"If I only could be running up that hill with no problems," sang Kate Bush in her ode to the very real dangers faced by mountaineers attempting to summit Everest to this day and by Mallory and Irvine in 1924 in particular.
Luckily for Kate Bush, Everest VR [official site] - Sólfar Studios' attempt to encapsulate something of the experience of climbing Everest in virtual reality in the safety of your living room - has now been released.
I need to work on the snappiness of my intro text. WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE NEWS PYRAMID? Oooh! Maybe you could summit a news pyramid in the follow-up game?
"Everest VR guides adventurers through a sequence of first-person experiences while ascending Mt. Everest. The journey includes notable milestones and interactive events from Base Camp, the Khumbu Icefall, Hillary Step, Camp Four, and the ascent to Summit, as well as a God Mode that allows users to take in the sweeping views from a breathtaking vantage point standing above the Himalayas."
I actually tried a demo of the game while at GDC earlier in the year. It was a strange thing and I could see people becoming unsettled by it. I never quite sank in but I think that was because I was so aware of the guide grids the Vive throws up when you're near a wall so I never really lost track of the physical space in favour of the mountainous expanses.
I actually have a copy of the game so I'm hoping to try it out over the next day or two and report back. Thing is, I'm also partway through Wade Davis's book about Mallory's ill-fated expedition and the legacy of the First World War when it came to the men on said expedition so there's a chance I am not the typical audience for such a project.
I've also been taking a peek at the user reviews on Steam and there's a fair bit of disgruntlement that the release is closer to a really beautiful tech demo. I don't want to revisit the "what is and isn't a game" discussion because I don't think it tends to go anywhere productive, but it's probably as well to bear in mind that this isn't a climbing sim or a role-playing adventure. It's more of an experiential project, and one costing the best part of twenty quid/twenty-five dollars so you might want to factor that in.
I previously spoke to Kjartan Pierre Emilsson, the CEO and co-founder of Solfar, and he explained in more detail about how the experience works, including how the team tried to deal with the death zone - the bits of the mountain above 8,000 metres where temperatures plummet and lower air pressure means there's less oxygen to breathe:
"Everything tends to go in slow motion and you move very slowly because you think slowly as well. In VR there’s nothing preventing you moving as fast as you want so we’re thinking of introducing some mechanisms there to induce you to move slowly. Perhaps if you move too fast you black out a little bit; so after a while you see you need to move slowly. It puts you into the mood. We also use a heartbeat track. People come to empathise with heartbeats and you can influence people like that a little bit. Or shallow breathing.”
You can read the rest of that interview here.
It's over on Steam for HTC Vive costing £18.99 / $24.99 but with a 10% launch discount for a bit.