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A crocodile in a space suit and some kind of bearded warrior crossed the street in front of me in Boston yesterday. Aaron in for Adam one last time this week and, no, I wasn’t dreaming. It was just a couple of costumed Cosplayers heading over to the PAX East video game conference at the convention center.
I was headed nearby, to a special set up on the fifth floor of the Boston Design Center. That’s where Facebook’s (FB) Oculus virtual reality unit had built a temporary testing center for journalists complete with plush couches, free espresso, and 20 or so workstation grade computers running some of the latest and greatest VR games coming out this year.
VR hasn’t taken off as quickly as many people predicted, but Oculus and a few others like Sony and HTC are still committed to building better gear, which will inexorably improve bit-by-bit until the world inside the headset is as detailed and interesting as the one around us. (Paging William Gibson.) I’m hardly the most qualified tester, but even I had fun making sand castles on a virtual beach in Vacation Simulator and trying to crack a mystery while experiencing the world as a sightless woman in Blind. (VR can be as much about simulating a three dimensional sound space as a visual arena.)
The creativity of the VR games was impressive. “We’re focusing on why does VR exist, what is magical about VR,” explained Cy Wise, the Hawaiian shirt wearing studio director at Owlchemy Labs and creator of my virtual beach trip. She does have to take into account all the odd things gamers may do in a VR setting. “People will try to shove their head through a wall,” she says.
The gear is a little clunky, the hand controllers take some getting used to and I only got tangled in cords a couple of times. But that’s all changing rapidly with lighter, wireless equipment coming soon. And that may finally attract a mainstream audience—who won’t all want to stick their heads in a wall.