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VR Tech for 2017

Jason Johnson Freelance writer and editor
video game screenshot

How to prepare for new frontiers in immersive VR experiences with the technologies that bring them to life.

Virtual reality (VR) is making all sorts of new gaming experiences possible. As 2017 quickly approaches, now is the best time for players to ensure they’re prepared to conquer this new battlefield.

“A lot of people will get VR and take it home only to find out that their PC is completely inadequate to run it,” said Kelt Reeves, president of Falcon Northwest, a computer boutique who builds high-end gaming rigs by hand.

While many people squeak by with computers that barely meet minimum system requirements, a new initiative called Project Evo aims to ensure that new PCs have what it takes to handle immersive VR experiences.

Star Trek video game

“We believe that computing must evolve to become capable,” wrote Navin Shenoy, senior vice president and general manager for Intel’s Client Computing Group, in an editorial. That means “smarter voice interaction, virtual and merged reality experiences for all, more powerful gaming, strengthened security and identity protection, and true always-connected computing.”

To keep the holidays full of cheer (rather than regret), experts share five suggestions to help ring in the new year with the best VR games and gear.

A GPU Equipped for Immersion

While glorious graphics are often a luxury in traditional video games, they are essential to having a good experience in VR. The defining element of the medium, according to Reeves, is allowing a player to slip on a computer-connected headset that transports them into a believable virtual environment.

The illusion is largely dependent on visuals, so he said a beefy graphics card is needed.

Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explained that, when it comes to graphics in VR, the difference is measurable.

“For every unit one increases the immersion [including the game’s frame rate, latency, resolution, and other graphical things], there is about a one-third gain in the feeling of presence,” said Bailenson.

This means that players with better graphics cards experience higher sensations of being physically present inside the simulated environment. While industry standards for graphics in regular games peak at either 30 to 60 frames per second, VR requires a minimum of 90. Experts say a NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD 290 may do for now. But, to future-proof a rig, Reeves recommended a GeForce GTX 1080 or equivalent.

Surviving the Apocalypse Together in Arizona Sunshine

Nothing brings a family together for the holidays like fighting for survival in a zombie apocalypse. Shooter game Arizona Sunshine for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift allows players to paint the town red together through multiplayer VR experiences. The game’s “horde mode” puts parties of four in life-or-death situations that are best described as George Romero meets the Alamo.

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While zombies are familiar territory for fans of shooter games, VR transforms the experience according to designer Laurens Bruins, a collaborator on the game from Jaywalkers Interactive.

“With VR, this is the first time you don’t play through the zombie apocalypse, you are actually in the zombie apocalypse,” he said. “You don’t open up a car or pick up ammo with the click of a button, you go through the motions like you would in real life, which creates amazing tension in even simple situations.”

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To keep players’ PCs from becoming zombified during the firefights, Vertigo Games recommended an Intel Core i7 6700K processor for realistic physics and steady performance.

According to Richard Stitselaar, the game’s director, “Zombie game fans want to see features like world destruction, rag doll physics, zombie mutilation, wind, particles, and shockwaves.”

Core i7

Due to the excessive demands of rendering basic interactions, these features require a chip that packs a powerful punch.

“[The i7] really brings the world to life in a way that feels right. It’s much more immersive,” Stitselaar said.

The CPU that Makes it Possible

Graphics card and CPUs work together to make experiences to feel fluid and smooth (and to prevent VR sickness).

The GPU and CPU have “to be on the ball,” said Reeves.

Reeves explained that the two chips must be evenly matched in order to get the most out of both. He recommended pairing a GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card with an Intel Core i7 6700K processor. The Intel Core i5-6600K is also a viable option for now.

“Generally, if you go high-end on the GPU, then you’re going to want to go high-end on the CPU,” he said. “That way, they work in tandem. One is not waiting on the other.”

Realizing Dreams with Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Ever since the holodeck first appeared in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” fans of the show have been fantasizing about visiting computer-generated realities. An early nod to the future VR craze, the fictional device could construct highly authentic artificial worlds.

Star Trek video game

“Now the hardware and the technology have caught up, and the possibilities have opened up, we can make a lifelong dream for fans a reality,” said Brian Tate, the creative director of Star Trek: Bridge Crew.

Coming to HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and Oculus Rift in 2017, “Bridge Crew” brings friends together in a virtual recreation of the famed set where Captain Kirk once gave orders to Spock and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Only this time, players star in the leading roles of the Enterprise crew.

The game will shine its brightest when played on a PC equipped with hyper-threaded cores, such as an Intel Core i7 processor, according to Tate. He said the extra processing power has been used to enhance the physics of the mysteries of space.

Whether players are navigating the Starship through nebulae or out of an asteroid field, the final frontier will swirl around the senses.

Don’t Forget a Speedy Solid State Drive

Often overlooked, the high-speed solid state drive is the unsung hero of VR hardware.

Loading screens can be annoying in ordinary games, but in VR long load times border on the intolerable since the player must sit in the dark with a headset covering her face.

Intel SSD

“The speed of your storage medium becomes important to minimize the time you spend waiting,” said Reeves. Luckily, Intel SSD 600p and Intel SSDs 750 Series drives keep the spinning hourglasses at bay.

Long load times are more than just a nuisance. They pull the player out of the experience. Reeves said that in order for VR to be at its best and most immersive, the experience needs to be as seamless as possible.

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