Thursday , March 8 2018

Ausdroid visits HTC Vive at Mobile World Congress; or “How to faceplant in VR and live to tell the tale”

I may have ended up on a Taiwanese news story making a fool of myself the other night. I tried to lean on a virtual object and fell over with cameras rolling.

Scratch. Freeze frame. How did I get here? Well, it’s a funny story.

For a few years now, the Ausdroid team has been lucky to get demos of HTC Vive at tradeshows. We’ve watched as HTC’s nascent VR technology went from concept to product to second generation product and also a standalone headset with no PC connection required. We’ve also written about it a couple of times.

Every step of the way, the Vive team has always been excited about the developments and happy to talk about the system’s new features, issues and where they want to go next.

For the first couple of years, they ran the same demos at tech tradeshows – a tabletop war, an office simulator, and a very well-received Portal-inspired droid repair scene. All of them were immersive and fun, but little more than tech demos.

In the last year, Vive grew up. It’s lost its wired tether and gained a “Pro” version, and a bunch of new control schemes and ways to track real world objects in virtual space have been introduced.

It’s now being used for football training, in rehabilitation clinics, training for factory workers, and for groups to fight off zombie hordes.

Well … the last one might not actually be considered “grown up”, but the Ausdroid team did have an extremely fun four-player shootout against a horde of oncoming zombies. We could see (and shoot) each other in the game and made it through a few levels before we were eaten!

Because Vive is all about tracking the headset in virtual space, HTC’s demo booth this year was actually able to integrate footage of players in the real world into the virtual world footage:

Chris got an eyes-on demo with Mercenary (by developers KUKRGAME) in the new standalone Vive Focus – it’s built using Vive technology, but it doesn’t require a PC to play.

Dan also honed his football skills with a VR training simulator with big spiky Vive tech attached to his shins.

Vive can now simulate other objects besides your controllers in 3D space. There are now “trackers” that can be attached to objects to bring them into the virtual world.

In the football training program, you’re tasked with kicking balls into goals in the round. The Vive tracker is astonishingly accurate – in the video below I sat next to the bluetooth speaker so you could see that the ball kicking sound is timed perfectly to Dan’s foot movements.

As for me … well, I leaped at the chance to play my own virtual sport: table tennis. None of the other Ausdroiders around wanted to join in, so my opponent was a nearby Taiwanese news reporter, who was standing by with a camera crew ready to film some awesome VR action!

To control a table tennis paddle in VR space, you get a paddle with a Vive Tracker attached. This object is then rendered in the VR world as a paddle. You can pick up a ball with the standard controller in your left hand and then swing at it with the paddle in your right.

There’s a virtual dog on a stool, and it turns out he’s actually the referee. Why? It doesn’t matter why. Just go with it.

Everything went really well. It turned out that despite a few rallies, I was pretty good at the game, but there was a pretty devastating fail on my part.

During one of the rallies, the ball hit the net and fell over onto my side of the table. I did what I always do in that situation – I lunged forward and leaned on the table so I could reach the ball and return it.

One of those things doesn’t work in VR.

Instead of leaning on the table, I instead tumbled forward and faceplanted onto the ground.

Apparently nobody actually caught my tumble on camera, but the footage of us playing might have been on the news. I’m pretty sure there’s a security guard laughing his ass off at some form of security footage of my fall on a regular basis. I might end up on Spain’s Funniest Home Videos.

Thankfully(?) it turns out there is ONE photo of me, mid-fall.

After I got up and dusted myself off, the staff were kind enough to let me keep playing as if nothing had happened, despite the fact that the entire setup had been trashed.

When I went back the following day, they had mysteriously cleared the room of all obstacles and were continuing on as if there was never an accident. Brave souls, all of them.

HTC Vive produced a VR ping pong game that was so immersive that I got into it enough that I completely forgot I was playing a VR game and treated it like the real world.

As for the Taiwanese news reporter? She got her revenge on me for the win in the game when she interviewed me afterwards, then told me the interview wasn’t very good as she walked away. I felt betrayed, but my 11-5 victory bouyed my soul.

For the umpteenth time, we’ve walked out of the Vive demo area at a tradeshow with a huge adrenaline rush and smiles all round. It was undoubtedly the most fun we had at Mobile World Congress.

Jason Murray   Deputy Editor

Before discovering the Nexus One, Jason thought he didn't need a smartphone. Now he can't bear to be without his Android phone. Jason hails from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane depending on his mood and how detailed a history you'd like. A web developer by day with an interest in consumer gadgets and electronics, he also enjoys reading comics and has a worryingly large collection of Transformers figures. He'd like to think he's a gamer, but his Wii has been in a box since he moved to Sydney, and his PlayStation Vita collection is quite lacking. Most mornings you'll find him tilting at various windmills on Twitter - follow @JM77 and say hi!

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