Monthly Archives: September 2016

Informations About Virtual Touch Inside Technology That Makes VR Feel Real

In a series of experiments in the 1980s, Roland Johansson, a professor of physiology at Sweden’s University of Umea, demonstrated just how important touch is. In one, he filmed a woman picking up a match and lighting it in just a few seconds. Then he numbed her thumb, index finger and middle finger. Even though she could see the match, she couldn’t feel where the match was touching each of her fingers or when it was touching the matchbox, and that same simple task took 25 seconds.
“Virtual Sexology” pairs an adult star with a sex therapist to bring Masters and Johnson techniques to the porn-enlightened public
Touch is the most underrated of all of our senses. From walking to sitting to sleeping, you are constantly using your sense of touch to adjust your motions so that you complete the task you’re working on, whether that’s swiping your tablet screen to read this story, adjusting the chair you’re sitting on or picking up a mug to take a sip of coffee.

“Most of us have experienced a temporary loss of touch – perhaps when your leg falls asleep, or when we have local anesthetic for a dental procedure,” says Katherine Kuchenbecker, an associate professor of computer science, mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, who is recognized as one of the leading authorities on haptics, or the science of touch. “That’s what current virtual reality is like: you can’t feel anything.”

After getting her PhD in robotics at Stanford, Kuchenbecker was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a way for virtual robots to “glance around any scene and accurately estimate how it would feel to grasp or step on all of the visible surfaces.” She did this using something she’s called “haptic photography – a way to capture how the surfaces feel to the touch and then recreate them.” In September 2014, she partnered with tech entrepreneur Steven Domenikos to create a compact device that introduces the sense of touch onto the digital world. Together they founded Tactai, with Domenikos as CEO and
Kuchenbecker as Chief Science Officer. After a couple years and a few million dollars in funding and grants, that device – the Tactai Touch – is almost ready for prime time.
“The lack of touch breaks the suspension of disbelief in VR,” says Kuchenbecker. “Your brain knows what to expect when you touch something.” Kuchenbecker’s work centers on the touch-based interaction between a person and objects that may be real, far away – touched through a remote-controlled robot – or entirely virtual.

Kuchenbecker’s lab has been working for years to create realistic haptic interfaces for virtual reality. These research-based systems are usually expensive, complicated, delicate – maybe even a little dangerous – but they let the user touch virtual objects that feel very similar to the real objects we all touch every day. Most people still haven’t been exposed to how good haptic experiences can be and how much touch feedback can add to an interaction.

But now that’s set to change. All of that research with expensive and complicated equipment led Kuchenbecker to focus on existing or low-priced technology that will open up touch to the masses. Tactai has created a prototype touch controller to work with existing virtual reality platforms like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, though since touch is independent of the headset, any existing or future device will be able to use the technology.
Tactai VR Touch Controller

The Tactai Touch is a digital thimble that can recreate what it feels like to touch dozens of different objects.
The Tactai Touch controller looks like a high-tech thimble and clips onto your finger. It can be worn on any and every finger, but only one index finger is required to trick your brain into feeling things. “Most of our experience comes through our fingertips, with the index finger driving touch,” Kuchenbecker says. How users employ Tactai Touch will depend on what they’re doing. For example, shopping in VR can be done optimally with one index finger, but opening a virtual water bottle in VR would require a device on each index finger.

“Three devices per hand is a good option, and five devices per hand [one per finger] is an even more exciting configuration, where you could move all of your fingers independently and feel what they each are interacting with,”

Kuchenbecker says. “That might be nice when petting a virtual cat or playing a virtual piano. We will be working to determine what configurations make the most sense for the different applications we are pursuing.”
Kuchenbecker says that when you pick up an object like a pencil in real life you have pressure on two fingers, but if you’re wearing only one Tactai, the brain tricks itself into feeling pressure in the thumb even though you’re not wearing the device on that finger.

I was able to test out this technology at the Kuchenbecker’s U Penn lab. Sliding the Touch onto your index finger, it fits snugly but comfortably. It’s not unlike clipping on a pulse oximeter on your finger at the doctor’s office, which measures your heart rate and the level of oxygen in your blood.

