I have recently, and very temporarily, had more money that sense (this requires relatively little money). It’s been a while since I treated myself to anything that didn’t endanger my liver, but I’ve had… well, a 2020 recently, so I decided to cheer myself up with a shiny new Oculus Quest 2 (which was rather cheaper than I was expecting - dangerous when combined with online shopping and craft beer).
Part of the motivation for this was that I had been idly perusing my Steam library for games that I already owned which were compatible with VR, and amidst Subnautica (although Maxnausea might be a better term for playing it wearing Oculus) and Prey: Typhon Hunter (too scared of typhons to considr playing this), up popped Tabletop Simulator.
Holy smokes, I thought to myself through a craft-beery haze. That will be… that will be just like being there! (–> “Add to Basket”). It was fiddly to get working - TTS is a little janky at the best of times, and adding VR to the mix cranked the jank to slightly terrifying levels before I wrestled them back down again - but last week I actually managed to play a game of Jaipur with a friend. So… was it just like being there?
Hmm. Well. Yes and no. There’s nothing quite like that headset for immersion - you really do feel like you’re in another place, and the first thing I noted entering the world of Jaipur was that I seemed to be playing the game whilst hovering forty feet above a huge overgrown wheat field, with a sinister-appearing rusting red tractor some way off in the distance. It felt rather like we’d set up our game in the Chernobyl Exclusion zone. Still… it was definitely somewhere else, and that felt exciting enough to my inner Tron fanboy that I didn’t really care where it was.
The control scheme mapped onto the Oculus hand controllers is perhaps best described as semi-intuitive. Shuffling decks and rolling dice is a matter of picking them up and shaking them (very hard), but drawing cards into your hand is a more tedious odyssey of menu selections, made more difficult by it not being immediatey obvious what you’re supposed to press to get a right click. There is a tutorial for the controls, but it’s possible that I’m getting old because I almost immediately forgot most of them once the game had started.
The lower resolution of the Oculus images is something you don’t notice too much when you’re being wowed by an overhead starship or gigantic whale phallus, but it is an issue when you’re trying to read cards and boards. I cranked up the resolution in game which actually worked pretty well, but as soon as I left TTS and my PC attempted to render other environments in VR it became very excitable and the fan started to make worrying noises so I quickly turned it back down again.
Pressing ALT in standard TTS brings a selected object or card up to the screen so you can read it more easily. This maps to (obviously) pulling the thumbstick down on the Oculus controls in either hand. With my right hand, this worked terrifically, with the card hovering over my wrist, clear and easy to read. When I tried it with my left hand, the card terrifyingly manifested as a giant uber card of doom, still attached to my wrist but filling the entire game room and neatly bisecting my invisible body.
Manipulation of game pieces is… well. Small diamonds appear over your virtual controllers, and pick up whatever they are touching when you squeeze the grip… except that… well, again, maybe I’m getting old or just a bad shot or still have far too much a meatbrain for virtual worlds, but this had a success rate of about 30%. The rest of the time my hand passed soundlessly and painlessly through the object and, usually, the table. The overall experience was akin to being a frustrated phantom with very weak telekinetic powers (basically, Julian from Ghosts).
I eventually got the hang of it and even managed to win the game, flipping the table in victory and forgetting too late how high up I was suspended. Without the table there, I suddenly felt every one of the forty feet I was hovering above the post-Soviet wastleland, and if there’s one thing VR is extremely good at, it’s triggering my paralysing fear of heights. I had to rapidly log and and lie down on my very comforting carpet.
TLDR; it was great. I can’t wait to do it again. Anyone else tried it?