Almost exactly two years ago, I got an Oculus Quest. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but I’d wanted to get into VR for about as long as that’s been possible to do. The Quest – with it’s standalone cable-free design, and no need for special sensors in the room or a high end PC – that seemed like the time to jump in.
The decision did feel dirty. Much has been written about the dark side of Facebook, so I won’t retread that, but that is probably the strongest detractor to the Quest and it’s ecosystem.
Overall, it’s a fantastic device. I also grabbed a Quest 2 as well, and it seems to be an improvement on every axis other than the quality of the straps and face cradle.
I love VR. It’s the fun of gaming, without being sedentary. And especially in our lockdown world here in early 2021, it’s a way to get somewhere else for a while – and it’s increasingly a way to connect with others in the virtual 3rd place.
The Quest 1 felt like a glimpse of something that could become something awesome. Much of the time, the Quest 2 feels like it’s already there.
I do recognize that the term “privilege goggles” has been thrown at these devices, and that has some merit. To be able to enjoy them you need $300 even before you buy apps, and you need ideally 6 square feet of open floor. This is something that I hope will continue to evolve and that this kind of tech will be come more and more accessible – and I feel fortunate to be able to participate for now.
In Heavy Rotation
After two years, a few apps have stood the test of time, and I keep coming back to them over and over.
This list is in no particular order.
I think I have the most hours on this game. It’s just … perfect. It’s a legend for a reason. I pick it up during the work day some times, play a few songs, and come back to my desk amped up and ready to get back to it. The sense of flow and mastery when I’m playing it is second to none. I’m sure I look like a gigantic dork from outside the headset, but inside I am a dancing Jedi/Ninja. The multiplayer mode is fun, as well.
I usually have a heart rate tracker on while I’m playing this game and it’s wild how aerobic it can end up being, especially on the hard/expert modes.
This is basically “John Wick, the game.” In a pulsing, beat driven world, you take out a bunch of abstract attackers with one or two guns. It’s amazing how it feels like you’re in it, and like when slow motion bullets come zooming towards you, or when you step around an obstacle to find someone right in front of you … the sense of danger is real.
This is my second most played game by time, and the third Rhythm game I’ve listed in a row … maybe I have a thing for those … but in this one you’re using pistols to shoot digital skeet.
It’s super fun, and the song choices are great, with some complicated beats that you get to feel like you’re in.
In this game, you take a bow and arrow into an immersive roguelike. It feels like you’re sneaking through a castle, shooting arrows at knights, archers, and the shambly undead. You also use a different kind of arrow to teleport, which helps keep the game motion-sickness free. This game is the most fun if you can do it in a large open space (like a garage), because you can actually sneak and peek around corners … it reminds me most of paintballing back in high school. It’s really fun, and very challenging. They recently released a new DLC that I can’t wait to try!
It’s … table tennis. That’s about it. But that’s about all it needs to be. It feels so realistic. When I put spin on the ball – the ball goes where I’m expecting it to. It’s unnervingly accurate. It’s extra strange to play with another person in the same room.
The same as Eleven, but for boxing. The most clever thing about this game is the virtual ring, it actually is sized to fit in the play area you’ve defined, so you can naturally focus on the boxing without worrying about punching a hole through a wall.
Playng this game got my heart rate over 170, and fogged up my glasses and the inside of the goggles, which was pretty impressive. It’s reliably a very good workout. I see people online adding wrist weights to take it to the next level of immersive fitness!
Ok, yes, it seems crazy to play Tetris – which, if you’re like me, you fell in love with on a 2" grainy grayscale screen on an original Game Boy – in virtual reality. But this game is incredible. It’s the mechanics of tetris, but in a trippy, immersive, musically synchronized world. Especially with headphones on, it’s almost meditative.
Golf: TopGolf With ProPutt and Walkabout Mini Golf
I was not what you would call “a golfer” in the “out of doors” – but these games have both really grabbed me. Top Golf seems like it’s trying to capture something more like the experience of a 3 par kind of real golf course, while walkabout is like a fantastic dream of what mini golf could be like. They both have simplified graphics, they feel more surrealist than realistic, but in a way it almost enhances the escapism.
Walkabout is particularly great with multiplayer, local or remote. All you have to do is pick a room code, and everyone can join. It has built in voice chat, too. I’ve used it to remotely hang out with friends a thousand miles away and it’s not exactly the same as actually getting together to mini-golf – but it’s pretty close!
Netflix, Prime Video, and Youtube 360 are all pretty solid. Especially on the Quest 2, you can watch a lot of things and not feel like you’re giving up much quality compared to a real display. And it opens up some great other options.