Once my finger was hooked up, a bulky prototype headset was secured and Domenikos appeared in a white virtual reality room talking about the importance of touch. I looked to the right and saw a fully inflated football sitting on a counter next to a slightly deflated football. Using Tactai Touch, I can not only feel the detailed, worn leather texture of the football, but also the indentations of the slightly deflated football compared to the tightness of the air-packed football.
“I’ve always pushed my team for solutions that could get to the market in the next few years,” Kuchenbecker says. “Our solution is more powered by unique data and software, and the hardware is pieced together with off-the-shelf components.”

Kuchenbecker explains how the sense of touch is an extremely complex a network of cells that detect different types of physical contact – some tell you how hard you are pressing on an elevator button, while others react mainly when the interaction changes, like at the start or end of the touch or when something slips in your grasp. All of these sensations are constantly streaming to your brain. Even though the information is coming from a lot of different sources, your brain weaves it together into a consistent touch experience that you’re able to use to decide which piece of fabric feels nicest or type without looking at your fingers.

With that in mind, the Tactai software constantly reads where your finger is in space using sensors such as a camera on the headset or an external measurement system. Each time it has a new measurement, it figures out where your real finger is located in the virtual environment. If your finger is in virtual free space, the software commands the platform inside the device to move away from your fingertip, so you don’t feel anything. And if your finger is inside a virtual object, the software calculates a proprietary waveform – or Dynamic Tactile Wave – that makes the platform inside the device press into your finger and vibrate in a way that matches what you would feel if you moved your finger the same way over the surface of the corresponding real object. These calculations happen many dozen times per second so that the experience of the user is seamless.

The magic inside the controller comes in the form of two actuators, or mechanical systems. The first moves a platform in and out of contact with your finger and lets you know when you’re touching an object. Kuchenbecker says when you first barely touch something in VR, you will both see your virtual finger touch the object’s surface and feel the start of contact on the surface of your real finger. Even though the Tactai Touch can’t physically stop your finger from moving inside the object, the sensations on your fingertip give you the illusion that there is a physical object there. You can move your finger away and feel the platform leave your fingertip and then touch again and feel it again.

“As you press deeper into a solid object, the pressure on your finger increases accordingly even if it is nothing really there,” says Kuchenbecker. “Essentially, if the VR technology provides just enough information to suggest the presence of an object, your brain fills in the gaps of what isn’t there.”

“We employ pseudo-haptics [manipulating what you see in VR to match what we want you to feel] by never showing your hand going inside a virtual object says Kuchenbecker. “Instead, we make the finger stop right at the surface, while you are feeling the contact, to help persuade your brain that the object is there. In essence, we are distorting the displayed movement of the user’s hand to help strengthen the illusion created by the haptic feedback.”

The second actuator is a small vibration motor. Unlike the vibration motors in a cell phone, this one functions more like an audio speaker. It can output vibrations at a wide range of frequencies, to create vibrations that match those you feel every day when interacting with real objects. Kuchenbecker says that vibrations are how the brain recognizes texture.

“Your fingers can feel up to 1,000 hertz, which is a lower frequency than ears can hear,” Kuchenbecker says. “This enables the user to feel the textures when touching different virtual objects like rough stones and smooth paper and woven fabric.”

Kuchenbecker explains that if you drag your fingertip across different surfaces in a quiet room, you can hear the sound they produce. Corduroy would sound different from rough stone, terracotta, or silk, and you could also easily feel the difference between these materials. Similar to how you can hear the difference between different voices or different notes in a musical scale, your brain can separate tactile vibrations into the different frequencies that they contain. Each material has its own particular combination of frequencies for a given way that you are touching it (slow and soft, for example), and your brain quickly learns this response pattern from just a couple of seconds of interaction.

“Our technology recreates the blend of vibration frequencies for the way you are moving, so that we can fool you into thinking you are touching a real object even though it is VR,” says Kuchenbecker.

But what’s perhaps most impressive about Tactai’s technology is that it’s already affordable, with current prototypes costing less than $12 to make. And Domenikos says that if a large technology or consumer electronics company licenses their technology and manufactures it at a large scale, it could push costs even further down. Theoretically, Domenikos believes a tech giant could earn money on content and give away the device for below cost or even free, like Google has with Google Cardboard.

