I spent the afternoon with Minecraft for the Oculus Rift. It was not a pleasant experience, and after some time lying down I would like to tell you all about it.
I should begin by saying that I’m no stranger to virtual reality. As of GDC this year, I have tried all four of the leading headsets — Vive, Oculus, Gear VR and Sony VR. In the time since I’ve dabbled with most of the big VR titles on Steam and played every single game in the Oculus store. I’ve delivered packages on the moon, dove into the depths of strange and distant worlds, gone far into our post-apocalyptic future to battle trolls and far into our pre-apocalyptic past to battle Imperial Japan. I've even done untethered, full-body VR.
So, when I booted up the Windows 10 version of Minecraft, only recently updated to offer a beta of Oculus Rift support, I turned off all the silly "comfort features" that it offered. I was sure that I could take it.
Let me be absolutely clear: Nothing I’ve done in VR has made me feel more ill than vanilla Minecraft on the Oculus Rift.
It’s not a sudden sort of sickness, but a feeling deep inside your gut that grows slowly over time. After 15 or 20 minutes my mouth was watering in an uncomfortable way and no amount of powering through the experience was going to make it any better. I just had to get out.
Nothing I’ve done in VR has made me feel more ill than vanilla Minecraft on the Oculus Rift.
I realize now why there wasn’t more hoopla surrounding the release. Even with all the comfort features turned on, I can only hang out in there for short periods of time.
There's an alternate setting once the headset is on, a way to duck out of VR for a minute or two. You get there by hitting up on the D-pad. It puts you inside a Minecraft-inspired living room, watching yourself play Minecraft on a Minecraft-inspired television a few feet in front of you. But that’s not much fun at all.
The menu system seems to take a shotgun approach to comfort settings by putting a bunch of them in there and hoping for the best. You can toggle between automatic jumping, smoothed-out VR-friendly jumping or traditional jumping. You can turn off "steering" with your head and limit lateral motions to your right stick or mouse alone. You can monkey with the view distance in VR, turn off fancy leaves and fancy animations and fancy particle effects to get your framerate up. You can even flip on incremental turning, which is common in many other titles including the famously challenging Windlands. Tap the right stick on the controller for to shift your view 15-degrees to the right or left.
None of it really works for me.
It’s not that I don’t have enough computer right now. I’m working with a top-of-the-line system (Intel i7-4790, Nvidia 980 Ti, 32 gbs of RAM and solid state drives) and it’s still very uncomfortable. Other than having roughly half the view distance as regular Minecraft, the framerate doesn’t seem that much lower.
I’m at a loss as to why, exactly, Minecraft is giving my inner ear so much trouble.
Anecdotally, there’s a lot to enjoy about Minecraft in VR. Delving deep underground is terrifying again, and swimming around along the bottom of lakes and rivers is a fascinating experience. Standing up at the top of the world, peering down through clouds as they pass by and watching the biomes changes in the distance, is inspiring.
But Minecraft in VR is just a nice place to visit right now. I really don’t want to live there. Here’s hoping that, as the beta evolves, it gets better.
We spent some time with Minecraft in VR in March of this year. You can watch that video below. Sadly, it hasn't gotten a lot better since then.