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Valve's 'The Lab' a charming crash course for new VR players

Valve's 'The Lab' a charming crash course for new VR players
March 17, 2016 | By Kris Graft

March 17, 2016 | By Kris Graft
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More: VR, Design, GDC

At GDC 2016, Valve Software was on hand to show off its latest group of room-scale virtual reality demos, collectively called “The Lab.”

The collection of VR demos is designed as a taste test for new VR players; certainly a charming way for owners of the Vive to show off their shiny new toys to friends (and maybe turn them into new VR believers).

The Lab demo (you jump from demo to demo by grabbing a sphere and pulling it to your face) started off with a scenic overview from a cliffside that was created with photogrammetry, showing off how VR can treat users to expansive locales. Locomotion in the game is achieved via teleportation: hold down a button, point where you want to teleport to, let go of the button and you’re there. Complementing the experience is a robot puppy that’s keen on playing fetch and getting scratched behind its ears.

There was also Slingshot, a VR game set in a Portal-inspired universe. Akin to Angry Birds, you pull back a giant mechanical slingshot and the “ammo” are sentient robotic balls, each with a personality of their own. Players launch these balls into a big warehouse area, hitting crates and explosives, setting off physics-based chain reactions. The concept is simple, but there’s something oddly amusing about launching a robot ball when it’s mid-sentence, and hearing it scream as it flies across the room into a stack of crates.

Another part of The Lab is a VR tower defense game called Longbow in which you’re standing at the top of a tall castle tower, using the Vive controllers as a bow and arrow (hold the bow with one hand, draw arrows back, release with the other). This demo was to show off some of the Vive controller’s haptic technology, which was quite effective at conveying a tactile feel of drawing a bow string taut.

The Lab Demo wrapped up with a game called Xortex that put players inside of a blue and purple pixel-y 80s-style bullet hell shooter. In the headset, the top of the Vive controller is a small ship, and players point and shoot at enemies while dodging an increasing amount of bullets. What this demo did was particularly show off how VR can pull off not only realistic aesthetic, but one inspired by a very distinctive art style.

Following The Lab, Valve showcased a collaboration with LucasFilm that put players in the Star Wars universe as Luke Skywalker. The Millennium Falcon swoops in, and after helping R2D2 with a quick repair, a wave of Stormtroopers appear, and players use a lightsaber to deflect laser blasts back at the enemies.

The Lab is free, launching with HTC Vive with its 12-game lineup, and seems to be an effective, gentle crash course for players jumping into the technology for the first time.

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