Backed by Tactai, Kuchenbecker and her lab have also begun to create a library of touch sensation data. By gathering less than a minute of data on an object like a table using a scanner, anyone can capture the important characteristics and put them into the library, meaning there will be plenty of content that works with Tactai. “We also take existing content and auto-recognize how it looks so you can reach out and touch it,” says Ilann Derche, head of device development at Tactai. “It takes minutes to convert existing video game objects to add touch. We recognize the object based on visual experience and apply textures from our database.”

Using proprietary algorithms, each feeling in the library is assigned Haptic Object Properties (HOPs). “Each HOP currently includes the softness of the surface, its texture, how difficult it is to move along the surface [friction], and how it feels when you tap on the surface,” explains Derche. “This is the key part of the process that results in making the object feel real, so that the user can touch, feel, grasp and interact with it.” The HOPs library currently has over 100 objects in it.

But there’s also another opportunity for this touch controller beyond existing headsets. Derche says Tactai is working on a virtual movie theater, where you can watch a video and pause it to check out a new pair of Nike shoes by feeling the texture of the shoes, lifting them in your hand, and even playing with the laces. And the company could reward consumers for doing that by offering a coupon. Tactai could also help educators, adding touch capabilities to the 2D and 3D multimedia tools that have become mainstream in classrooms.

And unlike the devices that researchers have been experiencing for several years, Tactai Touch isn’t a sci-fi wish. The technology is nearly ready for mass production today, just as companies are laying the groundwork for consumer VR platforms.

The power of touch is something we all take for granted, but it’s the fact that it’s so ingrained in everything we do that makes true touch in the virtual world a huge step forward. Just as some early adopters don’t want to leave VR games and universes – even at this early stage – Kuchenbecker believes Tactai Touch will make the illusion of virtual reality more like real life. It will allow shoppers to feel what that t-shirt they saw online feels like before clicking “buy,” or let gamers grip their goalie stick for better control as they attempt to keep the puck out of the net in a virtual hockey game. Tactai might finally bring the missing link to VR: true interaction.

Know More 5 Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Skyrim Special Edition

Skyrim: Special Edition – Bethesda’s re-issue of its 2011 hit fantasy game now enhanced for current consoles and PC – is here, and that means it’s time to agonize over creating a custom character one more time before dancing off into that wide open world to tell your own stories, possibly as a cat.

But what stories should they be? You can easily spend hundreds of hours in this game and there’s no shortage of things to do. Sure, you could just pick a compass direction and walk until the sun comes up on Turdas – stop laughing, that is a real and normal name of a day of the week in this world. Or you could enjoy a more guided experience that doesn’t end with you stumbling into a swamp by revisiting these five highlights of Skyrim.

Get drunk with a god in ‘A Night To Remember’

Everyone needs a drinking buddy. Sam Guevenne is randomly waiting in one of Skyrim’s many taverns to become yours. Have a few drinks with Sam and you’ll begin “A Night To Remember”, a quest about waking up with amnesia and a hangover that sends you across the land to piece back your memories. You’ll need to make amends for the hijinks of the night before by cleaning up a temple devoted to the goddess of beauty, getting a goat back from a giant, and disappointing the hagraven (a sort of witch/vulture hybrid) you swore you’d marry.

Most of these obligations can be short-circuited with a successful Persuade test if you don’t want to have any fun, but it’s more enjoyable to put in the work untangling the full story of your debauched adventure. The reward is being reunited with Sam and discovering the whole thing was a test – he’s actually Sanguine, the Lord of Revelry, looking to put a little more merriment into the world. He definitely succeeds at that.

Become best friends with a dog

There are many dogs in Skyrim worth befriending. There’s the noble hound Meeko in the woods on the edge of the Hjaalmarch who will lead you to the shack belonging to his former owner so you can uncover their tragic tale – just be careful not to let this become the beginning of your own tragedy as it did for Twitter user Patrick Lenton. Then there’s Vigilance, a tough war dog for sale at the Markarth stables, whose ferocity is improved by the spiced beef he eats (spoiler: it’s made of people).

