Technology

The Oculus Quest is the perfect introduction to VR gaming — here's how it works and the best apps and games to get started

 

Oculus Quest

  • Turning an uninterested family member or friend on to VR can be a challenge. But with the right headset, apps, and games, they will be surprised by how accessible and fun it really is.
  • The Oculus Quest VR headset is a simple, portable device that is great for those looking to dip their toes into the virtual-reality waters.
  • No wires, no computer, no TV screen are needed to play the Oculus Quest All-In-One VR, which retails at $399 for the 64GB model and $499 for the 124GB model that I opted for.

 

Selfishly, we like to share the things we love with the people we love — today my wife Esther wanted me to swim with her. I put my feet in for a second, and this small act brought her more joy than all her underwater laps combined.

Similarly, Esther had zero interest in putting on my brand new $499 124GB Oculus Quest All-In-One VR headset when I brought it home last spring. She is prone to vertigo and, like many of us, still imagines a nauseating cardboard box when she thinks of Virtual Reality — so I did not prod. For several weeks, I played the Quest in lonesome, testing out apps for when she inevitably became curious enough to try it on.

Eventually, it was an app and three games that turned her into a VR nerd, the Oculus Quest being the vehicle.

Oculus Quest specs

You have one main decision to make when buying an Oculus Quest: choosing between the $399 64GB model and the $499 124GB model (I splurged on the latter). Storage space is the only difference between the two. With 124GB, I don’t have to be choosy with which apps I keep downloaded on the Quest and which I store in the cloud for a rainy day. And downloading apps is easy. It’s done entirely from inside the headset.  It’s important to note that the Quest and other VR headsets from Oculus are rated for ages 13 and up.

Out of the box, you get the headset (weighing in at a comfortable 20 ounces), two wireless controllers, a curved piece of plastic meant to make the Quest more comfortable to wear (though I’ve never felt the need to use it, others may),  a USB-C charger with a 15-watt adapter to charge the headset. The controllers are powered by good ole’ AA batteries (also included), and there you have it. These few pieces come together to create your entire VR experience — no computer, no TV screen, no wires needed, once it’s charged.

There are other VR headsets, yes, with better graphics, like the HTC Vive, or Oculus’s own Rift S, but it’s important to note that these do not compete with the Quest, the same way SUVs do not compete with sports cars. The Vive and Rift S attach to a PC to deliver extremely immersive visual experiences with high frame rates, but the Quest is a small device with no wires that you throw in a backpack and set up anywhere, a truly portable VR experience.

The Quest isn’t the most advanced VR vehicle, but it is by far the most accessible to people who want to buy their first headset with no hassle and have an extremely fun time using it within minutes of opening.

Esther, of course, had none of this context and would have been bored if I started droning on about it, so I waited and curated three apps/games: Netflix, Tilt Brush, and Beat Saber. These three titles are respectively pioneering the future of their industries.

Netflix (free plus membership costs)

VR Netflix App2

While not actually a game at all, Netflix had to be the first app Esther experienced on the Oculus Quest. VR-obsessed early adopters will throw Beat Saber walls (more on that below) at me for starting her off with Netflix. 

It’s true — there are far more incredible things to be done in today’s VR, but with something as simple as watching, you don’t need to do any teaching, and well, you know that card game you love? By the time you’re done explaining how to play, people want to play even less than when you first mentioned it. Netflix, however, is something as familiar as clicking a button.

The clunky Quest looked massive on her Esther’s head, but as soon as it was snug, her jaw — which barely peaked out beneath the headset — dropped. Her cheeks inflated, disappearing up into the Oculus. “Whoa! Wow! What! WHAT!” The most memorable of those first 30 or so seconds were the twists and turns of her neck, as she looked around Netflix’s Virtual Lounge. This is what she saw:

VR Netflix App

Tip: Void the Theatre

Gazing out the window of this mountain lodge is fun and worth showing friends, but just above the virtual mantle rests a dimly lit button: “Void Theatre.” Clicking this transports you somewhere better suited for binging shows: an existential grey void. 

The Virtual Lounge can be so interesting that it distracts from a proper, nightly Office binge. If you want to fully immerse yourself, clicking “Void Theatre” will make the lounge, the couch, and the mountains outside your window disappear, so you can be alone in a grey void with Michael Scott.

