Why Virtual Reality Games Are So Immersive?

Whenever people talk about virtual reality you always hear them say the same word “immersive” but what is emergent and why virtual reality is so immersive?


The definition of the word immersion is the fact of becoming completely involved in something even give us an example of total immersion in a video game is almost like living a life. When we talk about immersion it isn't an on/off switch, we never feel like we're actually on top of the mountain or driving a real race-car around a track but there are different levels of immersion. Some games and ups are more immersive than others and you can make some games more immersive by using add-on peripherals which I'll talk about more later in this blog so let's get into all the different factors in more detail.


We’re gonna start with the basics virtual reality in its most basic form consists of having a screen or two screens, which then display two separate images one for each eye. Each image has a different perspective just like in real life. The results are perfect 3d, we're not talking about 3d like at a cinema where it looks like the image is coming out of the screen a little bit we're actually talking about “holy shit it looks like someone stood right in front of me 3d”. Add to that, the ability to move your head to look around the world and this alone makes people feel immersed in the world or environment you're looking at. Some of the cheaper more basic headsets like Google cardboard, gear VR or the oculus go all do this but if you try to lean in or do anything other than pivot your head, the world will move with you, that not only breaks immersion what can make you feel sick. These types of headsets are known as three degrees of freedom or “3 DOF”, the more expensive and what I consider proper of headsets of six degrees of freedom or “6 DOF”. These include the PlayStation VR, oculus quest rift s or the valve index thanks to its sensors tracking the movement of the headset. Now you can lean in for a closer look, crouch down or even walk around your entire room. This adds another layer to the immersion level.

These sixth DOF headsets also have tracks controllers, this allows you to move your hands around in a 3d space. My first experience of VR was using the gear VR I was personally blown away. But shortly afterwards decided to build a PC and bought an oculus rift. Putting on the rift with the touch controllers for the first time took things to an entire new level.

so let's do a quick recap, we've got “holy shit this looks real”- 3d, the ability to move your head to look around in a natural way, the ability to move your entire body and even walk around your play area and finally we have hands which we can move around in the virtual world.


Well it's no good having hands if you don't know what to do with them, not only can you move them around but with buttons or sensors depending on the controller's you can actually reach out and grab virtual objects. In fact I guarantee the first thing we all did or will do when you first get into VR is start picking things up and throwing them around. Virtual reality brings out the inner child in us having a gun in your virtual hand physically crouching behind cover, peeking or leaning out to take shots, having to line up the sights of a pistol for a headshot are all things that feel completely natural. Because we are acting out the actions as we would in real life.

You can put someone who has never played a video game into virtual reality and they will get the hang of it pretty quickly. Try sitting them down with the gamepad or mouse and keyboard and watch them struggle but not all games or apps are equal and the good developers know that the more that you have to do with your hands, the more immersive it is.


Let’s look at some examples, “lone echo” even now have some of the best hand interaction with the environment and also making full use of your hands for gameplay. To turn on your scanner you have to tap the top of your wrist, to turn on your headlamp you tap the side of your head. “The walking dead saints and sinners” is a recent VR game that uses your hands to do most things in the game. You’ve got a backpack which you pull from your left shoulder if you want to grab things out of it. You simply reach inside to the desired slot, if you want to check your map or objectives you grab where a top pocket would be on a shirt and then you can navigate the menus by physically tapping on the icons on the pages. If your flashlight starts to run out of charge you have to give it a shake it. All feels very intuitive and it doesn't take long for you to start naturally doing this sort of stuff without even have to think about it. The last friction with buttons and menus and the more natural interaction you have with the world and the game's mechanics the more you lose yourself in the game. So what else can help a game be more immersive?  


Having a game with great graphics helps a lot especially a game with good lighting. The pinnacle of this right now would be “half-life Alyx” which has the best lighting I've seen in any VR game. If you combine that with the most detailed environments and assets this game made me feel the early sense of presence and had me reacting to enemies and set pieces like it was my first time all over again. We’ve also seen from the demo of an upcoming VR game called “vertigo-2” but even if the actual environments aren't ultra-realistic, some good lighting really tricks the brain. Having a full body with forearms can also help with immersion but it can also break it when your arms don't line up with your virtual ones. Some people really like seeing their arms other people don't.

One genre that really benefits from VR is horror. If you like watching horror movies or playing on VR horror games then virtual reality takes it to the next level. For a long time I just couldn't handle horror because it really gets your adrenaline going and it puts you in that fight-or-flight mode. You either end up ripping the headset off or punching your roommate in the face by accident.

Let’s finish off by talking about add-on peripherals, you've got the aim controller on the PS VR. This is like your old school like gun but now when you look down instead of a plastic gone you see your in-game gun which can move around and tracks your movement when you walk. On the PC people buy gun stocks which have slots for your motion controls to fit into, you can pull your hand out to reload or use a pistol holding on to something that you can move around and use like the real life counterpart really adds to the experience and the immersion.


Another genre that's really benefited from VR is the racing simulator, since sitting in your desk turning a steering wheel is one of the most immersive things you can do in VR. Playing games like “assetto corsa” or “dirt rally” have been some of the best gaming experiences of my life with moments when I just completely get lost in the game because of how close it feels to the real life. You’ve also got flight Sims with flight sticks, some people have haptic vests which send vibrations to your body. There are lots of more details that I could go into about immersion and the way that virtual reality changes the way we play different genres but I don't want to make this blog to go on to too long.




 

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