VR Suits Minecraft Down To The Ground, Controls Aside

Unofficial Minecraft VR has been around for a while, but earlier this month Mojang launched official support for these future-glasses everyone keeps banging about. Minecraft‘s VR bolt-on is a free install from the Oculus store which, for the time being, only works with the Windows 10 Edition. And with a Rift, although a well-established non-official option exists if those are your cybogogs of choice, or if you prefer the Java version of the game. I’ve been looking at the official option, and hey, it’s a good time.

I’ll keep this snappy, because you know what Minecraft is and you know what VR does. Here are my two headline observations:

1) You have to choose between awful controls or feeling sick.
2) VR restores some magic to a game that seems so defined by ubiquitous kids’ merchandise and bellicose billionaires.
3) Minecraft in VR is the least bothered I have been to date by the current gen of hardware’s image quality impediments

The thing just runs, so no setup issues there – we’re a far cry now from the scrappy days of early Minecraft modification. Once in, the first thing it does throw up a screen about throwing up. Specifically, warning that using standard WASD’n’mouse will be too ‘intense’ for most players.

Which is only true and fair: many of VR’s nausea issues relate to the fact that on-screen first-person movement is not at all related to what your actual body is doing. Looking around yourself is fine, but the ‘world’ effectively moving around your head at speed is another matter. Some people can stomach it better than others, but unfortunately I’m one of those who loses his legs after just a few minutes.

Minecraft’s response to this is to offer an alternative control set, whereby pressing left or right flips your viewpoint by 90 degrees instantly, so it’s more like a screen being turned in front of you rather than a world being spun around you. It’s rubbish, unfortunately. No fun whatsoever to control, confusing and disruptive to an otherwise perfectly lovely experience. But I sympathise that there is no good compromise for this inherent VR problem just yet, and Mojang providing a quease-free option was pretty much the best they could do.

What it means is that I play instead in traditional mode, taking regular breaks and bailing out earlier than I’d otherwise choose to. However, this is a third way, which enables me to play for longer without either losing my lunch or growing too frustrated, which is a sort of in-game virtual cinema.

In a lovely touch, it’s essentially the game displayed inside a Minecraft house, on a giant wooden TV with blocky furniture in the background. Yeah, it loses the ‘I’m in the gaaaaaaame’ reality-warp effect, but you still get big-screen 3D Minecraft, which ain’t so bad.

Sickness issue aside, Minecraft in full-fat VR was delightful. There’s so much noise around Minecraft, be it screaming kids in Creeper t-shirts, not being able to click a single YouTube video without winding up on a screechy video diary, and infinite App Store clones, that it’s easy to forget what a strange and beautiful thing Minecraft can be.

It wasn’t designed as a game of explosions and lurid skins, but as something eerier and more experimental. In the goggles, all that comes back. The strange trees tower, the skittish animals stare, the world seems to stretch on forever, and an innate gorgeousness breaks through the wall of over-familiarity.

There’s also a new sense of how enormous a Minecraft construction can be. You don’t need to fly or no-clip to realise how titanic a build is in context to everything else – you can just stand at its foot and stare upwards. Minecraft kids would get the most enormous kick out of seeing their stuff come to life like this, but don’t tell your 8-year-old I said that or you’ll be pestered into parting with £600 and will spend the rest of the month scrubbing vom out of the carpet.

I should also add how crisp and clear Minecraft looks compared to so much VR fare. Its simple shapes and lo-fo textures almost overcome resolution, so the jaggies and blurring that can dog virtual reality simply does not exist here. Minecraft is big’n’cute’n’chunky, and that suits VR down to the ground.

A success then, with the rather important exception of controls. This is certainly not a wise way of pulling a power-building all-nighter, but as a way of admiring your wondrous creations for a few minutes, it’s bloody brilliant. Same goes for generating a new world and staring at the horizon for a while.

Minecraft Windows 10 Edition’s Oculus Rift add-on is out now, and free. Requires the base game though. If you have a Vive instead of a Rift, or prefer to use the original Java version of the game rather than the Windows 10 one, give Vivecraft a go.

