It looks like virtual reality is really going to boom this year. Samsung has just launched its Gear VR, and imminent launches include Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens and others.
Just this week, Google created a whole section on their Play Store dedicated to VR apps and finally offered its US customers a chance to buy the cheap-as-chips homebrew viewer designed by Google - Cardboard.
Cardboard has been available as a home project, a Google giveaway, or a third-party product since 2014, but this is the first time Google has started retailing it directly, albeit not yet in Australia.
Made out of budget-friendly components, the whole thing can cost as little as $15, because the virtual reality aspect is actually powered by your own, hopefully compatible smartphone (Android and more recently also iOS).
While more slick and powerful devices can cost you anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars, the cheap and cheerful option is not a bad way to dip your toe into the waters of VR hype to see what the fuss is all about.
When Cardboard first came out, the offerings in the form of apps were extremely limited and not terribly exciting, but things have certainly moved forward in leaps and bounds since then. With over a thousand apps to choose from, your encounters might make or break the VR experience.
So, here are a few free apps and games you might want to try with your (probably non-official) Cardboard viewer.
There’s no guarantee these won’t make you dizzy, and not all of them might work with your device, so consider yourself warned.
Google’s demo app Cardboard is where you start - apart from giving you a little tutorial on how to operate your viewer, it also has a demo section which lets you fly into space with Google Earth, visit Versailles with a tour guide, or watch your videos on a giant VR movie screen.
The app also has a section which lets you see all the other Cardboard-compatible apps you have installed on your phone.
Another basic offering by Google, the Cardboard Camera lets you capture stereoscopic panorama scenes with sound, and then experience them as virtual reality “moments”. They’re not meant for sharing or publishing anywhere, but it’s a fun creative way to devise your very own VR content.
Titans of Space
If your phone is up to the task, the DrashVR LLC Titans of Space guided tour through our Solar System (and a bit beyond) is not one to be missed.
With you sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship, the tour automatically takes you past planets and other objects, displaying an informational display about what you’re seeing at each stop.
VR Cosmic Roller Coaster
Another space-themed app, this is an interesting spin on the inevitable roller coaster apps that are the first easy pickings for a VR environment. This Cosmic Roller Coaster by Raiz is not a typical fun ride, and it can be a little disorienting and confusing at first, but it will take you on an immersive ride through a make-believe galaxy. And possibly make you a little nauseous.
Deep Space Battle VR
Okay, so space is definitely a setting VR developers love - unsurprising, given the possibilities a 360° floating experience can offer. Deep Space Battle by Archiact Interactive is a fast-paced shooter game that’s fun even if you’re not a typical blow-em-up type of gamer.
The premise is simple - defend Earth from space intruders in galaxies of various difficulty (although we’re not sure why there are several galaxies with Earth in it), and the gameplay consists simply of focusing on targets as they are automatically blasted once within range. However, you might knock things over in the real world if you’re not careful.
Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue
Also from Archiact Interactive, the Firefly Rescue game is a fun arcade that puts you in the character of a little bug flying through a dangerous world. As you fly through various environments - from caves to thick greenery - you can collect fireballs and power ups that protect you from huge, purple bug-eating plants. Try not to throw up or fall over when you run into a spiderweb.
Vrse is a storytelling app from a company whose mission is to “tell extraordinary stories in virtual reality.” Once you open the app, various movies are available for free to download - including music videos from Muse and U2, and feature story films by indie producers and publications such as The New York Times. Worth your while.
While there’s not much happening in Lanterns, it’s a nice meditative experience - especially if you pair it with an app that plays soothing nature sounds. The creator Oleksandr Popov has produced a wide offering of 3D live wallpapers, and this one takes the concept one step further by creating an immersive scene set during a Lantern Festival, customary in countries such as China and Indonesia.