​With PlayStation VR coming up, HTC is bringing out the big guns

We catch up with Graham Breen at HTC to see how things are going
HTC is bringing out the big guns

Thanks to EGX 2016, Britain's smaller take on E3, HTC has brought its mixed reality system to a UK event for the first time.

The same event is plastered with advertisements for Sony's forthcoming headset, the PlayStation VR, with booths around the event offering a chance to try out Sony's newest bit of kit.

Read next: PlayStation VR vs HTC Vive

If HTC is worried, it's not showing it, and it's got a packed booth letting people get to grips with Croteam's VR edition of their popular first-person shooter Serious Sam. There's no Vive controller here – but its alternative is still pretty impressive.

Just a minigun in real life for VR, NBD

We're mostly here to catch up with the HTC Vive, but I couldn't resist having a go. It's a simple tower defense game that has you holding your ground against waves of iconic enemies from the series, and although I thought the shiny metal behemoth I was clutching was overkill at first, it soon proved inadequate as the waves of enemies close in. It's cool as hell, but sadly it's just a show piece, and there aren't any plans to publicly release it.

After several disastrous attempts at survival, I sat down to ask Graham Breen, Vive's product lead in Europe, a few questions. First he wanted to know how I found Serious Sam, and as I was still drenched in sweat, I was honest: Intense.

"I got to use it hands-on once we set it up last night, and I stood in the room next door here." Breen said, "I was screaming. I have to admit, I screamed. Jumping back. And that VR can do that to me, and I'm somebody who should be slightly numb to this because I get to experience a lot. And yet it still makes me react like that. It's pretty special."

The more VR, the better

Breen's spent a lot of time in and around the Vive now, and as it's been on the market for a few months, what's next?

"Christmas," says Breen, laughing. "Honestly, it's been really good in a few ways. The great thing is we're seeing more and more content coming, but also we're seeing a lot more innovation around the content as well. We're showing Serious Sam here this week with Croteam, with the Minigun they've built to demonstrate it. It's really good because we're just now starting to reach a point where the time it's taken developers to build things is now paying off, and all these projects are coming to fruition."

"A lot of stuff is surprising us," Breen says. " I can't count the number of times I hear from one of my colleagues who are developers about a new piece of content, and you try it and are like, "Wow, I didn't think of that," or "That is a really clever way of changing your weapons or representing your hands."

It turns out, in fact, that even the PS VR-shaped elephant in the room isn't a problem – for Breen, it's all good news. "The more good VR is out there, the better for us. It's all about educating the consumer about how good VR can be.

"The fact that there are other headsets out there giving a good experience is great. What we hope with Vive to show, of course, is that once you experience the Vive, you understand the reasons why you'd want to go that step further and buy Vive, because actually it opens up a whole different world of possibilities. It's actually really good that the VR world, the VR ecosystem, is growing and booming."

VR games are great, but there's more

Things are going well for Vive too. There are more than 400 announced titles, and Breen is keen to point out there are 200 actual games today as we talk. "We're actually seeing a bit more maturity to the games too. It's a cliche, but people are learning as they're going, learning from each other, and it's consumers that are reaping these rewards."

Some of these games are already generating a bit of buzz. Bethesda is in the process of bringing its mammoth roleplaying game Fallout 4 to the Vive, but away from the sexier side of VR (the games), the Vive is also finding its feet in non-gaming spaces.

One big leader already is education. "I'm a visual learner, if you give me a book to read, I'll maybe walk away with 10-20%. If you give me something to engage with, or let me interact with it, I'll walk away with 100%. VR makes this possible.

"A lot of companies have been working on experiences for the education sector, the healthcare sector, retail entertainment and more. A lot of these things are now coming to fruition. What this means for VR, is that it's going to start infiltrating people's lives in more ways."

Relevant read: VR beyond gaming

This is probably the biggest difference, from a business perspective, between HTC's Vive and Sony's PlayStation VR: The Vive has many applications away from games that a lot of users might never see, but are an immensely powerful part of the technology. For Breen this is one of the more exciting aspects: "VR will intersect with so many areas of your life, and it's going to be really fun to find out what happens with these, in the coming weeks, months, years."

What is Breen most excited for, personally?

"I'm a golf geek" he says, making an apologetic gesture. "It's just me geeking out, but I'd love to see a fantastic golf simulator that could let me go to St Andrews without going to St Andrews."

It's not unfeasible he could get his wish. Another key strength of the Vive is the wealth of content available for the platform – there's already a lot out there. Breen happily describes the scene at his house last Christmas, when he took an early Vive dev kit home.

"I had my parents to visit and I had them in the headset. It was amazing to watch my dad, who's a technophobe, wielding swords at Fruit Ninja like a madman. On the other side, my girlfriend, who actually wasn't very impressed by that at all, got hooked on Fantastic Contraption where she could solve problems. Then my mum tried it out and didn't come out of Tiltbrush for the next hour.

"It's an exciting time and there are so many new ideas." says Breen. "I don't know about you, but when I come out of the headset these days, after seeing something new, I've got a hundred ideas in my head. I can't wait to see what's next."

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Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift
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PlayStation VR
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HTC Vive
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