Virtual Reality & THE THRILL OF THE FIGHT – Fitness, Boxing, and Soreness with the HTC Vive

VR has been skyrocketing into my life in a rapid way in the last 3 months. This marks the FIRST VR focused article we’re writing here at Hopeful Homies, but it’s far from the last. In fact, we’re going to create a dedicated header just for VR exploration and analysis as we have had abundant joy from the various games and experiences the Vive, Oculus Rift + Touch, and PSVR have provided!

I, e-vaughn, have been amped on VR for 3 months because my culminating Capstone project for my Masters Degree is a look into ergonomics, immersion/presence in VR, and how abstract controls pertain to the Uncanny Valley effect. It’s wild. Straight up opening my eyes to the possibilities we have blossoming before us as gamers. What a time to be alive, am I right? I’ll likely get more into the details of my project (and may even post the results/presentation) once it’s finished.

 

The REALITIES of VR – an intro into Virtual Reality

It’s almost self-evident that VR is most often attempting to mimic reality. “Virtual Reality”, after all, is reality captured virtually (or digitally, really). While there’s ample room for some fantasy and sci-fi in VR, a consistent draw is the ability to immerse oneself AND/OR utilize your body in a natural way to enjoy digital experiences. After trying dozens of different VR experiences at this point, let me tell this: VR is here and it’s just as great as you might imagine… and only getting better.

For real. It’s ridiculously immersive, capable of engaging physical activity, brings new gameplay mechanics, and is still very clearly in its infancy. VR is also already a very diverse landscape.

 

The BASICS of VR

VR VIVE Image

The HTC Vive comes with a headset, lighthouse sensors that track a user’s movement in the room, and controller wands that act as hands. Combining all three of these pieces of hardware with smartly designed software allows VR to come alive.

Headset: The “reality” part of VR, in my opinion, comes pretty directly from the head-tracking and full-immersion of the headset. These headsets will likely continue to get better through advancements in optics and comfort.

Controllers: The various kinds of VR systems like Oculus Touch, the Vive, and the PSVR (Playstation VR) all use different methods for input. Effectively, one can use a regular controller with traditional buttons or one can use well-tracked controllers in each hand that more realistically mimic natural hand movement and interaction.

Controller Continuum V3

Starting with completely abstract control types like most common controllers and moving towards motion controls, the Kinect, and finally the Vive + Room Scale, VR has allowed affordances in gaming that require less and less abstract controls.

While experiences like Resident Evil 7 on the PSVR allow for head-tracking, they are immersive but don’t feel real because they still rely entirely on the abstract controls of the PS4 controller. These types of experiences are incredibly immersive, but it doesn’t exactly feel real or autonomous as one is communicating inputs through abstract button pushes (thumbsticks to move, B to crouch, X to reload, etc).

Room-scale Tracking: The last piece of the puzzle is a tracking system that allows one to walk around their physical room without bumping into the walls. This is accomplished with sensors attached to the walls.  Experiences on the Vive that combine a headset with the Lighthouse sensors to enable room-scale movement and the Vive controllers for natural hand tracking begin to approach experiences that very closely mirror reality. They have the immersion (headset), realistic input (Vive wands), and natural movement in a physical space (room-scale through Lighthouse sensors).

e-vaughn’s VR History

At this point in the last 3 months, I’ve tried a plethora of VR experiences. Below is a list of notable experiences from my most favorite to semi-memorable, many of which deserve and may turn into articles themselves:

  • Budget Cuts
  • Superhot VR
  • Racket NX
  • Rec Room
  • The Nest
  • Resident Evil 7
  • Lucid Trips
  • The Lab
  • Thrill of the Fight
  • Sairento
  • Lethal VR
  • Arizona Sunshine

 

Not every VR experience is intended to feel like a realistic experience. Some are completely great as abstract control experiences with a more immersive flavor (like Resident Evil 7 in VR), while others blend realism with fantasy (Superhot), and even still some craft genuinely immersive experiences and challenges with realistic movement but infuse sci-fi elements to explain how you move around the world (Budget Cuts is the absolute shit, mah man).

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Budget Cuts stands as the most autonomous, most naturally moving, most environment-utilizing and authentic VR experience that I’ve experienced thus far…. but that’s likely an article for another time.

There are even some experiences that attempt to mirror reality very closely. So closely that if you have much experience with that activity in real life, you might be astounded how accurate it feels (Archery in VR, for instance). Thrill of the FIGHT is one such game.

