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PAX Day 1: The One Where I Focus on VR

After another 18,000 steps (according to my phone) and the ending of the first official PAX day, I’m here with another daily summary post. It’s been a little convenient writing these waiting in line for the next day to start, to be honest; it passes the time quite well. If I can give you any major take-away for this event, it’s: keep a blog. It will pass the time, and you’ll have an awesome record of everything you did. That said, strap yourself in, because this one is going to be a long post!

Thanks to AYB’s Kevin Carbotte, my brother and I knew exactly where to go on the first day. Skipping the lines entirely (haha Steve and Kate) we waited in line to make an appointment to try the HTC Vive. We were in at 8:30 and out at 9:00 with an appointment for a little later that day, which gave us enough time to casually wander the show floor waiting for our Morpheus appointment.

This is not an in-game screen shot. This is a 9-foot tall scary-as-hell statue. It was amazing.
This is not an in-game screen shot. This is a 9-foot tall scary-as-hell statue. It was amazing.

Walked the show floor, we quickly checked out the Indie Megabooth, and Bethesda. This year, the floor plan for the Indie Megabooth is much more open, compared to last year which felt claustrophobic. One of the games I was most looking forward to checking out, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, had one of the developers wearing a full bomb defusal suit. I imagine after 7 hours on the show floor he was sweating bullets.

Here we see Indie Mini-booth, which is a part of Indie Megabooth.
Here we see Indie Mini-booth, which is a part of Indie Megabooth.

Making our way to the Sony booth with a little time left before our appointment, we checked out a few of the PSN indies being shown off. The developer of Gun-up approached us, and offered an explanation of his game while we watched a few people play it. It appears to be an RTS tower defence hybrid with a pastel colour pallette and cartoony artstyle.

This game had a very charming art style, and the booth hosts were very helpful.
This game had a very charming art style, and the booth hosts were very helpful.

Sony Morpheus

After a few minutes walking around the Sony Booth, we settled at our Morpheus appointment, and got bumped ahead in the line to try out our games early. So, just to jump ahead a bit in my day’s timeline, of the 3 head mounted displays (HMDs) that we tried today, the Morpheus demo was the shortest wait time, and unfortunately the shortest demo time too.

I played Battlezone, a Tron-esque tank shooter. The opening of the game reminded me a bit of Elite Dangerous. It was a cock-pit based game, which always helps add to the sense of immersion. The Morpheus HMD itself was very comfortable, and was by far the least heavy, and most well-ventilated HMD I’ve tried. It doesn’t have a formal interpupillary distance (IPD) adjuster from what I can tell, but it does have a very convenient, one-button slider for moving the lenses closer or further from your eyes (great for people with glasses). This slider somewhat fills the need of an IPD adjuster, but it’s not quite perfect. My booth handler was unable to comment on whether or not the final Morpheus hardware would have an IPD adjuster.

The game ran at a smooth framerate, and I experienced very little queasyness while playing (which is great, considering I get motion sickness really bad from VR). I should also note that it had simultaneous display on the TV screen and on the HMD, which means others will be able to watch you play. This bodes well for the PS4’s ability to run VR games at a stable frame rate.

My brother played a game called Monster Escape. You play as monster and use the head-tracking of the HMD to smash your head against buildings to knock them over. This was also a local multiplayer game, where two couch-based players played on the same console, attacking the monster to try and stop him from destroying the city. Again this illustrates that the Playstation’s ability to maintain a stable framerate in VR.

After our Morpheus demo, we wandered around a bit again, and checked out the Wargaming.net booth, where we played World of Tanks. I’ve got to mention, at both PAX Primes I’ve attended, I’ve been shocked by their booth. They always have the craziest booth, with a giant twenty-foot TV set up playing fan-made World of Tanks animated shorts to entertain the crowd. They also have crazy prizes (last year I won a headset, but this year I wasn’t so lucky, and just got a T-Shirt).

If you're ever at PAX, make sure to check out Wargaming's booth. It's amazing, and very well organized. Definitely the best of the AAA booths by far.
If you’re ever at PAX, make sure to check out Wargaming’s booth. It’s amazing, and very well organized. Definitely the best of the AAA booths by far.