But the puppy most worth befriending is Barbas, the talking dog who haunts the road leading out of Falkreath and triggers the quest “A Daedra’s Best Friend.” The two of you will trek through the ruins of Helgen, where your own adventure began, all the way to the foot of the Throat of the World and then down into the dungeon of Haemar’s Shame to help find his master. Alternatively, you can put off that quest in favor of keeping the unkillable magic dog with you as a chatty sidekick, as if you were a Disney princess in an iron helmet.

Catch M’aiq the Liar

Every Elder Scrolls game since Morrowind has featured a cameo by M’aiq the Liar. One of the Khajiit cat-people, he acts as a voice for the game’s designers, letting them crack jokes and respond to comments from fans.

M’aiq has an explanation for everything, including the drastically improved character designs compared to the previous Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. (“M’aiq has heard that the people of Skyrim are better looking than the ones in Cyrodiil. He has no opinion on the matter. All people are beautiful to him.”) If you were wondering how he manages to appear in games set centuries after each other, there’s an answer for that too. (“M’aiq’s father was also called M’aiq. As was M’aiq’s father’s father. At least, that’s what his father said.”). Each time you meet M’aiq he’ll have something different to chat about, but first you have to catch him. There are many random encounters that occur on the roads of Skyrim, and not all of them are this friendly, which is probably why he’s such a fast runner.

Sail to Solstheim and fall into another dimension

Of the three Skyrim expansions, ‘Dragonborn’ was the highlight. Travel to the island of Solstheim and you could begin a whole new adventure in a land of giant mushrooms and floating jellyfish where a tribe of tiny blue people called Rieklings would take you in. The end result of that is basically the story you’ll ramble at young folks in your gin-soaked dotage, climaxing with “…and then they made me their chief!”

The most memorable part of Solstheim wasn’t actually on the island at all, though. Open one of its Black Books and you’re transported to Apocrypha, a plane of existence belonging to the Daedra of Knowledge. In Apocrypha passageways made of rustling, unquiet books float on an endless ocean of slime under a sky where the clouds are floating masses of tentacles. And the librarians? We don’t talk about the librarians.

Climb the Throat of the World

An obvious one, but for good reason. The Throat of the World is the mountain at the centre of Skyrim that you ascend as part of the storyline, meeting the monks of High Hrothgar and then climbing even further, pushing through the only snow in the land cold enough to kill you to reach its real peak.

Following the path of 7,000 steps up the Throat of the World is much more satisfying than hacking your way up a mountain by exploiting sideways jumps or riding a horse straight up a cliff, and the sidequest where you help an aged pilgrim by carrying a bag of supplies is touchingly ordinary – a favor almost anyone could do but one the Dragonborn finds time for. Plus, when you make it to the top the view is impressive, no matter which version of Skyrim you’re playing.

Informations About How Games Are Celebrating Halloween

In the old days, video games were locked into a sterile, offline threshold. Super Mario 64 is always Super Mario 64. There were no balance patches, special offers, or mods. The goal was to sell a few million copies and work on a sequel. Games weren’t supposed to last forever.

But in 2016, where so many games are free-to-play and aim for long-term, persistent growth, the universes we play in are changing all the time. Right now, publishers around the world are readying highly specific Halloween seasonal specials for their communities. Some are offering simple treats like new skins or experience bonuses, some are readying new bosses, and some are even coming up with new modes – complete with original art and voice-acting. In the past expansion packs took years to develop and cost as much as a full game itself, but now developers implement content that’s only meant to be played for a few days of a year for free. Here are 10 of the more notable Halloween events you can catch over the weekend.

Company of Heroes 2
I like how games care less and less about their perceived realism the longer they’ve been around. One perfect example: a few months after release, Rockstar went ahead and released a B-movie zombie variant for their otherwise very serious spaghetti western Red Dead Redemption. Company of Heroes 2 is a very good, very sober World War II RTS, but now you can paint your tanks with eyeballs and stitched flesh. You’ll also get double XP for the weekend!