 

THRILL OF THE FIGHT in VR

The Thrill of the Fight is a boxing simulator in VR. If you had any tangible experience with the Nintendo Wii, you likely tried Wii Sports. The boxing experience in Wii Sports was the very first time I actually experienced soreness and muscle fatigue due to a videogame. I vividly recall the experience at my friend Ashley’s house playing for 3 hours straight, trying to earn my pro ranking against these AI goons. I threw my chucks in one-two-one-two combinations, blocked by holding the Wiiimotes near my face, and I dodged left and right. My sides ached like nobodies business the next day, and I was elated sitting there thinking about the possibilities of fitness through games.

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Thrill of the Fight uses hand tracking and head-movement to simulate a boxing experience that’s a little more advanced than the Wii Sports Boxing version of boxing we saw years back.

I used to box just a little bit in High School a couple years before I broke my neck. It was part of a Police Academy Program where we got cheap lessons from humble father-figures that loved teaching us how to throw jabs and crosses. The conditioning and empowerment that comes from boxing is hard to describe unless you’ve tried it before, but like any activity, locking into a flow state provided this uplifting euphoria that pulsed through my veins. As far as exercise goes, it’s hard to beat its cardio capabilities.

Recently, I took a classpass class that got me invigorated in boxing again. That context helps frame what it is I found so enjoyable about Thrill of the Fight.

The connection to reality when playing Thrill of the Fight is intense. When you’re swinging the Vive controllers wildly, the system damn near perfectly tracks your hands. When you jab and throw a cross, hit a sweet hook, rock your virtual opponent with an uppercut… It feels like you’re actually shadowboxing (shadowboxing is simply throwing punches in a focused stance). Like you’re actually wearing gloves, and dip, duck, dodging away from virtual fists. The system nails the experience; it nails it with grace.

While Thrill of the Fight simply cannot provide counter-resistance to your punches due to the limitations of VR, it’s an even better representation of shadowboxing than shadowboxing is. There is some minor haptic rumbling that occurs when you’re punching, but it effectively goes unnoticed during a real boxing match in-game due to the intensity of the experience and its relatively low vibration. Nonetheless, what better way to enjoy shadowboxing than one that actually tells you where to punch, when to block, forces you to keep your hands up, encourages dodging, and really taxes you as a player each round?

As far as a proof of concept goes, the Thrill of the Fight experience is great. As far as game loop, feedback models, progression systems, goals, or teaching techniques, the game leaves a lot to be desired.

Video, Commentary, and Expert Review of THRILL OF THE FIGHT

As the above video demonstrates, the Thrill of the Fight experience is pretty great. It places me into a cardio-incentivized world and gives me a goal. As far as game loop, feedback models, progression systems, goals, or teaching techniques, the game has a lot to strive for. It’s fun, and while certainly shallow as of now I can see how it has the potential to craft a regimented and exciting shadowboxing experience unlike any I’ve seen yet.
Just imagining a Player-vs-Player matchmaking and being able to digitally duke it out with opponents would be something that’s hard to fathom, but really exciting. I don’t know if the Vive/Netcode can that accurately track hand speed or dodging, but that would be such a fun challenge that I’d most certainly buy a copy of this game just to battle my homies in the VR-ring.

Taking it even further and implementing a Player-vs-AI mode that has you hitting very specific points on enemies and block/dodging enemies (like Wii Sports 2 allowed) could be another great mode to eventually try out. More than anything though, this proof of concept gets me more and more excited about the ever-changing landscape of fitness, videogames, accurate simulations in VR, and gamification to turn maintenance exercise into enjoyable movement.

 

Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:

  • VR is exuberant and so exciting. It’s so easy to get hyped about it, because in my studies where I expose novices to VR for the first time, every one of them that has any interest in gaming has found the experience enjoyable thus far. We’re moving into a new realm of gaming here soon, folks.
  • VR + Fitness is on the horizon. I’d love to pair a fitbit with a couple rounds in boxing and see how many calories are burned.
  • VR + Boxing especially seems to work well. The focus on hand tracking is already there, and the system was very accurately tracking my hands, head dodging, and room movement. All in all, it felt real to the point that I was getting lost in it.
  • Proof of concepts are great, but a game loop with progression and continued challenge will be necessary to keep this experience fresh. Incorporating PVP matchmaking would accomplish that fairly quickly.

e-vaughn

 
Citations and Image Sources:

  • i.ytimg.com/vi/j1j-lZmBxqU/maxresdefault.jpg
  • c1.staticflickr.com/2/1471/25845851080_21ea8a50d9_b.jpg
  • cdn.edgecast.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/400940/header.jpg?t=1474545074
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