Raw Data is still a fairly new demo, first shown off at the 2016 VRLA Winter Expo, but it felt like the first real first person shooter I've played in VR.
Having tried both Bullet Train on the Oculus Rift and London Heist on Sony's PlayStation VR, among other VR shooters, I thought I'd have a good sense of what an FPS was like in VR. I was wrong.
I started out with a pistol on my hip and a lightsaber katana (yes, you read that correctly) on my back. Wave after wave of robots and drones attacked me from every angle, while new weapons pop up to try. With the HTC Vive and its motion cameras, I could duck, find cover and slice enemies in a 15 ft x 15 ft space.
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It's a sweat inducing, heart pumping experience as the robots get smarter and increase in number. Both Bullet Train and London Heist are superb demos but they feel much more stationary and less involved.
That will likely change once both become full fledged games but the Raw Data demo, in comparison, felt more satisfying. I was able to try out a shotgun, a bow with exploding arrows and even block and ricochet bullets and bombs back at enemies with the katana.
The best part about the rotating weaponry? A friend can join in with their own set and watch your back.
Like social in real life
Back in March 2012, University of Southern California students Nathan Burba and James Iliff launched Project Holodeck, a research project geared toward engineering a VR platform and creating VR games.
I think it's kind of cool that I got weirded out the first time. We're far from being technophobes, but VR causes a hardened tech person to be like, 'whoa.'
Project Holodeck was rebranded as Survios and become an official company in May 2013 with Burba and Iliff as Survios' CEO and CCO, respectively. Zombies On The Holodeck! was Survios' first VR demo. Flash forward to now and the LA based team is prepping to launch its full Raw Data game.
Fighting off the robots with a buddy is one of the core aspects of the game, and this is where Iliff tells me the future of VR is heading
Similar to the vision of folks at CCP with EVE: Valkyrie, Survios hopes to engage VR fans and VR newcomers with the social side of virtual reality.
"We want people interacting one-on-one with true telepresence," Iliff said. "It's something that's way beyond social. You see the word social these days and it's like – Twitter, Facebook or Farmville. That's not where we're coming from. We're having a social conversation with body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. That is what we're talking about in VR. The word 'social' in VR is the same word we mean by social in real life."
Oculus has spearheaded the challenges of social VR with the Oculus Cinema app and Gear VR's Social platform. Both are still in beta but are available to try out from the app store. The experience is still quite… odd.
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Iliff's first time jumping into the app was an unsettling and awkward experience when another person hopped into his theatre, saying hi. Unsure of what to do, he quit the app. "It felt like all of a sudden, I didn't have enough information to understand the interaction and I got scared. As a user I was like, 'I'm out.'"
It's understandable considering the startling experience I've also had during my first time in an Oculus social space with disembodied – and somewhat creepy – avatars.
Iliff was struck with wonder at how the virtual world could still surprise him. "It's bleeding edge stuff," he said. "I think it's kind of cool that I got weirded out the first time. We're the farthest people from being technophobes, but something can be so new that it causes a hardened tech person to be like, 'whoa.'"
Thankfully Raw Data doesn't employ the use of eerie bobbing heads. You and your partner have avatar bodies and you can see exactly what the other person is doing. I was even able to sword fight with the katanas - and despite the lack of a physical object in my hand, the weapons contacting each other still felt tactile and 'real' causing me to stop swinging the Vive controller in mid-air.
No headset? No problem
Not everyone will have a VR headset and rig setup but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to get involved. Iliff and Survios want to create the best type of VR streaming to allow more audience participation.
YouTube and Twitch have popularised streaming with thousands of people tuning in every day to watch games being played and the developers hope to jump in on the action by creating quality VR streaming.
At the moment, there are different camera angles to let viewers see what's going on in Raw Data but Survios says it's still hard to show everything. The company has also experimented with live streaming and plans on doing more with broadcasting in the future.
Iliff says showing non-VR users quality streams is the best way to get more people on board since explaining what VR is like isn't the easiest thing to do. I've felt this first hand – descriptions alone just can't do the VR experience justice.
"Spectating and streaming – that adds a whole other layer," Iliff said. "It's like this trifecta of awesome that essentially will be the best way to get non-VR users into VR, buying the hardware and buying the games. It's going to communicate exactly the compelling nature of VR and the value of the products. On top of that, it makes it fun for everybody."
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