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15 Comments

  1. ThornEel says:

    In the virtual cinema mod, is the game itself in 3D (as if it was a 3D screen), or is it only a flat 2D screen in the virtual environment?

    If the former, it sounds like a great solution to the nausea/disorientation problem.

    • King_Rocket says:

      It’s a flat 2D screen in the virtual environment, they really need a “3D TV” option.

  2. Flarn says:

    I take slight issue with part of this article. You say “And with a Rift, although a well-established non-official option exists” but you link to Vivecraft, which is naturally a Vive version of Minecraft, not Rift. Vivecraft works wonderfully, is actively updated by a passionate developer, and has no motion sickness issues since it supports teleportation location as well as standard. Anyone who has a Vive should try Vivecraft out. The rest of the article is accurate: Minecraft in VR is like a whole new experience and can rejuvenate anyone who owns the game but interest had waned.

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      Eleven says:

      I thought Vivecraft supports the Oculus Rift?

      • Flarn says:

        Well double dumbass on me. I stand corrected. Sorry about that.

      • Fiatil says:

        I believe Vivecraft is an offshoot of one of the earlier VR mods focused on the Rift.

        Regardless, Vivecraft is awesome. The solution to the “terrible controls or feel terrible” question is the 3rd option: play Vivecraft on your Vive. Standing or roomscale and teleport means no motion sickness, and the motion controllers are supported beautifully. Being able to peak around corners to see enemies is an awesome feeling.

    • Moonracer says:

      agreed. Vivecraft is brilliantly done. Even sitting down with the Vive, seeing your blocky hands move with your controllers and your inventory sit on your arm like a pip-boy feels great.

      The only time I felt motion sick was taking a minecart ride in an amusement park map (worth it).

  3. SingularityParadigm says:

    Alec, when you said this:

    “Minecraft’s response to this is to offer an alternative control set, whereby pressing left or right flips your viewpoint by 90 degrees instantly, so it’s more like a screen being turned in front of you rather than a world being spun around you. It’s rubbish, unfortunately. No fun whatsoever to control, confusing and disruptive to an otherwise perfectly lovely experience. But I sympathise that there is no good compromise for this inherent VR problem just yet, and Mojang providing a quease-free option was pretty much the best they could do.”

    I take it you were still on a keyboard, or you were using a D-pad? I honestly don’t know what you were doing if it was snap-turning the camera 90°, because I have never seen it do that.

    You need to try it out with a controller. When pressed right or left, the right analog stick turns the viewpoint in 22.5° increments. There is also a “wheel turn” option in the VR controls menu that I found *much* more comfortable. You swivel the analog stick around the periphery of its radius like a clock-hand, and it rotates the camera proportionally to how far you swiveled the stick, but it still moves the camera in stutter steps instead of smoothly, which in my experience pretty much eliminates the characteristic nausea associated with stick-yaw.

    • SingularityParadigm says:

      The stutter-stepped camera yaw with the “wheel turn” option also seems to move in much smaller steps than the 22.5° that the snap-turning uses.

  4. Sakkura says:

    Earlier this month? Okay, but… why not just say earlier this week. Or Monday.

  5. cloudnein says:

    Would love to see Mojasoft release a SBS/x-eyed stereo rendering for standard Minecraft (given they have the 3d anaglyph, they’re 90% of the way there) so’s I could do this on a variety of displays…

  6. C0llic says:

    A question about queasiness. Does moving slower through the environment help to alleviate this at all?

    • Marr says:

      It varies greatly between individuals, but generally speaking no, not much. If you get motion sickness, just having the head position tracking slightly out of scale with the world is enough to set it off, and the debuff tends to stack, so you’d likely just get sick in more gradual increments. The VR travel system that the human body seems most comfortable with is teleportation.

  7. zipdrive says:

    I wonder if VR nausea can be alleviated somewhat with the following control scheme:
    1) Attaching look to headset.
    2) Allowing only forward and backward movement.