Dead by Daylight
The popular-on-Twitch asymmetrical multiplayer survival game Dead by Daylight is probably the most straightforward Halloween game that exists. In it, a handful of hapless victims desperately try to survive against the onslaught of a murderous slasher villain. So naturally, Dead by Daylight is releasing some perfectly-timed DLC which lets you play as iconic Halloween killer Michael Myers, and his equally iconic victim Laurie Strode.

Destiny
We’re all expecting that Destiny 2 will be out in 2017, and maybe at that point Bungie will stop consistently adding new content to their foundational post-Halo experiment. But for now, this is still their baby. Destiny is renewing its end-of-October tradition with its far-future Halloween celebration, Festival of the Lost, which serves as an in-universe Day of the Dead analogue. Expect new quests, masks, items, emotes, and shaders. Apparently you can also do some trick or treating, and some curmudgeon hands out raisins instead of candy. Even in the far-flung future, there is still that house.

League of Legends
League of Legends is the most popular game on the planet, and when you have an entire multi-national company all committed to the same community, you can always expect some new fun stuff around the holidays. For Halloween 2016, League is adding new skins to their ridiculously expansive repertoire (Morgana, Tristana, and Teemo are the lucky ones this time.) Riot is also bringing back their popular “Doom Bots of Doom” mode, which is a co-op League variant that’s unexpectedly fun.

Gears of War 4
“Dodgeball” is one of my favorite variants in Gears of War multiplayer, and Gears 4 is bringing “Pumpkin Ball” for Halloween, which is basically a more hectic version of dodgeball on darker maps. The characters will also be sporting giant jack-o-lantern heads, which is the exact sort of macabre, industrial-metal ennui that Microsoft’s flagship dude-shooter excels at. If you’re going to put chainsaw bayonets on the gun, the players should also look like the bassist in Slipknot. Yeah Gears might not be for the faint of heart, but that’s probably the point.

Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar has made GTA Online their number one priority over the last few years, so naturally they’re introducing a Halloween-themed team-based multiplayer mode called “Lost vs. Damned.” The name is a clever nod to the Lost and Damned expansion story that was released for Grand Theft Auto IV back in 2009. Players will control angels and demons in an arena with an ultra-fast day/night cycle where angels have an advantage in the day and – you guessed it – demons are more powerful at night.

Heroes of the Storm
Pretty much every Blizzard property is getting something cool for Halloween, and their flagship MOBA is giving you extra XP till November 8th, as well as the chance to earn a Deputy Valla player portrait. There’s also a new mount (a giant floating eyeball pad) and a new skin for Xul on the way to the store, which makes sense given that he’s a necromancer. Also, whenever a team destroys a core, you get a special cameo from World of Warcraft’s Headless Horseman. Cross-pollination, people!

Madden 17
Madden 17’s Halloween tack-on isn’t nearly as comprehensive as some of the things other games are doing, but I’m still kind of tickled by how weird it is. I mean, it’s a football game. Does it really need holiday-specific itemization? Apparently so, because if you play Ultimate Team (Madden’s built-in collectible card game) from now until November 4th, you can get special “most-feared” player cards in packs. Those cards will turn into something special on October 30th, and personally I hope that means a version of Richard Sherman with an extra head or something.

Overwatch
Overwatch has been killing it with the seasonal events so far, starting with the Olympics-adjacent “Lucio Ball” back in August. For Halloween, you’ll have access to unique skins, sprays and poses, as well as a special cooperative “Brawl” game mode called “Junkenstein’s Revenge” that appears to be similar to the zombies mode from Call of Duty.

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft maybe has the longest ongoing Halloween tradition in all of video games. Every year, players can celebrate Hallow’s End, letting you trick or treat at inns across Azeroth and the rest of the cosmos. Once you’re bored with that, you can go fight the Headless Horseman, who returns once a year to torment raid groups. It’s funny to think that once upon a time, World of Warcraft was the only game on the market doing seasonal events like this. How times change!

