Virtual reality is something that looks like a novelty to a lot of people, but the first wave of games rolling out now are already showing us how powerful the technology really is.
Chunks is a new game on Steam for the HTC Vive VR headset that highlights the potential of using motion controllers while inside a simulation. It looks and feels like Minecraft, but instead of manipulating the world with a gamepad, touchscreen, or keyboard/mouse, you use the Vive’s positionally tracked wands. And after a few hours with Chunks (likely named for the way you build the world with chunks of blocks), it’s obvious that VR is a massive leap forward for empowering people to interact with digital environments. Analysts from SuperData Research anticipate this industry could generate $40 billion by 2020, and a lot of that money could come from software that enables architects, artists, and designers to do their work in an entirely new way.
The most standout aspect of Chunks is its roller-coaster tool. VR apps like Tilt Brush, the 3D painting tool from Google, have already shown us how amazing it is to reach out in front of you and start making something in the air with the press of a button. Developer Facepunch Studios, the company responsible for megapopular PC sandbox Garry’s Mod and the survival game Rust, built Chunks around the feeling of instant, responsive creation. When it comes to building a roller coaster, using the controllers to grab the track to move and bend it exactly how you want is magic.
As with anything VR, the specific mechanics of how building in Chunks works is tough to put into words. But think about it like this: Imagine having the power to summon an endless number of Lego blocks from a magic wand inside of your living room. You can place blocks anywhere simply by pointing and pressing a button, and then you can also destroy them without having to deal the mess. For the roller-coaster tool, the creation process is even easier. You simple pick a starting point in 3D space, pulling the trigger on the Vive remote, and dragging your hand in any direction. Once you have that starting section, you can bend and shape the track by grabbing and positioning it or you can add onto by going to either end and dragging your hand once again. It’s almost like having one of those cans of Silly String that sprays out a rigid (but malleable) coaster.
Go ahead and watch me using the building tools in the video below:
Chunks is in “Early Access” for $20 on Steam. It’s obvious that it’s unfinished. The interface is ugly, and you don’t have a lot of options for interacting with the world. But you kinda don’t care about that when you can spend 10 minutes designing the most amazing theme park ride ever. You kinda don’t care what isn’t in Chunks because you can’t help but think about what this game means for the future.
I’ve always thought about sculpting or building models. But I’ve always hesitated at spending time or money on supplies or learning arcane tools only to potentially find out that I don’t like sculpting. VR, combined with the Vive controllers, eliminates almost all of that.
As I build a coaster in Chunks, I can spot something I don’t like and fix it. If I were doing the same thing with a Tycoon game or a design program like CAD, the process is not that simple. Instead, I’d have to struggle with the mouse and keyboard shortcuts. I’d have to fiddle with the camera controls. But in Chunks, I just walk over and grab the track and place it exactly how I want.
I think, when it comes to VR, many people still think that the business applications are years off. But Chunks and the Vive are proving that the hardware is ready now. If I can feel confident about building something, imagine what someone who studied 3D modeling and design could do. As amazing as I find virtual gaming, I think the most exciting thing about VR is that it is reducing the barrier-of-entry for creative people to make things.