Virtual reality has been the watchword on gamers' lips ever since The Lawnmower Man back in the early '90s. 2016 will be the year it finally takes off, with devices from Sony, Oculus, Samsung, HTC and more all going on sale. In fact, pre-orders for the Oculus Rift – one of the most highly anticipated VR headsets – started this week.
Seeing a virtual world is one thing, but actually exploring and interacting with it is quite another – no matter how lifelike an in-game mountain might be, it's not going to be quite as immersive an experience if you climb it by sitting on the sofa and pressing buttons on a joypad. We want to feel the texture of the rocks, the icy wind blowing in our hair, to feel the scree on our thighs as we clamber up a slope.
Thankfully, help is quite literally at hand. There's a glut of virtual-reality devices on the way that will add touch, temperature and more to your gaming experience, making it more immersive than ever. Mark our words, The Lawnmower Man has nothing on these.
We've all seen VR headsets and controllers, but this suit, featuring a patented smart textile, is a completely immersive way of experiencing virtual reality from head to toes. It features over 50 sensors all over that gives you mild electric pulses depending on what's happening in the game. So if you get shot in the side in Star Marine, you're going to feel it (although thankfully only as a small electrical stimulated buzz).
But that's not all. It also has two climate-control elements, meaning that you can adjust the temperature of the suit depending on the game environment. Riding a motorbike across a snowy plain? You'll feel the chill. Blasting demons in a hellish fire pit? You'll feel every flame burst. It's so advanced it can recreate elements like wind and water as well, so if you dive into a pool in Tomb Raider, you'll feel like you actually get wet.
It's also calibrated to recreate more intimate sensations, like hugs. We can't remember the last game we played in which we hugged anyone, but we're sure there must be some out there. It's even washable, which you'll likely be thankful for after a few sweaty gaming sessions.
The Teslasuit is nothing to do with the Tesla car company. Rather, it's the brainchild of London-based company Tesla Studios. It's currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, and when it launches in December, it'll come in two versions – the Prodigy, with 52 sensor channels (i.e. sensors) and the Pioneer, with 16.
What about your feet? Don't worry, 3DRudder has them covered. It's a pressure-sensitive controller that's a bit like a balance board. Strangely, you use it sitting down, so it's not like walking around virtual environments – for that you'll need the Virtuix Omni – but more like riding a hoverboard. But it brings the feet into play, which will help immerse you in the game. Push forward with your toes, and you move forward. Dig your heels in, and you move backwards. Rotate it either way and you turn. It should work with any game that can use a gamepad, so compatibility shouldn't be an issue. Look out for it in March.
A full VR suit is all well and good, but we do most of our interacting with our hands. They're what we use to grab, poke, punch and fondle, so a pair of VR gloves is a no-brainer.
Gloveone is just that – a pair of gloves that feature 10 actuators (mini motors operated by energy) across the palms and fingertips. These vibrate independently at different frequencies and intensities to recreate the sensation of touch. Pick up an apple, or a staff, or a gun, and they'll have the exact texture, weight and consistency as their real-world counterparts.
Handily – excuse the pun – they're wireless thanks to Bluetooth, so you don't have to worry about being shackled to a base station while you explore virtual terrain. But if the 800mAh battery runs low, you can power them via a USB cable.
They come in three sizes, and let you use all 10 fingers. They'll certainly add an extra element to your gaming.
HTC Vive Pre
We know, this looks like almost every other virtual reality headset out there, but it has one killer feature – a camera built in to warn you of objects in your real-world environment. They appear as transparencies on your view of the virtual world, so you can avoid banging your shin on the coffee table without being yanked out of your gaming world. In order to see these furniture apparitions, you'll have to press a button on the controller, so they're not omnipresent in your view. (If they were, it’d be too intrusive.)
HTC also generally gave its headset a bit of fine-tuning. The new strap is more comfortable, and it has interchangeable foam inserts and nose gaskets to better fit your face. The display is now brighter and clearer, and the handheld controllers come with grip pads, softer edges and textured buttons so they're easier to differentiate. Improvements all round, then.
Rez Infinite’s synesthesia suit
Unfortunately, it's unlikely this will ever go on sale. But that hasn't stopped us poring over its every detail.
Like the Teslasuit, it's a full-body virtual-reality suit with built-in vibrating sensors to help immerse you in the game. Rez Infinite is a reboot of Rez, a classic rail shooter music game for the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 (an HD version, Rez HD, also launched for Xbox Live Arcade in 2008). The gameplay remains the same in Rez Infinite, just pumped up and even more immersive – you still have to shoot the objects in front of you, but once you're using the VR mode, the synesthesia suit will pulse along in time with the music. Add to the fact that everywhere you look there are coloured lights and flying objects, and you'll be well and truly in Rez's world.
While the suit won't be sold to us consumers – shame – there will reportedly be some kind of vibrating sensor/controller as an optional extra.