I am not the man featured in this video of a first-person shooter played from inside an American Gladiators-style cage. No, I went before this guy and almost fell on my face. Then I filmed him, fearing for his knees.
The cage here is from Virtual 360 Ventures. It's called the Virtusphere and it's on display at Game Developers Conference for brave people like me to try. The creators tell me they just received clearance to install two in the Excalibur hotel in Las Vegas. So you, brave souls, may be able to play in one of these this year, too.
The Virtusphere is just a cage, no video game tech inside it. It rolls with the power of the footsteps of the person inside, just as a hamster wheel rolls when a hamster scurries. The gamer within wears a virtual reality headset and wields a plastic shotgun. From within the headset, you see a simple first-person shooter world — an airport tarmac with aliens on it, I think. You can shoot them. It's virtual reality, in a cage.
Dimensions of this structure, from the official website:
-Size assembled: 10 feet 6 inches
-Space requirement: 100 square feet per unit
-Weight with base: 650 pounds
-Black sphere made with ABS plastic
-Wheel base constructed out of steel that provides omni-directional rotation of the sphere
-Assembly time: 4-6 man hours for complete disassembly
-Unit can be transported in mini van
-Potentially any 3D applications could be compatible with the Virtusphere.
This cage was made by a Russian scientist, a man who I was eventually eager to have free me. You see, you could play this kind of virtual reality on flat ground. When you do, it's a little underwhelming, because, well, playing a crude FPS that you can view in the monitors hanging in front of your face is not the most immersive gaming experience ever made. But when you get in the sphere, you go from underwhelming to overwhelming. Suddenly the distance you can virtually travel is infinite. Just keep rolling that ball in the track and it keeps on going. Cool concept, but it's got a learning curve that might scrape the knees.
Just ask yourself, though, have you ever rolled a ball from within?
Have you done so while holding a fake shotgun? And while people are watching? And while you have expensive headgear on your head? And while, because of these factors, you'd rather not fall down?
I was told to take baby steps. My faster strides spun the ball faster. Soon, I was wound me up with a low-level fear. Virtual aliens needed killing, but first, a man needs to be able to stand up. The ball was spinning too fast. I was about to panic. So I stepped back. Then I rocked back. Trouble. Eventually I steadied the ball and was playing from within, while standing still. That wasn't right either.
Once I got my sea legs I was having more fun, but I was still afraid — if I was going to fall, I wanted to do it on video to show the fine readers at Kotaku! Opportunity squandered.
The Viirtusphere is worth trying, if you can track it down once it launches in Vegas. Here at Game Developers Conference the company behind it is hoping game developers get into it too. Sega, might I suggest your Super Monkey Ball people give these folks a call? But, id people, please don't make this the mandatory motion controller for Doom 4.