The Reality of Room Scale VR

I’ve always been an avid gamer, so when Michael Odor invited me to Leading Role Studios to try room scale VR (virtual reality) for the first time, I felt pretty confident that I knew what to expect.

Once Michael handed me the HTC Vive headset and controllers, however, that confidence evaporated as my first experience snapped me into a different world.  

In an instant, what had been an unassuming office room in Winston-Salem, NC, became a breathtaking, knee-quaking vantage point overlooking the Cascade Mountain Range.  As I surveyed the breathtaking 360-degree view from atop Vespers Peak I was at a literal loss for words.  

Birds could be seen in the distance, flying much lower than where I currently stood, and the jagged rock outcroppings that surrounded me seemed as real as the air in my lungs.  I felt that one wrong move could send me tumbling down the mountainside, and my body was sending up very real feedback to remind me of that.  

I walked like a toddler, carefully planting one foot in front of the other, as I crossed the rugged terrain (I’m sure I looked ridiculous).  My heart rate increased.  I knew where I was – safe in an office, and decidedly not teetering on a mountain peak –  in conscious reality, but my body refused to listen to reason. The physiological response to this amazing virtual world made the concepts of seeing and believing far more complex.  

The only impediment to my movement was the relatively small size of the real life room I was occupying,  in comparison to the virtual landscape.  It was only a momentary observation, however, as the experience’s “teleportation” mechanism neatly solved the issue. By pointing the controller in my hand to my desired location and squeezing the trigger, I could navigate the entirety of the map with very little movement.

I pointed the control in my right hand toward the highest rock protrusion I could see and squeezed the trigger.  I was instantly teleported to that location, and I instinctively looked down to see where my feet had landed.  Sure enough, I was at the edge of a cliff looking down at a massive valley 6,000 feet below me.  

A flock of birds flew past my field of vision, but all I could see were the tops of their heads.  I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I wobbled in place.  I took a couple of steps back and concentrated on the carpet below my feet to reassure myself that I was fine.  

To be honest, I thought that experience couldn’t be topped, but a few minutes later I was on the bow of a shipwreck watching a humpback whale approach me.  “Don’t hold your breath,” I could hear Michael say, his voice floating up through the decks below me..  

I laughed at the thought of drowning on dry land as I struggled with the concept of standing eye to eye with a 40-ton animal.  The whale seemed just as confused about my presence there as I was, which only added to the overwhelming authenticity of the experience.

In a matter of minutes I had gone from 6,000 feet above sea level to 700 feet below, and now as I took the HTC headset off I found myself, once again, standing in the familiar, if comparatively mundane, office of Leading Role Studios.  

After my experience, I can say one thing with total confidence: room scale virtual reality will change the way we play games. The applicability of the technology transcends the gaming world, just like the insane “realness” of its visuals transcend the holding room itself. It’s an exciting prospect in so many ways, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this truly unique medium.

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