The Beginner’s Guide To VR

The Beginner’s Guide To VR
My Meta Quest 2. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia
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VR absolutely rules. We’re by no means pushing it as the next generation of gaming, or an eventual next step for the internet, but we do think it’s a pretty cool toy to play with if you’re after a game that literally keeps you on your toes. But getting started is half the trouble. Fear not, for we’re here to guide you along your VR journey.

I’ve had a VR headset for about a year or so now: it’s an Oculus (now Meta) Quest 2, a nice and affordable headset that doesn’t require the purchase of any accessories (though there is one I consider essential, more on that later).

In that time, I’ve played the best golf game I’ve ever experienced, a terrific sword fighting game with an overlayed Star Wars mod, built a VR farm and had a lot of fun playing with guns in a virtual space. I even showed my dad the gadget, which he very much enjoyed.

So, where does one begin? Here’s our beginner’s guide to VR.

The beginner’s guide to VR

VR stands for virtual reality, used in a modern context to describe a headset that allows you to enter a 3D space virtually. It’s different from augmented reality, mixed reality and altered reality tech.

Back 10 (or even five) years ago, VR was seen as a major gimmick. Not only was the tech expensive and a bit buggy, but there were also not that many games.

Well, not today. There are plenty of games available for VR headsets now, from VR ports of popular RPGs to fully-fledged VR games.

Where might one begin? Well, let’s consider the incoming purchases (there will be a lot of them).

Do you really want a VR?

I’ve heard many times from other gamers that they wouldn’t use the VR all that much. And you know what: fair! If you’re not going to use the VR headset often enough to justify the purchase, then don’t justify the purchase.

VR headsets are cheaper than they once were, but they’re still not accessibly cheap. The Meta Quest 2 (which we’re going to use a lot as an example in this article, both because I own one and because it’s the most well-rounded casual headset) starts at $480 on Amazon. That’s the price of a Nintendo Switch, plus a first-party Nintendo game. That’s also the price of a decent graphics card or even the Xbox Series S.

But if you’re after something gaming-related that’ll make you physically active, then absolutely consider the purchase.

But which VR?

Good question! As a quick answer, we do recommend the Meta Quest 2 ($479). the Quest 2 is a well-rounded and (relatively) affordable VR headset, perfect for a beginner or casual user who doesn’t want to set up motion sensors around the room. Soon, you won’t need to use a Facebook account to play on the headset, which is terrific.

If you’re after something a bit more high-tech (but also more expensive), then you’ll want to pick up the Valve Index VR Kit (releasing later this month for $1,900) or the HTC Vive Pro 2 kit ($2,199). These offer improvements over the Meta Quest 2, such as finger tracking and higher resolution screens, but they’re nowhere near as affordable as the humble Quest 2.

If you’re gaming on a PlayStation, your only choice is the proprietary PlayStation VR headset ($269), compatible only with PlayStation tech. Xbox consoles do not currently have VR support.

Got your VR? Great! Let’s set it up

To set your VR up, you’ll need a big, open space (take it from me, move your couch. My shins still haven’t forgiven me). For some VR kits, such as the Index or Vive kits, you’ll need to set up cameras in the corners of the room (to track your motion). With the Meta Quest 2, and some other VR headsets, the motion tracking is all self-contained, so you won’t need to worry about this.

Once that’s set up, and your headset (and its accessories) are all charged, you can strap in and get the hardware ready for play, following the steps presented to you in the setup stage.

Once that’s done: welcome to VR! We’re ready to go and you’ll be ready to start installing VR games.

Choosing how you play games

The experience in this section is mainly based on my own time with the Meta Quest 2, so be prepared for it to differ from yours (especially if you have a different headset).

The Meta Quest 2 includes enough power to run games on its own, letting you play golf, swordfight and play a limited assortment of games all only using the headset, no console or computer required.

These games, however, are often slow, buggy or with limited features. They’re neat to take travelling (side note: do not use your VR outside, the sun could damage the lenses) but connecting your headset to the computer will allow you to leverage your PC’s power, streaming games directly from the computer to the headset. It also gives you access beyond the Oculus Store, letting you play games from Steam.

To do this, you’ll need a high-spec USB-C cable. Not just any USB-C cable, a super powerful and longer-than-usual one called a Link Cable. Meta sells their own for… Jesus, $128. If that’s a bit steep for you, there are alternatives available (I picked up this one for $30 and it worked just fine).