They all feature something called ‘void mode’, where you can move the screen wherever you want it in 3d space. This means you can do things like lay down on a comfy couch and watch a screen that’s perfectly placed right above your head. It is truly next level couch potato, especially when you plug in some headphones.
Watching technical talks and presentations on YouTube is also suprisingly nice. It feels like you’re in a movie theater alone, and you can walk up to the slides and look a things more closely, or even hop on a treadmill – which is probably highly not recommended by Oculus, but it actually works!
I have enjoyed some 360 videos, but more often than not they trigger motion sickness. They work best for my brain when they’re shot on a fixed tripod, at about my height, so I can look around the space. Even then though, not having it feel right when you take a step forward or back is pretty jarring.
VR has been one of the next big things … for over a decade. The smell of Facebook aside, I think this device will possibly 10x the number of people actively using VR, and be a big part of making it mainstream, or at least a lot less niche. Even long time VR fans I know are considering getting a Quest 2, because the standalone form factor is just so much more convenient than tethering and sensors.
I’m excited about the adoption making it a viable platform for work, too. There are plenty of dedicated apps (like Spatial) or even impressive demos of web VR like Mozilla Hubs. This year a company called Deliverect even had their holiday party in VR by giving everyone Quests.
Our companies often want people to get “all in one room.” For $300 each, you could equip every employee who otherwise would have needed to get flights, hotels, and meals a Quest, and likely come out far ahead – let alone the reduction in carbon footprint.
I’ve done some experiments with Hubs, and it’s enough to convince me there’s something there. It feels different to talk with people in a 3d space. It worked best when we had one person still using a computer (which you can use to connect to hubs) as the “digital DJ”, to load up screens and drawings for the other participants. But being able to walk around, talk in small groups, point at things, annotate them – it feels very different from the glazed eyes, multiple screen distracted worlds we live in trying to collaborate on Zoom. It really felt like we had all gotten together in one room. It was a little odd to take the goggles off and not be looking at a co-worker and wondering where we were going for lunch.
Especially with the improvements in text to speech, the lack of a keyboard is less of a liability. For example, most of the agile ceremonies (planning, grooming, anything with sticky notes, design meetings, retrospectives) could be done in VR – and that’s just replicating what’s possible in the physical world. Imagine exploring the codebase, operational metrics, or your business’s financial metrics like Tony Stark building the first Iron Man suit.
None of them made my list as daily drivers, but I have also had fun with the various painting and modeling tools. I can see that increasingly being useful. Why learn to model 3d objects via a 2D view into the world if a 3D view is accessible? I was fascinated to see the app Color Space (which is a chill immersive coloring book app) was largely modeled using VR tools like Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch, and AnimVR.
I am also curious to see how even things like online shopping may be affected. Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers have been playing with augmented reality to let you see some furniture in your space. But I’d love to wander into a virtual showroom. Looking for a bookcase? Blink, and there are hundreds of them, properly scaled, filling the room around you. Select one that’s about the right size for your space but not the right style? The room reorganizes to just show the ones roughly like what you’re thinking. Especially since native VR web apps work so well, this seems like a viable option. Ikea experimented with a virtual showroom but it looks like it was only an experiment.
Couple this with Lidar being a part of some phones (like iPhone 12) and this seems pretty doable. Scan your room, and visualize it with different colors, lighting, and furniture – immersively. Share the model of your room with a designer and have them send back several 3d-enriched options for you to consider.
Finally, the power of the web as a VR platform is really exciting, and wildly undertapped right now. One example that captures both the potential and the pain is Matterport. We moved states this year, and due to the pandemic, traveling to the area we were house shopping in, let alone staying nearby, touring houses … it all seemed like a bad idea. Some of the homes we were looking at had Matterport tours, and that made an incredible difference. It’s so easy to look at real estate photos and wonder about the lighting, the wide angle lens choices that make the rooms seem bigger, what might be just behind the photographer that they chose to keep out of scene … a 3d tour of a house fixes almost all of those issues, and you just go there right in a browser!
We were able to tour the house we eventually bought, and when we walked in the first time, I had the distinct feeling that I had been there before. Because, in a way, I had.
The pain part was getting a long, clunky URL into the Quest. It’d be great to be able to send a link from a computer or mobile device and have it “open on Quest”. I suspect this doesn’t exist because Facebook kind of wants to keep water in the moat around the Oculus store.
I am inspired by the amount of work that’s happening with WebVR and frameworks like A-Frame, that are lifted up by the amazing work being done in browsers in general (with WebGL, WASM, and more) – it’s really possible that the web will become a first class way to deliver VR experiences, games, retail, and more.
I’m happy I got the original Quest when I did, and I’m even happier with the Quest 2. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.