Continuing to wander around waiting for our Vive appointment, we found ourselves in the Supernova booth, which seemed a little quiet. Unfortunately, they had run into technical issues with their server, and weren’t able to get people playing their game. But, we watched a few videos, and talked to the developers. RTS MOBA Hybrid, set in sci-fi universe unlike most fantasy MOBAs. From the trailers, it looks like you build various different types of creeps, rather than watching your creeps passively move down lanes. This adds a bit of an extra layer of strategy. Also, as the game progresses, your “tech tree” gets upgraded much like it would in a real time strategy game, allowing you to build more powerful Creeps. Seems neat!

HTC Vive

After that, it was time for our Vive appointment. We made our way to the (thankfully empty) back area of the Sheraton hotel, and took the elevator to the third floor, where Valve’s HTC demo areas were tucked away. The booth was handled more professionally than any booth at the show so far – they provided refreshments, a sitting area, an interview area where you could discuss the games, and they subdivided the room into various smaller rooms for isolated, personal VR experiences.

We got to try 5 games:

The demo opened with a white room. Our demo manager handed me the motion controllers, which was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in VR. The motion tracking system shows you where the controllers are located at all times, so if they’re laying across the room from you, you can see them laying there in VR. Being able to reach out and grab the controllers without taking the headset off was very, very cool. Here, in the first demo area, I could blow up balloons to play with in an all-white, gridded room, similar to “the construct” in The Matrix. Even without haptic feedback, the physics were so lifelike that combined with the motion controllers, I felt some kind of psychosomatic response telling my hands that I was actually batting at a balloon.

Fantastic Contraption from Radial Games & Northway Games was next, and this was my favourite. The game tasked you with grabbing random unlimited parts from a robotic space cat that farted purple dust, to build a weird balloon contraption to remotely drive past a goal. It was like Katamari meets Little Big Planet meets lego. It was very intuitive, immersive, and felt like I was really building these contraptions.

After that, we tried a short experience where we were walking underwater on the deck of a sunken ship, with fish and manta-rays swimming around us. About 75% of the way through the demo, a giant whale came, and I stared into its eye. It was very moving.

Then I tried a 3D drawing game called TiltBrush, where I had just enough time to draw a cube in 3d. I would have liked a bit more time with this game, as it really felt creative and immersive, but there wasn’t much to the demo itself.

Our Vive experience closed with DOTA 2 Secret Shop. The demo opens with the shop keeper we all know and love handing you a magical light, which you can then use to explore the secret shop. Shining the light on various glyphs shrinks you down to the size of a mouse to explore micro-areas of the shop, with an extreme level of detail. The lighting in the Source 2 engine really shines here (no pun intended), and the amount of character interaction I experienced with the various critters in the shop was remarkable. This one dog-lizard thing was especially eerie, as it stared me in the face, and when I knelt down to take a closer look, it appeared to react to me looking at it from its level.

Here we see Jonathan observing a lizard dog thing.
Here we see Jonathan observing a lizard dog thing.

Overall, the Vive experience was amazing. It was certainly the best of the VR experiences overall, but the HMD itself was the least comfortable. The field of view (FOV) seemed smaller than either the Oculus CV1, or the Morpheus. In the beginning, I could very clearly notice the edges of the lenses, but as I got more immersed in the demos, this quickly disappeared. However, the heavy-duty cable hanging from the back of the Vive unit frequently got in my way, breaking my immersion, and the headset itself had limited ventilation, causing my face to sweat quite a lot (though we also spent a much longer time with the Vive than the other two headsets, and the demo was much more active, so these factors may have influenced that). I should note that my brother was able to play the entire 20 minute demo while wearing his glasses inside the headset, which is awesome.

After our Vive demo, we had a few more hours before our appointment with OculusVR. Again, we wandered the show floor for a few hours, and checked our a few booths upstairs. This is where I ran into Glomtom, who sell an ergonomic arm rest for playing games in office chairs. Just across from Glomtom, we visited the Sierra booth for a blast from the past. They were showing off the new King’s Quest, as well as a few Indie Games they’re helping to produce.

Oculus Rift

Then it was time for our Oculus appointment. Despite having an appointment, there was a bit of a wait (as they pushed ahead media personalities), but we got into our appointments pretty quickly.

Plenty of GearVR setups too. We didn't get the chance to try this (but we already own one so, no big deal).
Plenty of GearVR setups too. We didn’t get the chance to try this (but we already own one so, no big deal).

