When you hypothesize about virtual reality and wonder what could become of this tech, your brain goes to all different depths seeking what is feasible and what may become. In my younger years, I always fantasized about the possibility of being as immersed as possible– where my body was the controller and my eyes were my screen.
Back then it all seemed like a dream that wouldn’t come to fruition until much later in my life, but we’ve sure come a long way in a short span of time. Nintendo took a commercial swing in the 90s with the Virtual Boy. Later, we’d see motion controls become a mainstay for a generation with the Wii, PlayStation Move, and the Kinect. Though, those mainly added more interactivity and interesting command inputs, but none of these were the virtual reality future we had hoped for– though they did help pave the way for what was to come.
In the most recent years, we’ve seen the rise of more consumer forward virtual reality experiences with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR. None of these machines are perfect, nor are they inexpensive, but new tech comes with a hefty price tag in it’s infancy. Though these forms of VR are surely impressive and are capable of creating interesting and amazing experiences, the price of entry and the lack of must have titles, as well as the tethered nature of the equipment in its current state is too much baggage for the technology to fully cross over.
Though, there are companies that are attempting to bring a fully immersive VR experience to consumers– just not in your living room. From augmented treadmills to what is essentially a human hamster ball– companies are looking for ways to break into the next level of depth when it comes to the virtual space we all crave. Zero Latency has taken a leap forward with their MindTrek VR venture.
Essentially, MindTrek VR takes unique technology that they’ve developed to completely immerse yourself and a group of friends– or strangers– in games tailored for this trip into a virtual dimension. The experience begins with the equipment; a backpack containing a custom built, high-performance Alienware PC helps power your play as well as a Razer headset and an OSVR HDK2 visor with 2K resolution that together will transport you into another realm. The virtual playground takes what is essentially an open warehouse littered with proprietary motion tracking cameras and sensors and through the power, the clarity, and the omission of lag they deliver the truest form of virtual reality I’ve yet to experience.
We had the opportunity to play a closed session of Zombie Survival at the new MindTrek VR facility in Woburn, MA– the largest of it’s kind in the United States. In our experience we were able to see a behind the scenes look at some of the technology that makes this experience possible. However, we cannot share everything that we saw but will share what we can.
The Pass The Controller team suited up and embarked on a mission to outlast a zombie horde in Zombie Survival. We were eager to see how we would fair in a test of skill that relied not only on our gaming capabilities but also our physical prowess. On top of the previously mentioned equipment, we were given a futuristic, yet familiar feeling weapon. The custom built gun controller came equipped with a few different features that helped us embark further into this virtual journey. Within the game, you can freely swap between a pump shotgun, sniper rifle, semi-automatic rifle, and a fully automatic rifle with the tap of a button on the side of the controller. There were a few options to reload the gun, one being the pump on the under barrel of the gun– which after using for 30 minutes with the shotgun and sniper rifle had my forearms feeling pretty worn out. If you choose to use the pump to reload your weapon you can look down in real-time and watch the clip falling out of the gun, and though that may not sound particularly impressive when you are this deep into an experience every added detail convinces your brain that you actually are in this scenario.
The goal of the game is two-fold; you want to work together to survive and escape the horde, but you also want to best your teammates scores. As an added incentive to out-play your teammates the scores get posted and gameplay is streamed in the lobby for all other players to see.
Aside from the obvious gameplay of shooting zombies– you and your team are confined to a barricaded zone with a street level area and scaffolding accessible by elevators. The elevators are in-game and not actually in the warehouse with you but because of the full immersion and the lack of latency between your movements and what is transpiring in the virtual space you actually feel as though you are ascending and descending when using the elevators. It was a trippy feeling– knowing we weren’t actually moving– to be stricken with the feeling of motion.
There are barriers in place that protect you and your squad from the undead, while they can break them to get to you, you are able shoot them to repair– yes, contrary to popular belief, bullets do indeed fix things. Of the encounters when barriers were destroyed and zombies invaded, there were times when we all– mostly me– were legitimately startled and expressed it vocally– I screamed. Given the nature of the experience, being as untethered as possible in a lag free environment, when you turn around in real-time and there’s a zombie in your face you suspend your disbelief that what your experiencing is just a game and you show your fear by screaming like you’re about to be eaten alive.
Though the equipment didn’t feel cumbersome– playing for more than 30 minutes will surely leave you feeling like you fell just completed a light work out. MindTrek VR is the next level of depth that gaming is moving towards on the virtual reality front and I am eager to see what Zero Latency and other companies experimenting with this tech bring us next.
Mind Trek VR is now open to the public and will be launching more exclusively developed games crafted for this unique experience. Future games include Singularity and Engineerium. To stay up to date on all of the happenings at MindTrek VR, follow them on Instagram and Twitter.