It used to be that the only way to play videogames with your friends was to grab a pad, take a seat on the couch next to them, and hit start. Over the years the advent of online gaming slowly eroded the appeal of local multiplayer, but many still long for the thrills that come from having two or more people competing in the same room, and not just over voice chat. Dominique Vande Walle is one of those people; he even got out of gaming for a while when online competition became mainstream. But, thanks to the Oculus Rift and Bigscreen, Walle has recently reconnected with his past.
He’s since spent over 1000 hours inside Bigscreen.
Vande Walle loves fighting games. He’s a fan of everything from casual brawlers like Super Smash Bros to more hardcore series like Soul Calibur. He has a particular love for 2007’s Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, one of the better videogame tie-ins to the anime behemoth. He’d play these games a lot as a kid, but didn’t see the appeal of playing them online.
“As it progressed local split-screen games started to die out a bit,” Vande Walle tells me. “Everyone was playing some game online over the internet and I lost any interest in gaming except for your occasional Mortal Kombat match at a friend’s house.”
What Vande Walle did have an interest in, though, was virtual reality. Vande Walle was an owner of the Oculus Rift’s second development kit (DK2), a device the company made readily available to anyone. He describes the two years in which DK2 was in circulation as fun, but lacking in compelling content. That changed when the consumer Rift arrived in 2016.
“Little by little it started to dawn on me that I had a device now capable of putting me into a setting with random strangers from over all the world,” Vande Walle says. “And those people were interacting with everything I say, every single one of them has a different background, culture, whatever silly story to tell you.”
Then he came across Bigscreen.
For those that don’t know, Bigscreen is a sort of virtual desktop app. It allows users to bring up a virtual screen in a number of environments and interact with their PC applications from inside VR. You can scroll through Twitter, do a little work, watch videos and, yes, even play traditional 2D games. Better yet, the app supports multiple users that can summon their own screens.
Two players could boot up copies of any online game and effectively play them as if they were split-screen multiplayer games. Most VR apps have barely 10 hours of content, but by simulating your desktop Bigscreen gives you access to an unending amount of software within VR.
“The moment I saw their concept I knew that was going to be an application made for me,” Vande Walle says. Bigscreen launched in beta in April last year, though Vande Walle got his Rift in May.
Naturally, Vande Walle got Tenkaichi 3 up and running on the platform with the help of the Dolphin emulator. He got online play working, too. And that was pretty much that; playing one of his all-time favorite games with anyone in the world as if they were sitting right next to him was a dream come true. He meets up with his friend to fight in public rooms that anyone can come and watch in. You can see one of their matches below.
Vande Walle loves the social discovery behind Bigscreen. He’s fine when people pop into his rooms and then leave, but he’s found someone that shares his love of gaming, someone that he feels he could play all day with. Judging by his hour count, they do.
“Bigscreen eliminates the borders in the world, you get to see and meet new people all over the world whom I would never have met otherwise in my life,” Vande Walle says. “No way would I have a daily opponent from Sweden right now if it wasn’t for Bigscreen and VR in general.”
He’s quick to stress he’s not addicted to the app, though. “I am just very lucky to have a certain work schedule that allows me at least 4 hours spare time alone each day, so it’s easy to get some gaming time in there with a buddy.”
Even then he’s surprised he’s racked up that much time; he’s only spent a fraction of that time inside other VR apps, and he doesn’t complain of tired eyes or any kind side-effects from being in a headset for so long.
Going forward, Vande Walle is eager for the arrival of second generation headsets to help push Bigscreen even further, but he’s entirely happy with it in its current form. I have to say I’m surprised; when I heard about how long he’d spent in VR, I’d assumed he’d been using Bigscreen for far more than play time. But all it’s really done is serve as the platform for him to continue what he loves doing most; no different to anyone that’s spent 1000 hours playing on any other console or platform.
And that’s really the key behind social VR; it gets the complications of the physical and digital worlds out of the way. No distance to travel and no complicated apps to navigate, just yourself in a virtual space with your friends. When you look at it that way, spending 1000 hours in Bigscreen seems like an entirely normal thing to do.
Oh, and Vande Walle wanted to give a special shout out to his girlfriend, who puts up with his VR obsession. I think that’s definitely worth a nod.