I can still remember what it was like. Timezone Megamall was right across the skating rink. Tekken was all the rage back then and so were driving games, NBA Jam and yes, ice skating. People hunched over our shoulders to watch arcade rats like us duke it out. You would see the same faces every Sunday. This was offline versus mode and the matches were glorious. One particular Sunday though something changed. The Tekken unit wasn’t the main attraction anymore. In its place, front and center was this small circular platform situated with what looked like a turret paired with a wired helmet and visor. I’ve seen a version of it in sci-fi movies but there it was in front of me, inviting me to put it on for show. A small screen with instructions in Japanese showed how one can play this contraption. My dad, or should I say my Sunday gaming sponsor, encouraged me to try it out.
Upon donning the headset, I was immediately sucked in its boxy, pixelized and almost Atari-like universe. It was the first time that my field of vision was limited but at the same time it was liberating. Every direction I looked- above, below and sideways – I can actually see in real time. I can see the turret too and everywhere I point it to, the game replicates accurately. For the first time as a gamer, I was IN the game and for a few minutes, the real world didn’t matter.
Such is the profound effect of that VR experience to memory. And every time there’s a chance to try out the newest VR experience, I’m usually first in line. So when Sony Digital Entertainment invited us for a special VR experience last Feb. 16, I just had to go.
Upon arriving at Toby’s Estate at Pasong Tamo Extension, I was introduced to Masato Ito, Vice President of Sony Digital Entertainment Services Inc. He first let me try a VR box, a headset where you can put a mobile phone in the headset. Nothing new, I thought. I’ve seen roller coaster rides and gimmicky horror games in these things, what new stuff could they possibly show me? Well, everything, it turns out.
Instead of a simulated world with pixels, you are in a live-action world. At first I was in a baseball game, occupying a seat in the player’s dugout. I was literally (sorry, virtual) beside a professional baseball player. I was like, “Holy Shhhh…”. And before I could comment further, I was transported to a rock concert. Front row seats. Actually, no. Front of the front row. I was on a rail and I was moving left and right of the stage while turning my head to the screaming crowd and back to the belting lead singer. THIS IS AWESOME! Next one I was on the stage myself with J-pop performers. Realizing that I’m actually the only stiff on stage, I tried to bob my head to the beat and bashfully mimic some of the arm movements of the dancers. The main guy was even looking at me, checking out my moves. Talk about peer pressure. I could hear some of the Sony Executives chuckling as I busted a move or two.
After that immersive yet somehow embarrassing experience, they hooked me up to another VR set.
I can sense the experience will be quite different because of some of the motion cameras and a pair of handheld gadgets. The Sony team then briefed me on what I was holding. The left gadget acted as a painter’s palette and the right one was the tilt brush. When I got plugged-in I immediately felt like I was in a dream.
Stars were all around me but somehow close to me. I also saw in the middle of my space, what looked-like a wire-frame of an alien abominable snowman. I walked to it, went around it, even inside it! Amazing stuff!!! I also fooled around and drew smiley faces, trees and even signed my name on empty space using heavy-ink pink with a fiery red finish (because I can). I realized that the virtual canvass is actually the space you occupy. So I went spraying away from the floor and up to how high my arm could reach, as if to sculpt one dizzying, spiraling roller coaster ride with a magic wand. It took a while to make me realize that I can actually make a cube with an actual floating z-axis instead of a representation of it on flat paper. So I drew 3D geometric figures on thin air, unshackled by the limitations of 2D.
After the experience, we were shown other creations of other VR artists such as Aimi Sekiguchi. I realized, that heh, I could’ve pulled that one off given more time. Seriously, it’ll probably take me years to create something as badass but it shows promise on how VR can not only immerse you in another world, but can let you create worlds as well in a creative language that’s intuitive to master.
Between this and my first VR experience, this former tops the VR list. We’ve come a long way from highly pixelized robots with long rectangular lazer beams shooting from their square hands. Now, VR is really fooling our senses and encourages us to create with almost limitless possibilities.