Anyone with a Steam account and the HTC Vive can explore the world - no, the universe.
We know this because while at E3 2016 in Los Angeles, we tried new virtual reality experience available on Steam using the consumer version of HTC's headset that launched earlier this year. We've actually been working our way through everything that works or is native to the HTC Vive, having downloaded them on Steam, and you can read this to see some of the best stuff we've experienced so far.
We'll also update that round-up with the titles we just demoed at E3 2016. They're available now, and if you try them yourself, you'll get to do everything from swim in the ocean with a large whale to play fetch with a mechanical dog on top of a mountain. You'll even get to see a little space-like arcade action in which you navigate a ship, destroy enemies, and avoid obstacles.
We also talked with HTC about what's next for the Vive, and it seems like the company has a lot more experiences in store for us, and it has set plans to get more people both interested in and trying VR.
New HTC Vive experiences on Steam
theBlu ($9.99 on Steam)
Wevr has developed a deeply immersive VR experience that lets you explore the ocean and come face to face with what looks like an 80-foot Sperm whale. It's actually a part of a series directed by Jake Rowell (Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, and Superman Returns), and it was deemed amazing enough to become a Sundance film selection in 2016.
We were able to use this game with the HTC Vive controllers, too, which allowed us to interact with the edge of a coral reef. The graphics in this experience are a mix between life-like and something you'd see in a Pixar film, but in the end, we came away amazed (and with the realisation that virtual reality can truly transport you anywhere, including the ocean).
The Lab (Free on Steam)
The next two experiences we tried on Steam are actually part of something called The Lab. It's a compilation of Valve’s room-scale VR experiments. You can fix a robot, defend a castle, play fetch with a mechanical dog, and more. Still not sold? It’s free!
Starting off with the mechanical dog... wow. So cute. Its face lights up, and its butt wags. You can walk around the top of a mountain, looking at clouds float by and birds soar over your head - all while this adorable pup runs around your ankles, waiting for you to pick up a stick and throw it. Again, you can use the Vive's controllers to play fetch.
We haphazardly threw the stick off the side of the mountain and were honestly worried for a moment that the dog would run off the cliff, but instead he found a path, disappeared for a moment, and eventually reappeared with the stick and enough energy to go again. This little demo is called Postcards, and it made us think that in the future some kids might even own virtual pets over real ones.
We could even see parents allowing their kids to take care of a virtual pet in order to get used to the idea of owning a real one. There are so many possibilities with virtual reality. Heck, you can even relive the golden era of gaming - only this time, it's all around you. For instance, we played Xortex, and it's just like playing something inside of an arcade machine.
It's addictive, too. You basically steer a ship around with the controller, moving it around like a child would pretend with a paper airplane, then you aim the ship at invading enemies and pull the trigger to fire on them. You have to dodge these and avoid lasers that emit from the ships, so you're not only shooting but ducking and weaving and viewing your score on a giant wrap-around screen.
We recommend The Lab to anyone who wants to dip their toes into VR as soon as they get their headset, because it gives you a fully array of demos that work your brain and body and occasionally pull at your heartstrings.
What's next for HTC Vive?
HTC Vive just got a full consumer release in April, so HTC isn't yet thinking about - or at least not talking about - HTC Vive 2.0. Instead, it's thinking about getting developers onboard to create more experiences. It also wants to get people trying HTC Vive, because once you demo virtual reality, you'll be clamoring to buy a full-fledge headset to play more.
HTC said the HTC Vive launched with 50 experiences available, and now it is sitting at 240. Joel Breton, HTC's Vice President of VR Content, told us that, with the support of Valve's content team, HTC is going at full speed: "By this holiday, we're gonna have a super rich garden of content." He also said that people will be able to try HTC Vive in many more places by Christmas.
The headset can be demoed in 64 stores in the US at the moment, but by the end of June, that number will increase to 100. Breton also said that HTC is hitting up all the major industry conferences, such as E3, with the purpose of getting its headset into the hands of gamers. He speculated that over 1,000 people will try HTV Vive at E3 2016.
HTC is also doing college tours, because gaming on campuses is huge, and capturing the interest of 18 to 22 years olds is essential. All we know is that if they get a chance to play some of the stuff we experienced at E3, they'll be hooked. But that's the goal for any VR headset maker - right?