Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last few years, chances are you’ve at least heard of virtual reality. Traversing the virtual ether was, up until a few years ago, the talk of science fiction; not counting Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which offered a limited and painful virtual experience in the mid-90s. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then. It may have taken a good 20 years, but the Valve-backed HTC Vive and the Facebook funded Oculus Rift have brought virtual reality back into the public eye. But how close are we to a true virtual reality?
If you’ve been to the cinema or watched TV this past year, you’ll have heard of Ready Player One, The latest film from Steven Spielberg, based on the book of the same name from author Ernest Cline. It gave us the most recent glimpse of a world where Reality and VR are almost interchangeable. HTC’s upcoming Project Ludus aims to make that world a reality. So far, little has been revealed about the project, aside from a briefing at the Raindance Film Festival in London.
HTC aims to make Ludus a hub from where users can interact with multiple, different experiences. At this early stage, it appears that they’ll be releasing 360 Videos first, but the project has so far only been confirmed for HTC Vive. While its current lack of killer applications might worry some, it’s entirely possible that Ludus will launch first on Steam’s Early Access, slowly adding features over time. However, this may be to its detriment as other social spaces such as VRChat beat it to the punch.
Released to Steam Early Access at the start of February 2017, VRChat is a Unity developed catalog of virtual worlds in the same vein as Secondlife, Habbo Hotel, and IMVU. Players can develop and publish their own worlds and avatars, with some creators even developing thriving businesses. The main driving force behind VR has been its popularity with YouTubers and Twitch Streamers. with over 1000 viewers tuning into the most popular streamers to watch their antics. VRChat tests the current limits of VR functionality, with some users even using Full Body Tracking. The developers have also taken a unique approach to developing the social space. Rather than a physical office, the developers hold meetings within the game itself and regularly source new hires from within their community.
The developers have worked hard to cultivate a close relationship with their players, regularly taking on board suggestions and constructive criticism over their Discord channel. As it stands now, VRChat is the closest approximation we have to date of the Oasis. If VRChat can continue to grow and maintain its popularity it may stand the best chance at making Ready Player One a reality.
Overall, it’s still too early to call a winner. With only time telling us which of these two VR experiences will prove more popular. It is also possible that Project Ludus and VRChat could work towards integrating with one another, with HTC having invested heavily in the startup. VRChat would make the perfect bridging point between Ludus’ Virtual experiences; with the two combined we could start to see the beginnings of a true virtual reality.