The diversification of virtual reality (VR) is not a bad thing. The modern rebirth of the medium brought about by the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) has spurred on creators to fill early adopters boots with all manner of experiences in virtual constructs. But what happens next? At what point does VR need to find mass market adoption? The team behind Virtual Bike suggest that is what’s coming next.
Virtual Bike is a VR product that’s been developed seemingly in reverse order. The HMD is the final component of the experience to be added, with the basic visualisation and physical input already in place. Players will use a real-world bicycle, mounted upon a stand to keep it stationary, and peddle in order to progress along linear levels that are actual real-world locations. The team visited cities such as Rome and San Francisco, filming famous routes and landmarks and creating courses out of them.
The videogame design comes into play in the fact that the player will forever be moving along a set path, but a series of invisible ‘lanes’ will offer them opportunities to gather power-ups. Speed boosts, score bonuses and also equivalent penalties are scattered across the path the player travels along, and steering left or right will align you with a specific lane so that you may collect the item you wish. Of course, given your momentum and the often sudden changes in direction it’s not as simple as it sounds; hitting a brick wall can be a truly frustrating experience when you were only inches away from a speed boost.
Given that the player is travelling along a set path it would be easy to suggest that adding a HMD to the experience wouldn’t infer much of a benefit. However, adding 360 degree footage would almost certainly create an exciting proposition for the tourist attraction alone. How many videogames have you played in which you became unreasonably excited upon seeing a landmark that you have visited in real-life replicated in the virtual world? Famous buildings, bridges or even streets being produced in virtual worlds is an exciting proposition; real-world footage is taking this one stage further. This is making a videogame experience out of the oft discussed virtual tourism that VR could offer in time.
The developers of Virtual Bike have of course taken this latter potential into account; despite the fact that the videogame aspect of the experience is at the forefront, there is a more casual design also available. No forced pacing, no power ups or other artificial design, no challenge but the joy of challenging yourself; Virtual Bike is the perfect compliment to a typical home workout regime. In fact, the product is already being used in gymnasiums and museums with exactly this intention.
It may take quite some time until the market is ready for a product like Virtual Bike to enter the home VR space, but the fact that there are already teams preparing for this eventuality is encouraging. Virtual Bike is an inevitable stepping stone for VR, and the fact that there is already a team preparing for a consumer product of this nature suggests that it will achieve the high level of quality needed for a home entertainment product by the time there is an audience willing to adopt it.