VR Feels Right at Home in Your Living Room

Amid all the confusion and excitement that surrounds virtual reality, PlayStation VR’s distinguishing feature is convenience. It sits on the couch where I play most video games, next to my controllers and my headphones. Unlike my HTC Vive and my Oculus Rift – which are devices I adore – PlayStation VR feels like a natural addition to my home video game ecosystem, rather than an invasive species.

Reviewing hardware is a video game critic’s most challenging task, because it feels like a distraction from the real job. Movie critics don’t spend their days weighing the merits of stadium seating and built-in cupholders. Music critics don’t tell you which speakers to buy. TV critics managed to review Westworld without opining on which TV set best displays it, or which cable provider has the best DVR.

Partly, though, that’s because you don’t have to buy a second television just to watch HBO. For historical, cultural, and (especially) business reasons, video game hardware determines more than how you play. It controls what you play. And when it comes to the new hotness of virtual reality, we’re in the earliest stages of a full-scale console war.

PlayStation VR, which goes on sale next week for $400, is the third major VR headset to be released this year, after the Rift and Vive. I’ve been playing with it for a week now. It’s actually my fourth virtual-reality headset, after the Gear VR, Vive, and Rift. Or is it my fifth, given that I’ve owned two different Gear VR units, one for a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 phone, and one for a Galaxy S6? Wait a minute, it’s my sixth, if I’m counting the Google Cardboard viewer the New York Times delivered on my driveway last fall, inside the blue bag that contains its Sunday print edition. And I just got a seventh VR headset in the mail that I haven’t had a chance to try, from a company that makes a kind of comfier foam version of Cardboard.

Almost all of these – some I bought for myself, others were given to me as review units – arrived within the past 12 months. More are on the way. Google announced its $79 Daydream View headset for Android phones on Tuesday. At trade shows like E3 and the Game Developers Conference, I’ve used VR headsets that track the movement of your eyeballs, that provide wider fields of view, even one that professes to measure your neural feedback.

It would be foolhardy to speculate about who’s going to “win.” I can’t tell you whether VR is a fad, and without access to your bank account, I can’t tell you whether you should buy a $400 unit (more if you don’t already own a PlayStation camera, the optional Move controllers, and a lot more if you don’t own a PlayStation 4 to plug it into). But I’m confident that the worst-case scenario for VR is that it’s going to be a really awesome fad.

The PlayStation VR headset is niftily designed. Against your eyes, the screen feels less like a set of goggles than its competitors do, because it descends from a headband that puts pressure on your forehead and skull instead of the entire front half of your face. The headband also reduces the embarrassing “VR face” imprint that can occur after a couple hours of wearing a Vive or a Rift, indentations that can make your neighbors think you’ve just returned from an offseason ski trip. The PlayStation VR screen itself can be pulled away, slightly, from your cheeks with the press of a button, which lets you glimpse your physical environment to grab a controller, or take a drink, without removing the entire apparatus.

The Vive and the Rift are superior in some ways. Sony’s Move controllers – which aren’t required, as most games play with a gamepad – aren’t nearly as precise as the Vive’s motion controllers or the Rift’s forthcoming Touch controllers. The Rift’s built-in headphones reduce the number of wires that hang down your back and make that system the simplest to put on and take off. The “screen-door” effect – a slight but visible latticework inside VR – is more apparent on the PSVR than it is on the Rift or the Vive. Fast-paced games like Driveclub and the futuristic tank warfare game Battlezone have noticeable motion blur.

Even so, playing with my Vive or my Rift always feels like an event that I have to prepare for – the video game equivalent of planning for a night at the theater. Even mobile VR systems like the Gear VR feel like special occasions. It’s not natural – yet – while playing a mobile-phone game to think, “You know what I should do instead? Go fish that plastic headset out of my office and play some VR!”

PlayStation VR fits into a video game routine that I already have. If I’m sitting down in front of my TV to play video games, beginning a quick round of Superhypercube or Thumper isn’t markedly more complicated than starting a conventional game.

The hardest part of setup was finding my moldy Move controllers and then waiting for them to charge. PSVR comes with a small processing unit that you plug into your TV and your PlayStation 4, and the VR unit itself takes up one of the two USB ports on the front of the PS4. (If you play games with a pair of wireless headphones, you’ll need to find a wired pair, or use the crummy earbuds that come with the unit.) There’s a brief firmware upgrade (of course). Then you turn on your PlayStation, press the power button on the PSVR headset, and you’re ready to go.