Alternatively, if you have a powerful modem (like the Eero Pro 6) you can use your headset wirelessly and seamlessly, connected to your computer. This is what I’ve started to do and it works wonders, without having the cable flying about.

Keep in mind that your computer will need to be powerful enough to run VR games, which will drive the cost of the experience up quite a bit. You can pick up a prebuilt PC that is capable of running VR games, but we’d recommend comparing the specs of your machine to the one we built in this guide. Otherwise, games will struggle to run, if they do run to begin with. If your computer isn’t going to cut it, you can obviously still play, as, like we said earlier, the Meta Quest 2 can run games internally without connection to a PC. Just not as good.

Choosing your games

This is the fun part. I recommend starting with Beat Sabera rhythm game that lets you use your controllers as lightsabers to hit the notes of songs. Because the game only has a limited amount of official songs, you’ll want to mod it to get the best experience.

If you’re after a fighting game, then Blade and Sorcery is perfect for you (you can also mod this into being a hella cool Star Wars game).

If you’re after a shooting game (with both bots and online multiplayer), then I recommend Contractors VR or Pavlov VR.

Finally, if you’re after probably the best VR game on the market right now, then it has to be Half-Life: Alyx, a single-player game with massive interactivity.

But wait! I want to throw up

Motion sickness might happen, it’s true. While you should get used to it after some time, I’d recommend giving your VR headset a bit of a break. Try not to use it for too long, at least to begin with. Don’t force yourself into being sick.

That’s all we think you need to guide you through getting started with VR. It isn’t a cheap endeavour, but we think it’s important to know that it’s a bit of a financial commitment, despite how fun playing games in VR actually is.

Comments

  • Methinks any VR introductory guides should also include the following which alleviate several of the motion sickness issues:

    1. A small round rug to stand on in the center of your play space gives you a sensory anchor to both the real floor and your position in your play area. This eases some of the motion sickness triggers as well as making you less reliant on an overly visible chaperone display for your boundaries.

    2. A desk or standing fan blowing on you while you play. This will a) reduce the sensory disconnect from smooth locomotion in-game when standing still, b) provide you with orientation if you need to be aware of which way is “forwards” (if your play area is an irregular shape or you don’t have a lot of cable give for rotating your body), and c) help keep you cool if you play more active games.

    3. Ginger can mask symptoms of motion sickness, so while you shouldn’t use it to brute force through feeling unwell, it can make you feel a bit better faster if you have to cut your session short due to tummy wibbles.

    • Ahhhh, clever!
      I never would’ve thought of a circle rug or something like a fan to maintain true forward.

      • The fan thing is relatively common knowledge among VR veterans at least on the motion sickness side of things (and ties to similar ideas with why upcoming platforms like PSVR2 were looking at haptics in the back of the HMD).

        The rug thing I picked up after going through a bunch of random YouTube guides and recommendations when setting up my VR space. I got a cheap $20 mat from a random discount carpet place myself, but if you look at some of the fancier options places like Ikea sometimes have then you can get some nice options with more heavily textured designs – these can give you orientation just from which wedges of the mat are raised or ridged (just make sure it doesn’t have the sort of raised edging that would make it a tripping hazard).

        Since I have free rotation but a wired headset in my space I also use TurnSignal, which is a nifty SteamVR overlay app that you can configure as an indicator underfoot that winds up as you turn so you know when you have to twist back in the other direction. It’s also one of several overlay options if you want a forwards arrow or area centre marker you can see.

    • An alternative for the rug, is something touching the back of your legs/calf muscle.

      I had a tiny space and could barely move (1 small step if I was mindful of my reach).
      If I stood with the back of my legs touching my bed (about 30cm from one end), I knew I could wave my arms around with (almost) no concern about hitting anything. Plus it kept me oriented.

      I had to be a tad mindful if I wanted to pick something up, that it was more or less in front of me or I might hit the bed, but suprisingly this was rarely an issue.
      Also, I punched my cupboard 2-3 times when I was a little to far over, but otherwise worked great to keep me away from things. 🙂

  • Fucking hell, “you won’t need to use a Facebook account to play on the headset, which is terrific.” But you will need a Meta account which is the same shit, different smell.

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