The new headset was much easier to adjust and put on than the DK2. It slipped on just like a baseball cap, and the new built-in menu allowed us to select one of many demos, giving a bit of a taste of the Oculus Home interface (but it wasn’t the final version). This interface was extremely convenient.

I tried a game Edge of Nowhere by Insomniac Games. It played a bit like Uncharted, from a third person perspective, with tons of jumping away from crumbling platforms and cliff edges. This is the first true AAA experience I’ve had with an Oculus game designed from the ground up for the platform, and I must say it really shows. There were a few clipping issues where the character moved through level and “enemy” geometry, but the overall experience was incredibly immersive.

The new Oculus headset was by far the most comfortable HMD, with a new padded interior (getting rid of the nose-sores from playing the DK2 for too long). The set I tried also featured the new built-in audio solution, which was phenomenal. It drowned out the extremely loud convention floor sound, and the 3D sound was incredibly immersive.

There was no IPD adjuster present on the model I tried, but I was personally assured by Phil “BaconVR” Greenspan that the final model would have an IPD slider which would move the lenses to align them to an individual’s eyes. That being said, the current model I tried had its IPD set way too close, and I could see a bit of “overlap” between the images on each lens, causing a bit of a cross-eyed effect. After playing the game for a few minutes, this went away. My brother did not have the same complaints, and he was able to comfortably wear his headset while also wearing his glasses.

Summary of VR Experiences

Overall, I would say the Oculus had the best experience from the perspective of a consumer. It feels like a product that is ready to buy and use immediately, and balance of comfort and power is best.

The Vive was the most interesting and immersive experience, but the amount of space required is a little prohibitive, and the headset itself (while not the final hardware) was the heaviest, least breathable, and least comfortable overall.

The Morpheus also felt like a consumer-ready product, and as long as the HMD itself remains at a low price point, it will almost certainly be a worthy contender for the Oculus and Vive. If they announce PC support, I would even recommend it strongly. It was comfortable, but it felt a little flimsy compared to the Rift and Vive.

After VR

At 6:00 the show floor closed, and we made our way to the Mega64 Panel, which was an absolute riot. They showed us all an exlcusive first look at their “Metal Gear Solid 5 Spoof” which you’ll need to watch when it comes out, trust me. All of their commentary and videos were hilarious, and they had a great-yet-humble chemistry with their fans.

Shortly after that was the Cards Against Humanity panel. The panel presenters were running a little late, so we waited in a hot room for over an hour. Their panel consisted of them showing us some kind-of-funny videos, and ripping apart customer support emails live in real time (which was pretty damn funny). In a lot of ways their panel was the opposite of the Mega64 panel though: a lot less humble, a little more rough around the edges, and funny in a different way. it felt like it came naturally to Mega64, but it felt like CAH had to force it a little. But comedy is hard, so props to them.

When the Cards Against Humanity panel ended, we finished the day with nachos and burgers at GameWorks. The nachos were okay (a little soggy), but the burger was awful. The restaurant in general is really cool, with tons of arcade machines and plenty of seating, but I can’t really recommend their food.

To end on a positive note, throughout the day I encountered a ton of super friendly, AMAZING cosplayers. With C4 just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to take some pictures to give you all some inspiration. Check it out, and click each photo to see it full-size:

That concludes the look at the first official day of PAX. Now I’m sitting here, just before the show floor opens for the second day of PAX, writing my post in the NYC sandwich shop, enjoying a kick-ass giant cookie and talking with people from the Twitch booth. I’ve got my first few official interviews today, so wish me luck! They won’t all go live while we’re here in Seattle (the hotel wifi is miserable) but I’ll be sure to mention many details in my daily post tomorrow.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Thank you to all of the unbelievable cosplayers who let me use their pictures in my articles. The following cosplayers gave me their cards, so I’d like to share their social media info so that you can check them out:

@cnepoy on twitter, @thewazaaman on twitter, @drlongshotx on twitter, @trojanwarred on twitter, @SuperSprill on instagram, undiscoveredphotography.com/cosplay, facebook.com/lovelyladyace, facebook.com/dv8props, and everyone else who did not share their information. If you see your cosplay here, and you would like me to link to your page, please let me know!

To read up about the other PAX days, check out the following:

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