One of the major new products to be shown at the Xbox Spring Showcase in San Francisco was Minecraft. Not regular Minecraft mind, but a virtual reality version that we got to play using an Oculus Rift headset set-up at the event.
Microsoft had previously shown Minecraft running on its own next-generation tech headset, the HoloLens, but the VR experience is radically different to an augmented one, so we were intrigued how the game would change from the perspective of actually being inside a created world.
And to be honest, it blew our minds. Just not exactly in a good way.
Minecraft on Oculus Rift: The game
The demo started in fantastic form. Instead of launching the player straight into the Minecraft map created by Microsoft, we were eased in gently through a familiar setting.
The Minecraft map was presented in 2D on a TV made of Minecraft blocks, which we were sat in front of in a living room made of blocks. We then hit the options/back button the Xbox One gamepad and woosh, we entered the map completely.
It was there that the experience became both awe inspiring and gut-wrenching in equal measure.
In all the times we’ve experienced games and interactive VR demos, we only ever felt ill in the early days, when the technology had low resolution and high latency. And even then, we had never asked for the demo to stop – rather had shaky moments afterwards.
Minecraft on Oculus Rift was the first time we have not finished a VR experience.
Our Minecraft on Oculus Rift experience as a photo story
First we loved the magnificent vistas and stunning feeling of being there...
...then things started to go south.
Handing the headset back about five minutes before the end of the demo, we expressed regret and surprise...
..."It's the first time that's ever happened to me!"
Thankfully, ginger sweets were on hand to settle the queasiness, which makes us suspect that we weren't the only ones to have this kind of experience.
Sadly, this rather sums it up.
Minecraft on Oculus Rift: The shame
We are massive advocates of virtual reality and Oculus Rift specifically. We are also big fans of Minecraft - not as big as our kids or nephews, but still enough to while away hours building extravagant underground lairs or go creeper hunting, The two though didn’t mix for us.
One of the initial problems is that the scale of the game when you are inside is possibly too expansive. You can’t wrap your head around the enormity of your surroundings. That, coupled with the fact that, when up close, large pixels are hard for your brain to fathom into a recognisable object, confuses and bamboozles from the off.
But perhaps the main issue we encountered, that disoriented us the most, was the control system. While you could look around in 360-degrees at everything, you could only move using the left thumbstick. And not necessarily in the direction your head is pointing, as you can twist it as you travel.
To change direction, you need to use the right thumbstick, but rather than pan smoothly like with a normal first-person shooter you could only turn in sharp steps - as if you were leaping around a clock, from hour to hour and nothing in between. This made the experience jolting as the landscape in front of you jumped to face the way you wanted to go, without a smooth transition between the two points. It was as if 20 or so frames were instantly lost.
This basically, screwed with our feeble minds and gave us motion sickness we haven’t felt in years.
It was a shame because the actual experience of being inside a Minecraft world and being able to get that close to the building mechanics were incredible. We also adored riding in a mine cart in rollercoaster fashion in order to survey the mighty surroundings.
And we loved taking on a zombie and skeleton face-to-face – although less so the spider that attacked us in the dark before we could equip a torch, scary times.
Until the control system is altered though and the game adopts a smoother, more natural feel, we suspect there will be others in the same boat as us.
It’s early stages in the VR version of the game’s development though, and these issues could be ironed out before final release. If that’s the case, we’ll happily have another go to see the bits we missed out on this time around.