Universe Sandbox 2 Now Has A Virtual Reality Mode

If there’s one thing virtual reality conveys well, it’s scale. That’s useful when it comes to educational glimpses at outerspace, which is also what Universe Sandbox 2 is good for. The tool let’s you open solar systems, galaxies, and other celestial bodies and then tinker with them in order to see how they work. Or to see how it would work if you spawned an enormous sun next to them and watched them all be gobbled up.

You can now do that in VR, too. The game, which is currently in early access, now has a beta VR mode you can access through Steam.

Here’s a video of user Brad Lynch playing with the mode with the HTC Vive:

Good news for people who want to spawn 40 moons around and watch them crash into the earth. Here’s what Marsh said about US2 when he prematurely evaluated it in August of last year:

There are a few minor bugs (I once had Mercury headbutt the Sun out of existence) and not all the features are seemingly yet implemented (what does the habitable zone toggle do?), but the devs anticipate another whole year in Early Access, during which time more bespoke community-suggested simulations, like the New Horizons fly-by, will be added, as well as life simulation, terraforming, missions, space tethers and more. Call me a thicko dipshit who wallows in the slurry of his own stupidity, but even in its current form, Universe Sandbox 2 has done as much to lift me from my colossal ignorance as any game I’ve recently played. No mean feat.

Much has changed since then of course, but there’s still more work to be done on the game and VR mode, with another beta update to the latter coming this Thursday. To access the VR beta now, right-click on the game in Steam and go to Properties, then the Beta tab, then scroll down in the dropdown till you see ‘vr-experimental’. Click that and the beta will download.

If you don’t own an HTC Vive yourself, you might be interested to know you can come along and try it at this year’s EGX Rezzed. RPS will be there, with developer session, games and more.


  1. Eleven says:

    Scale in VR is weird. There’s surprisingly little perceptual difference between a beachball a few metres away, and a planet a few million kilometers away. The geometry is the same regardless of scale.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good article on depth perception”. The current gen VR headsets do geometrical depth perception like Steropsis, and contextual depth from shadows and occlusion and such, but not eye-focus depth perception like accommodation.

    This leads to a common criticism of space games like Elite that the planets don’t look big enough. It’s not the games fault per se, because in space you don’t have contextual cues, and the headset doesn’t provide focus cues, so all your eyes have to work on is the geometry, leading to beachball planets.

    • DD says:

      weird, I never had that feeling in the slightest. I get the beachball planet thing from something like Titans of Space, but that is because you are a literal giant next to the planets. Never had that issue at all from Elite.

      • Eleven says:

        I didn’t really get the size of planets until the Horizons update came out and you could go in for a landing. There’s something about how the planet stretches out beneath you when you approach the really puts things in perspective.

    • Mr_Blastman says:

      That’s good to know. I don’t miss VR as much now. Not that it matters… I can’t afford it.

    • Fiatil says:

      It’s weird, because I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum on this. I haven’t experienced VR yet, but I’ve heard some people who are blown away by the sense of scale and think it’s THE reason to get VR, and others who say things look too small.

      Specifically, I’ve heard numerous complaints that Skyrim (using VorpX) feels like a theme park in VR; the scale of everything feels to small and it breaks the illusion. However, I’ve seen videos of people experiencing Skyrim using VorpX in VR, and they report how blown away by the scale, and how they feel really immersed as a result.

      Same for Elite. I’ve had numerous people recommend it to me in VR specifically because of the scale. They claim that flying next to a planet or star makes you feel incredibly small, in a fun and immersive way.

      • Fiatil says:

        Obligatory “edit button plz” due to my typos. Also, there’s the oft-cited Vive demo of the “oh my god huge” whale. RPS has mentioned it as well as just about every other media outlet I’ve seen cover it; being next to the whale in the ocean makes you feel incredibly small.

        • Eleven says:

          The impression of scale you get from the dinos in the “Return to Dinosaur Island” demos is really impressive too. The contextual depth added by shadows, atmospherics and other effects really helps distinguish distance.

          It’s interesting that different people may be interpreting depth differently. There was an article on Quartz awhile back about gender biases in depth perception, which despite its clickbaity title, has some interesting discussion about it.

  2. hollowroom says:

    I’m getting increasingly worried about these hand controllers. I will only be able to hold one due to disability, and I wonder how configurable the games will be to accommodate this.

    Might just be driving and flying for me…

    • Harlander says:

      My gut feeling is that stuff’ll support multiple control paradigms, so you’d at least be able to fall back to m+k or a controller.

      One-controller mode, I fear, will turn out to be an option provided by the more accessibility-minded developers, but generally missing, if stuff like colour-blindness accommodation is anything to go by.

      • hollowroom says:

        Yeah that’s what I expected to be honest. I’m used to it – I don’t really expect developers to cater for the low percentage of people with my disability – but one of the reasons I game on PC is because of the options it gives you. Didn’t stop me buying one!

        I’m quite shocked by the general lack of colourblindness support, given how prevalent that is though.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      Well, it might just depend on the game. One thing to consider at this stage is that Valve’s Steam Controller configuration system is incredibly robust. I expect these could have a similar level of configuration, seeing as the hardware has similar features and its designed by the same company. If anything, one of these might be easier to configure for one-handed gaming than a typical gamepad, seeing as the controllers are separate. Hopefully the software doesn’t freak out if you only use one.

    • Roderik11 says:

      @hollowroom: Hey, Chris from Giant Army here. We’ve actually thought of this problem and are going with a scheme where both controllers have the same controls. Things that involve both controllers (like a pinch move holding buttons on both) can also be interacted with in 3D UI popups. In short, you can control everything without exception even with just one hand!


  3. racccoon says:

    There is going to be some really funny & stupid regretful personal videos of all you guys acting like total douche bags while in this wrongly created isolated world of VR + looking at the angle of his neck! which is constantly in that position! Your going to be seeing a lot of doctors bills too.. lol

  4. AnTREXon says:

    I have a 90+ video playlist that uses Universe Sandbox 2 to teach various math/science concepts

    Check it out here: link to youtube.com