I am not a trendsetting techventurer, but this last weekend I aimed to become one. Last Thursday, I wrote an article about the dilemma of having to make decisions about virtual reality gaming without first testing it. I wrote that article a few weeks back when I was planning a trip to central Florida to do just that: test out VR and form a more informed opinion. My adventure was a success!
On Friday, I took to the open road to make the journey from scenic Tallahassee to even more scenic New Port Richey, Florida. If you are unfamiliar, it is a suburb in the Tampa Bay area, and a happening place for the 65+ crowd. I just so happen to have a good friend currently residing there, and he didn’t mind taking me up on an offer to tour the area to test Playstation VR and the Oculus Vive.
One last note about New Port Richey: before heading out to a really above average local bagel place (praise you New York snowbirds here in paradise) on Saturday, I witnessed a rather rotund gentleman sitting upon a bucket in his driveway without shirt, shame, or a semblance of anything better to do. Chance encounters with real humans like this are thoroughly enriching, don’t you think?
After bagels and bucket honkies, Caleb and I made our way to another suburb of Tampa: Brandon, FL. As a non-native Floridian, I knew absolutely nothing about the city of Brandon. It proved me wrong in every way I would have conceived. Unlike New Port Richey, Brandon was a happening place. Caleb had plotted our course and he managed to find a single Gamestop that was demoing both the Playstation VR and the HTC Vive.
It was by far one of the biggest and nicest Gamestops I had ever been in. I even overheard a man-bun wearing a Gamestop employee that it was the largest Gamestop in the district. To our further surprise, a Best Buy down the road from this Gamestop was also demoing the Oculus Rift. Brandon is the virtual reality capital of central Florida!
We both started with the Playstation VR. Caleb played London Heist with two Playstation Move controllers. He was a little stunned at first and did not realize how important moving his head was. By the end, he was using his two hands to seamlessly push more rounds into his semi-automatic weapons to pump nameless enemies with more lead. The television screen showed a rather generic looking game, but I could tell he was really getting into it.
When my turn came up, I decided to go with SUPERHYPERCUBE, a game best described as Tetris, if you couldn’t see over the pieces you’re having to place. Here’s a look at it:
It was a ton of fun. The game is incredibly simple (rotate 3D object to fit through specifically-shaped hole), but the fact that my point-of-view was obstructed forcing me to peer around the shape in front of me was so immersive. It is by no means a $400+ game, but I wouldn’t complain if I got to try again.
That said, even without comparing it to the other two, the Playstation VR’s screen quality was garbage. It matter a whole lot less since the experience was so immersive, but it is definitely a step back from current gen and maybe even last. The headset was very comfortable though.
All-in-all, I am very up on Playstation VR after having tried it. The game displayed simultaneously on the television as well, so my big issue with VR being too private (and not something others could watch) was fixed instantly.
From there, we moved over to the HTC Vive, where we played a series of bland tech demoes. Neither of us walked away too impressed, though it definitely worked. I personally liked the controllers for the Vive, but Caleb wasn’t sold on their Steam Controller-esque tactile track pads. The screen quality was definitely a huge improvement from the Playstation VR, but none of the tech demos showed it off.
My absolute favorite thing about the final demo for the HTC Vive, a dual wielding shooter mini-game, was being able to shoot in two separate directions, simultaneously, without any issue whatsoever. The act came natural to me. I also really loved how integrated the controllers felt in all of the demoes. A lot of them played off the fact that I was interacting with the world through a physical object held in each of my hands and the game’s went to some length to emulate those controllers in the virtual world’s themselves. It felt so much more immersive than using the Dual Shock controller on the PSVR for SUPERHYPERCUBE, even if looking at my controller in that game showed me a cool layout of all the buttons.
After we grabbed a bite to eat, we headed over to the Best Buy, where we each had appointments to demo the Oculus Rift.
Caleb came away far more impressed with the Oculus Rift than I. We both agreed that the game we chose to play, a mountain climbing gaming creatively named The Climb, was terrible. It involved alternating pressing and releasing the left and right triggers of an Xbox One controller to maneuver up a mountain. It was immersive, but did little to set its mood. It started you immediately on the mountain and gameplay consisted of extreme close-ups of that mountain while you peaked around for new places to grab.
We also both agreed that the Oculus Rift had the best screen of the bunch and felt no less comfortable than the rest. Finally, we agreed that the demo was overall better as it involved a series of unique experiences before you picked and ultimately played anything.
I didn’t feel all that enthused, however. The Oculus Rift just wasn’t that much better than any of the others. I also hated that it didn’t have its own unique controller, and the built-in headphones reminded me of the kind I used when I was a kid in the ‘90s. I didn’t hate it, I just wasn’t really excited about it: the Oculus Rift was roughly the same as the HTC Vive for me. That said, I did like the simpler tracking system, especially since I don’t foresee myself mounting the Vive’s trackers in any of my future ceilings.
Overall, I was actually pretty impressed. I think all three systems worked really well. The Playstation VR is probably the best value considering I already own a Playstation and don’t want to upgrade my graphics card on top of buying a Rift or Vive right now. I am extremely hesitant about getting in on the ground floor with all three though. I would love to see VR catch on – I think the hardware has a ton to add to gaming as we know it – but I am not sure it will catch on just yet. For as many people that get to test these things at specialty stores, how many are going to be ready to pony up the cash for the headsets and the hardware to use them too? Not many, I imagine.
One final Florida story to end this not so virtual adventure:
After our excursions in virtual space and a promenade in Swedish space (we went to Ikea), Caleb and I ended our journey with a light dinner at a Tampa hole-in-the-wall called Taco Bus. I was instantly drawn to it by the idea of eating muy authentico tacos from a hollowed-out school bus. We drove through a ghetto to get there even! The worse off the area looked, the better off I was feeling: the best food comes from the ugliest of places.
When we arrived, it looked the part, but things quickly appeared to be amiss. We strolled up to the bus, ordered our tacos with drinks, and were pointed off to a drink machine: a freeform Coke machine. High class for a hole-in-the-wall!
We sat down to wait for our meal and that’s when we realized there was a full building with a bar inside as an extension of Taco Bus. It wasn’t just a bus and outdoor seating like we were led to believe by the website: this was a full-on complex. There was even a ton of parking, which should have been the first sign that this place was not what it seemed.
While waiting for our meal, I discovered that Taco Bus not only had indoor and outdoor seating, but there was also free wifi. Owners of most of the delicious shitholes I have guttered myself in could scarcely spell wifi, let alone set it up for the public!
Finally, our to-go boxes were branded with the Taco Bus name. They even had a slogan which we thought was just a kitsch sign, “broken English perfectly spoken”, emblazoned in the plastic.
Try as they might, this was no hole-in-the-wall: this was the beginning of a Taco Bus tour across America’s franchising future. And it was fucking delicious anyway.