Esther watching Netflix

Again, experienced VR natives may roll their eyes at how insignificant this all is, but the majority of people might still be surprised to know that you can be in a tiny Brooklyn apartment one moment and, in that same moment, take yourself to a lodge in the mountains and, within that same moment, compress reality into an existential space filled with nothing but an adjustable screen to empathy-cringe at whenever Andy tries but oh-so-fails to ask out Erin.

Netflix quick specs

  • Enjoy your watchlist in a Virtual Lounge.
  • Lounge lights dim when you press play and illuminate when you pause.
  • “Void Theatre” to watch with nothing but a large screen.
  • Aside from membership costs, the Netflix app is free.

Tilt Brush ($19.99)

Google Tilt Brush

Tilt Brush is a drawing/painting game, made by Google, that starts you out in an empty VR space. Here, Google gives you a pallet of icons and brushes. With these brushes, you can draw, paint, and write whatever you want in a 3D world you create all on your own. Some designers are choosing to sketch exclusively in VR now, in apps like this one, because you can experiment with new degrees of freedom in art.

In Tilt Brush, you can walk around what you’ve just made or walk directly through what you’ve just made. Shrink it. Blow it up. Forget about the world outside, until your forgotten-feet step too close to your couch and the Oculus reminds you of the parameters of your virtual sandbox. 

 

 

To demonstrate Tilt Brush’s 3D drawing, I drew “Z <3 E” in sparkly, laser letters in Google’s grey sky and handed the Quest over to Esther. She adjusted the straps around her face, smiled at my doodle, waved her hand in the air, danced around the room, drew her name in perfect cursive, and tossed the Oculus back in my hands.

Tilt Brush lets you walk around and inside of your paintings and see them from new perspectives. It allowed me to walk inside my wife’s cursive name. I stayed there in Tilt Brush for awhile, tracing the letter E she’d drawn. Esther’s VR calligraphy was her equivalent of dipping her toes in the pool, and this small act gave me more joy than all the hours of drawing that I had spent inside Tilt Brush alone. 

Tilt Brush quick specs

  • Price: $19.99
  • Paint in 3D space.
  • Choose from endless combinations of colors and brushes, including snow and stars which, indeed, twinkle.
  • Walk around, under, above, and through your art.

Beat Saber ($29.99)

Beat saber hero image

This is the game that many of us will be tempted to show our loved ones first — without warning or context. I strongly advise against this, especially if the loved one still thinks VR is a depthless, nauseating grain you peer at through a cardboard box, duct-taped to an iPhone.

Intrigue them with something familiar like Netflix. Spark their creativity with something magical like Tilt Brush. Give them time to explore on their own. Then, when they finally ask, “What’s your favorite game on that thing, again?” Hide your bubbling excitement. Push all your furniture against the walls, and show them your favorite game. In my case, it is Beat Saber

Beat Saber is a rhythm game, like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. It’s renowned as one of the best games VR has to offer. It combines unfamiliar things (fast-moving cubes and bombs) with familiar things (lightsabers and music). 

“Why… Didn’t… You-tell-me… This-was-just… Dancing?!” Esther gasped beneath the Oculus. Esther wasn’t in the apartment anymore. She was at the end of a long, “Tron”-like hallway, and her arms were lightsabers and hundreds of cubes were flying directly toward her. She was cutting each one of them to ribbons with the profound grace of a Jedi samurai — all to the beat of a catchy K-pop song. 

esther playing beat saber

The next morning, I woke up to an empty bed. An uncoordinated creature stomped around next door. Only, it wasn’t next door. It was the living room. And that creature was my wife — jumping and swiping her arms through the air, sweating beneath the Oculus Quest. She now plays Beat Saber on Expert mode.

Beat Saber Specs

  • Price: $29.99
  • A single-player rhythm game
  • May cause dizziness

 

Buy the Oculus Quest VR (64GB) from Best Buy for $399

Buy the Oculus Quest VR (128GB) from Best Buy for $499

Play Netflix VR from the Google Play Store for free (with Netflix subscription)

Play Tilt Brush from the Google Play Store for $19.99

Play Beat Saber from the Google Play Store for $29.99

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