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.