But to go where? To do what?

That’s still the central mystery of virtual reality. PlayStation VR comes with a demo disc with a surprisingly deep list of titles, including a few VR films, but after a couple days, you’re going to need to buy some games. (And if you think loading screens on your TV are dull, just wait until you watch a spinning wheel while you’re isolated in a VR headset.) My favorites on the demo disc tend to be abstractions and surreal noisescapes like Gnog, Harmonix Music VR, Rez Infinite, Superhypercube, and Thumper. Looking up and down from the inside of kaleidoscopic worlds has yet to grow old. If games are “cathedrals of fire,” in the British journalist Steven Poole’s phrase, then VR may be the first time the medium can genuinely capture the wonder and awe you feel when you’re standing inside a place like Notre Dame.

VR is the first video-game phenomenon since the Nintendo Wii that has me thrusting it upon nongaming relatives and friends.

There are more conventional video game pleasures. The demo for the on-rails shooter Until Dawn: Rush of Blood felt fantastically creepy when played with Move controllers, a cart ride past giant squealing pigs on meat hooks and vacant doll-people who wield video cameras. The comedic Headmaster looks great. The demo for Sony’s London Heist gangster vignette in VR Worlds (a sort of VR variety pack) is dull, but one of my favorite experiences in VR so far was just pretending to embody a mobster who did nothing but smoke a cigar in the full game’s second scene.

I’ve spent close to $3,000 this year on VR hardware and software. I threw a couple hundred dollars on a set of contact lenses this summer, just so my glasses stopped obscuring my peripheral vision in gogglesville. VR is the first video-game phenomenon since the Nintendo Wii that has me thrusting it upon nongaming relatives and friends.

That said, it’s a lot more expensive than a $200 Wii, and there’s nothing as easy and satisfying to play as Wii Sports. I’ve heard VR evangelists say that’s because this year’s headsets are like the first iPhone, and we need to be patient. I say that’s overstating matters by a few decades. The current slate of VR rigs are closer to those phone-book size car phones from the 1980s.

Still, the iPhone metaphor is instructive when it comes to game design. It took a while for the big studios to stop trying to cram twin thumbsticks onto our touchscreens, and the first couple years of VR development look to be similarly bumpy and experimental.

VR games with thumbstick navigation are also the likeliest to make you queasy. I rarely get sick while playing inside VR, but then I don’t get sick on theme park rides like roller coasters, or the barrel that spins around and sticks you to the wall as the floor drops out from beneath you. With one or two exceptions, however, every first-person VR game that has used conventional gamepad controls for navigation – controlling the camera and player movement with my thumbs, instead of my gaze – has made me start to sweat and feel ill.

That’s why VR games usually put you on rails, or place you in a vehicle (the tanks in Battlezone, the spaceships in Eve: Valkyrie), or give you a third-person perspective. First-person VR games tend to allow you to explore a limited space (even at room-scale, in the Vive) and then require you to teleport (think “blink,” if you played Dishonored) to move beyond it.

There are no VR games yet that allow you to explore a vast world and fall into it for dozens of hours, the way you do while playing Metal Gear Solid V, or Fallout 4, or The Witcher 3. It’s hard to know whether similarly huge games are a bad fit for VR, or whether the market is just too small to justify the kinds of budgets those games command.

An advertisement for PSVR bills it as “the future of video games,” which reminds me of the fantasizing, almost exactly 10 years ago, about what the Wii would mean for the future of big-budget, narrative video games. The answer turned out to be basically nothing. It’s an open question, as the Xbox head Phil Spencer once told me, whether virtual reality becomes the best way to play all video games, or whether it’s useful only in a limited set of genres.

Virtual reality, as a medium, is still toddling. And in these early days, its joys are a toddler’s, too. Approach it like a child, and you’ll gaze open-mouthed at figures that tower above you, you’ll giggle after reaching out and toppling a tower of blocks, and you’ll laugh as you finger-paint the walls and even the air.