Everyone begins in The Hub. The sky is purple and full of stars and the ground is rough and hewn from stone. There’s an extra-dimensional vibe going on here as you begin to look around. You spot your friends in one corner and walk over to them. Your group begins to backflip and breakdance by way of greeting, and then Dan opens a portal and you all head out to play some outer space laser tag.
Welcome to VRChat.
VRChat is a new social VR experience that is beginning its early access phase on Steam today, though developers who purchased early Rift developer kit headsets would remember it as one of the first social VR experiences. UploadVR recently had the chance to try the latest version out for ourselves. We found a platform that is full of potential and good ideas. It’s just a matter of seeing how well those ideas are realized.
The basic idea of VRChat is that it is a universe in flux. You, as a user, have the ability to create and import your own avatars, items and even entire worlds for you and your friends to utilize. Want to play cops and robbers in the old west? Go for it. Want to play digital laser tag? Enjoy. Or do you just want to hang out and bowl? VRChat has you covered.
During my experience I saw anime avatars, cartoony people that came up to my knees and even Mr. Duke Nukem himself. I was being squired about by VRChat’s chief creative officer Ron Millar. Millar took me into all of the different experiences listed above. And while none of them felt nearly as polished or as feature-rich as the handful of experiences currently available in other social VR titles like Rec Room, what was impressive about them was the sort of raw creativity they represent.
The bowling, cowboy and laser tag experiences were all put together by Millar and his team for my demo, but other worlds like them could be built by any VRChat user. The possibilities of a user-generated VR universe is enough to get my mouth watering and, according to Millar, the possibilities do seem just about endless for what can be done with just VRChat and development platform Unity. There’s a sort of “creative hacker” feel to that sort of customization and now that the app is entering early access later today, I can’t wait to see what sort of avatars, worlds and experiences the community will unleash.
You move between worlds and experiences in VRChat via portals. You have a menu that lets you change your skin, pick a new world or share one of several emotes. This menu can be pulled up any time and new actions can also be built outside of VRChat and imported to wow your friends.
Outside of its “anything is possible/Ready Player One” promise, there is not too much that separates VRChat from its contemporaries like Altspace, High Fidelity, etc. The main thrill of the app still lies in seeing others, chatting with them and entering activities with friends from far away. The steady increase in these types of experiences may lead to some die-off among less compelling experiences. We’ve already seen one company shuttered in the VR productivity app space this year, and another early VR social platform, Convrge, closed down early last year as its creators moved to other projects. Time will tell if the customization options in VRChat will help it attract enough users to sustain a workable experience and business model as the years go by.
On the heels of its early access launch later today, VRChat also announced a partnership with Morph 3D to create more expressive avatars. Morph previously brought its avatar system to High Fidelity According to a representative from the company, the system is meant to let any user “create avatars featuring dynamic lip sync, eyes that track, hand gestures, full-body IK and speech that uses spatial audio.”
VRChat is available now for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with support for more platforms coming in 2017, according to the company. You can download it now with a Windows PC. The early-access program will begin today on Steam.