop PC onto your back via the HP OMEN X desktop VR backpack.
Get ready for some uninterrupted VR “you” time. This adaptable and power-packed desktop includes a unique docking station, integrated rechargeable battery, and two waist-mounted battery holsters so you can quickly swap batteries mid-game without removing the backpack.
How VR works on PCs
A huge amount of processing power and the most advanced graphics cards are necessary to create the immersive experience that gamers require. HP OMEN PCs are ready to take on VR demands.
They offer up to NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 1080 or AMD Radeon R9 Fury X graphics on HP OMEN desktops and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics on HP OMEN laptops. In addition, they feature 6th Generation Intel Core™ processors with overclocking capacity, and optional liquid cooling.
But what about the games?
All the specs in the world don’t mean much if there aren’t any fun games to play. Here’s just a sampling of some of the more amazing and enjoyable games for PC VR platforms.
1. Beat Saber by Beat Games
The concept is immediately understandable and the interface is ridiculously satisfying. Strapping on the VR goggles and firing up Beat Saber sees the player standing on a stylized, neon rimmed, shiny ebony platform.
In each hand, a glowing, humming light saber, crackling with power, moves fluidly with the user’s controller acting as the handle. One of the glowing sabers is blue and the other red.
Choosing a song and difficulty level and beginning a round causes one of several bass-heavy techno songs to play over the stereo headphones, and a series of flying boxes zoom toward the player.
Each is the color of one of your sabers and has an arrow on its face. They zip by your strike zone in time to the music playing, and your task is deceptively simple: Use the correct color saber to cut the box in the direction of the arrow.
Doing so results in a satisfying hum-crackle-snap and a buzzing haptic feedback in your hand from the controller. Crossing the blades of your sabers also causes this buzz, giving the very real feeling of power and substance to them. They feel like what you imagine a lightsaber would feel like.
In addition to the increasingly rapid and complex patterned boxes to slice, glowing red walls also zoom toward your platform at breakneck speeds. You must dodge them or duck, depending on where they are, all while striking out at any boxes that might be going by at the moment.
Beat Saber’s simple but very precisely tweaked and dialed-in controller scheme soon becomes second nature. The first hour spent playing is fun and a novelty, but by the third or fourth, something seems to click and you are rapidly slicing an amazing number of boxes from different angles, all without thinking about it, and in time to the thumping music.
It’s a little like meditation and a lot like a full body workout. Time spent playing Beat Saber burns as many calories as time spent playing a game of real-world tennis.
2. Rush by The Binary Mill
Did you ever see those adrenaline-junkies doing the extreme sport of wingsuit flying, leaping from planes or high cliffs to glide like flying squirrels at insane speeds and wonder “what must that feel like?”
Rush, available on Steam for both Vive and Oculus platforms, answers that question and allows players to race each other in real time through a series of incredibly real-feeling ranges. Wind whistles and rain whips across your virtual helmet’s visor and the feeling of speed is uncanny.
Rush offers a variety of control schemes, from headset-only navigation by way of looking and head-tilting, to hybrid controller options. The most immersive and heart-pounding one is where your arms are your arms, and spreading and raising them, twisting and turning them in time to gain speed or turn becomes an unconscious skill.
But it’s a learned skill that comes after you experience what it is to virtually splat your body onto rocks and into trees as you figure out the mechanics. Unlike real-world wingsuit races, you can try again as many times as you like until you get it right.
3. Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-Ality by Alchemy Games
There are two types of people in the world: those who know all about Pickle Rick and just how precious the limited-availability McDonald’s Szechuan dipping sauce is, and those who have yet to experience the lunatic genius of Adult Swim’s brilliant (but dark and twisted) cartoon series Rick and Morty.
Luckily, gamers with big PC rigs and VR headsets usually fall into the Venn Diagram circle of “people who know about Rick and Morty.” And the VR adventure game brings the same brand of psychopathic hilarity of the show into a fully realized 3D cartoon world. To be sure, you must be a fan of the show to enjoy this game, but if you are, you will.
It offers a series of engaging VR tasks and puzzles, but the real draw is the laugh-out loud funny interactive episode you find yourself in, as a series of disposable clone Mortys. All total, the entire game is probably a three-to-four-hour experience.
The gameplay is, in essence, a bunch of mini-games and tasks, but the real joys are the many Easter eggs and interactions. Drawers and cabinets are all full of items fans will recognize and can hold. There are also a seemingly endless bunch of references lovers of the show will snort along with.
It’s a solid VR experience for any fan. The show is streamable on Hulu and on many cable OnDemand systems. If you’re not easily offended and are into weird (but smart) outrageous humor, binge-watching it and checking out the game would be a great way to spend a weekend.
4. Fruit Ninja VR by Halfbrick Studios
Fruit Ninja is the casual gaming franchise whose simple idea made a mobile gaming empire. Cut thrown fruit with “blades” by sliding your fingers across the touch interface of your smartphone while avoiding bombs and nabbing power-ups and modifiers.
Rack up a high score and see where you stand on the leaderboards. It’s silly and easy to understand, simple to get reasonably skilled at, but hard to truly master.
Making the jump to VR, the blades are actual samurai swords that track perfectly with your controllers as sword-handles. All game modes that you became familiar with on the phone are represented, but now you stand before a semi-circle of bamboo pipes that launch the fruit (and bombs) skyward and you have to be a little more skillful to get the same kind of scores you managed with your finger on a flat device.
The dual-wield swords feel amazing and responsive, but the skill curve is noticeable. Avoiding bombs while slicing fruit means you really can’t swing your arms wildly. It’s a casual VR experience you can spend an hour at a time getting good at, or jump into and out of for three minutes.
In this way, it is sort of a must-have title. Like the original 2D version, with Fruit Ninja VR you can find yourself zoned in and dedicated for long stretches, or just kill a random five minutes before a show you’re waiting for comes on.
5. Moss by Polyarc
It’s rare when a console game gets ported to PC. Usually it is the other way around. Moss is a different kind of VR title. There are many first-person VR wave-shooters and gun-based games.
But Moss is a third person (well, third mouse) adventure/platform game that you play in VR space, acting as an invisible viewer, reading the tale of Quill, and guiding the heroic little mouse in a lush and beautiful world that you can stop and look around at from every angle.
This ability to see the environment translates into platform gaming in a way unique to VR. Figuring out where you can go and how you can get there becomes a kind of escape room thrill.
It’s hard to convey just how natural it is, but how miraculous it feels, to put on a pair of goggles, and look all around at a detailed, living environment around you, while you control a plucky little creature that really looks like it’s there.
There’s no blood and no gore. There’s just a brave little girl mouse named Quill and an adventure that she undertakes. Your motion-tracked controller is the bridge between the real world and Quill’s world, and is used in creative ways that push the boundaries of what you’d imagine video game controls would be used for in virtual spaces.
You don’t become Quill; you’re her companion and her protector; she knows you, the player, are there. You can restore her health at times by petting her.
Moss began life on the PlayStation VR, but has been ported to the PC on Steam and improved in the process. The larger field of vision and more detailed graphics that the PC is capable of really make the storybook world, and Quill, come alive.
Playing Moss in VR makes a player realize that the virtual reality platform is not limited to only a few kinds of games, but rather it can add dimensions of gameplay and engagement and breathe new life into a variety of different types of games. Moss is a delight - visually, gameplay wise, and emotionally - and should be a part of every VR gamer’s library.
Add VR to your gameplay
This new technology is not just a gimmick. Given the truly astounding immersive experience VR provides, the opportunities to play in VR worlds is only going to expand. Be careful though; once you try it, you’ll never go back!
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.