The top 10 best of VR in 2016

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The top 10 best of VR in 2016

After spending the better part of 2016 researching, analyzing and experimenting in the Virtual Reality industry, here is what I’ve found to be the Top 10 VR experiences of the past year.

This subjectively compiled list is informed by my own experiences spending more than 100 hours in Virtual Reality across all major platforms, as well as from observing first-time experiences, reactions and excitement from nearly 100 users “new to VR” in the Shasta VR Lab in San Francisco. Here are the best that we’ve seen this year…

1/10

10. YouTube VR (Gear VR, Daydream, Cardboard, Web VR) // Best WebVR Experience

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzuqhhs6NWbgTzMuM09WKDQ

YouTube has a surprisingly robust collection of VR experiences that span from high production content to fast and furious user generated content. You can fly wingtip-to-wingtip with the Blue Angels (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6SsB3JYqQg), swim with Great White Sharks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNOT_feL27Y), or stand on the stage of Hamilton while the cast of the hit Broadway show sings a version of “Wait For It” all around you (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9AyO8h2I0k). All of this can be accessed straight off of the web and viewed in Cardboard, or if you have it, the native Google Daydream VR application is an elegant way to sit back and discover VR/360 and non-VR YouTube content right from you couch.

2/10

9. Batman: Arkham VR (Playstation VR) // Best Mega-IP Extension

While Playstation VR offers a significantly less interactive experience than room scale VR, Batman: Arkham VR on PSVR is a super compelling VR experience because you get to suit up and fight crime as Batman, yourself. VR’s ability to create “presence” for someone in a real, or fictional, environment is uncanny, and before you know it you’re throwing Bat Stars, flying the Bat Wing and battling Gotham’s crime rings just like Batman. This is just a taste of what some large IP owners could do with extensions to massively famous franchises owned by Marvel, Disney or Warner Brothers. I just can’t wait to be James Bond.

3/10

8. Rec Room (Oculus Touch, HTC Vive) // Best Social VR

Rec Room’s high CGI design and relatively intuitive user controls encourages natural social experiences by bringing people together to play simple schoolyard games. While social is in fact, a secondary focus of the experience – competitively playing games is the first – it’s the social interactions that really stick out as the best that I’ve seen yet in VR. In other experiences where social is the primary focus, too often you get a cold start problem where people/avatars are standing around with little to do, or talk about. It becomes awkward and strange not leaving the user with the most warm experience. Whereas, in Rec Room, users can quickly get into competitive games of Paddleball, Dodgeball or Paintball, where intra and post-game conversation leads to natural interactions and context for which to share experiences and create memories.

4/10

7. Ritchie’s Plank Experience (HTC Vive) // Best Presence in VR

Ritchie’s Plank Experience, while certainly the simplest app on this list, is by far the one that can create the highest degree of “Presence” for the user. In this experience, the user is set in a high CGI environment and prompted to ascend a tall skyscraper in an elevator. At the top of the building, the elevator doors open and there is simply a wooden plank that protrudes from the elevator into the open space. Very few are a user that has tried this in the Shasta VR Lab that doesn’t have a visceral experience, and verbal exclamations to match. Even though you know that you are standing on the solid ground of an office, your body’s senses and brain are receiving information that you are in a far more precarious situation. This is a prime example of the power of immersion in Virtual Reality.

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5/10

6. TheBlu, Wevr (HTC Vive) // Most Demoed Application

TheBlu has to be one of the apps that’s most demoed on the HTC Vive, and for good reason because it demonstrates so many of the special characteristics of what makes VR unique and special. Especially for those entirely new to VR, or for those who are nervous or worried about nausea or what to expect, the docile underwater experiences allows people to get the hang of it at their own pace. The art is beautiful and each of the apps’ three experiences includes a key theatrical moment of awe created by featured water characters.

6/10

5. VR Sports Challenge (Oculus Touch) // Best Sports in VR

While its game mechanics could be more sophisticated in room scale, Oculus Rift’s VR Sports Challenge does a great job of giving the user the thrill of simulating being a team player in a professional sports match. Attempting to snap the football and find a receiver down field, or blocking the goal from the incoming hockey puck, this experience gives you a taste of how great the future of the classes of Madden NFL, FIFA, NBA or NHL type sports games will be in VR.

7/10

4. Gnomes & Goblins (preview), Wevr (HTC Vive) // Best Interactive Cinematic

Gnomes & Goblins (preview) is an experience created by actor/writer Jon Favreau, that touches on the spectacular opportunity VR offers to create interactive cinematic experiences. G&G leverages room scale, interactive characters, even directional audio cues to lead the user down a storyline that changes with each interaction. More than any VR experience I’ve seen so far, and this is only an early preview, this application naturally envelops users into the storyline so immersively that people end up moving, crouching, jumping, even laying down, without really consciously realizing that they are being so physically interactive and entertaining to watch!

8/10

3. Raw Data, Survios (HTC Vive) // Most Addictive VR Experience

[Disclaimer: Shasta Ventures, the employer of this writer, is an investor in the company.]

Survios’ Raw Data is the most addictive single player first person shooter on VR. Full stop. The mechanics of the interactions between user and robot targets raises the blood pressure by a good 20 points. This application uses height in room space more significantly than any other VR app I’ve seen, and that leads to much more physical game play: full body turning, twisting, reaching, and jump sliding in full six degrees of motion. Increasingly difficult waves of robot attackers and audio cues often lead to heart-stopping moments when something has snuck up behind you, and watch out for the screeching of “undead robots” as they hurtle themselves at you through space. The levels are sufficiently difficult to keep you playing for hours, a sweaty workout is a positive byproduct, and while the collaborative multiplayer is fun, a competitive PvP multiplayer mode would be game changing.

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9/10

2. TiltBrush (HTC Vive) // Most Loved VR Experience

Google’s TiltBrush gets the award for the VR app that everyone “just loves.” It’s a simple art creation app enabling users to paint with “light.” The intuitive UI is one of the most natural combinations of software and hardware I’ve seen yet in VR. On first use, users instantly understand their ability to create art, but when they realize they can move around it and interact with that art in three dimensions, their collective jaw drops. In the Shasta VR Lab, we’ve had enthusiastic users creating art that range from 3.5 years old to mid-60s. While most VR apps today are a “consumption” experience, TiltBrush is one of the few “creation” apps that delights users time and time again. Recently released Oculus’ Medium and Quill are apps of the same vein, and I’m incredibly excited to watch how the “creation” category evolves over the next year.

10/10

1. Space Pirate Trainer (Oculus Touch, HTC Vive) // Most Requested VR Experience

SPT is actually a quite simple game. It’s a first person shooter where you stand on a platform and defend yourself from waves of space drones firing lasers at you. You have two guns and a shield, and can decide which two to hold in your hands at any given time. It’s simple enough to make a first time user feel like she’s making progress, yet it’s sophisticated enough with arcade-like game mechanics that keeps us veterans hooked for hours…days…weeks…trying to beat that last score. The use of full room scale also makes it a great way to get in a work out as you’re ducking, dodging, blocking, lassoing, lasering, bombing and blasting the drones away to stay alive. This is the VR experience that is consistently requested as a repeat play by both newbies and VR veterans alike.

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