Before I jump into my experiences with Minecraft for the Oculus Rift let me begin with a brief caveat. Before this I had spent maybe eleven minutes total playing the regular 2D version of Minecraft. That’s about as long as an episode of Rugrats and while that may be plenty of time for a group of infants to escape from their parents, have an adventure, learn a lesson, and make it back to the playpen; it didn’t do much to prepare me for what I’d be getting into as I strapped on my headset.
I wound up being very grateful for this lack of context, however, becuase stepping inside the world of Minecraft for basically the first time through the Oculus Rift ended up being one of the most jaw-dropping gaming moments of my life.
The first thing I noticed upon starting the game was how fast I could get into it. I have a fairly standard Internet connection and I was able to have the game downloaded, installed, and operating in under three minutes. There is also a free 90 minute demo for people like me who do not already own the full version of Minecraft. If you don’t, you’ll need to make the purchase after the trial is up in order to keep launching it form the Oculus Home portal.
The second thing that struck me within the first five minutes of my session was that the Rift version of Minecraft is essentially identical to the Samsung Gear VR version. Both experiences start you off playing the game on some sort of massive in-VR monitor and both give you the option to toggle this into a fully immersive, 360 gameplay mode.
There are also differences between the two varietals as well. The Rift is obviously a much more powerful system and, as a result, it throws some unique ingredients into the Minecraft gumbo. Chief among these is a dramatically increased draw distance and the overall visual fidelity of the game. The Rift version is able to render many more assets on screen at once and therefore allows you to see much more of your Minecraft world and much less fog as you play.
The Rift also comes with positional tracking which means that you will be able to lean forward, back, and to the side of objects rather than being restricted to just turning your head left, right, up, and down. This small upgrade goes a long way to making you feel as if you are inhabiting the world of Minecraft, rather than just observing it.
That simple sensation of occupying such a sweeping universe is what truly made Minecraft special for me. As a newcomer to this game it took me a while to realize just how massive the world I had entered was. Once I did begin to grasp just how many digital acres I had to dig, explore, and craft in I was hit with a wave of palm-sweat inducing vertigo. VR impressed the scope of Minecraft upon me in a completely new way,
The world itself isn’t the only thing that scales well in VR. The foliage, animals, enemies, and landscape also seem a lot more imposing when you can walk right up next to them rather than seeing them all crammed into your computer or TV screen. This phenomena meant that even the pigs I encountered gave me pause, but that didn’t stop me from beating them to death with my bear hands and pocketing their meat for later.
Minecraft also offers you a large amount of control over the way you play in the immersive mode as well. You can use comfort turning (which snaps your view in small increments as you move the joystick) or opt for a more natural movement scheme (which glides your view at a set pace while you explore). These are just the tip of the iceberg, however, and there are more than enough options to allow each player the VR experience they require to have fun and avoid feeling sick.
The last, but perhaps most significant, feature of note for Minecraft VR is the inclusion of cross platform multiplayer. I was able to watch as none other than Upload’s own Ian Hamilton entered my world and walked his stubby avatar over to mine. Ian was on a Samsung Gear VR and I was on the Rift. We observed the similarities and differences of our in-game head animations for all of ten seconds before immediately trying to kill each other with anything we could find.
It’s comforting to know that while platforms may evolve, our desire to murder each other virtually never really changes.
As of the time of this writing, it appears that some people are having trouble getting into Minecraft on the Oculus Rift, but the team at Mojang is working on fixes.
Featured Image Source: Mojang