Although the Xbox does not have a virtual reality solution to combat that of the upcoming PlayStation VR (a PlayStation 4 accessory), Microsoft does have a partnership with Oculus, the makers of the $600 Oculus Rift headset. The Oculus Rift will include an Xbox One controller as a pack-in, but the partnership goes farther than that. At least one Microsoft PC game will support the Oculus Rift: Minecraft.
At the Xbox Spring Showcase, Microsoft revealed Oculus Rift VR support will be coming to Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition Beta. The virtual reality headset will allow players to build and fully explore their own virtual Minecraft worlds. We played through a guided Minecraft VR demo and came away impressed. Read on for all the details!
Slipping on the Oculus Rift
Before the Xbox Spring Showcase, I had only used the developer version of the Oculus Rift. The finalized headset includes a number of refinements, including additional straps to perfect the headset's fit. As a glasses wearer, slipping on the Oculus Rift still feels a bit unwieldy, but not impossible.
The headset's display was out of focus at first scratch. I hadn't even considered that focus might be an issue with VR headsets, but there you go. To solve the problem, we tightened up the headset, bringing the display closer to my glasses and eyes. After that, the display looked great and fully encompassed my field of vision. I experienced no fatigue during or after the demo.
Minecraft in VR
The Oculus version of Minecraft will support two distinct VR modes: Theater and VR (our terms for them).
In Theater mode, players will experience Minecraft from within a virtual living room. Inside this room, a big-screen TV shows the standard Minecraft game so many people know and love. The room itself is rendered in the blocky Minecraft art style. Tilting your head in any direction changes your view of the room and TV, just like in real life. Theater-mode is a relaxing way to play Minecraft, though nothing revolutionary.
VR mode is where things really become exciting. The game takes up your entire view, with your head controlling the position of the camera. Look up, down, beside, or behind you and you'll find nothing but Minecraft as far as the eye can see.
It's incredibly immersive and adds a sense of scale you'll never get from vanilla Minecraft. Castles, mountains, everything – these vast structures surround and engulf the player. And enemies like skeletons look huge when they're actually rendered to be as tall as you are!
To make interacting with Minecraft's virtual world easier, a crosshair rests directly in the center of the player's vision. Point your head at the object you want to pick up, chop down, attack, etc. and press a button on the Xbox One controller to do so. It feels more like you're really there, having to look directly at the things you touch.
Camera control isn't perfect in Minecraft VR just yet, though. On a regular controller, you hold the right analog stick to turn your character around. Wearing the Oculus, your head only controls the in-game character's head – not the position of his or her body. You wouldn't want to physically turn your body 180 degrees just to turn around in-game, for instance – not while holding a controller, anyway.
Microsoft and Mojang's current solution is to map turning to flicks of the right analog stick. Tap it and it changes the angle that your virtual dude or dudette faces, without having to physically shift your body. Anyone used to fully controlling the orientation of a character with the right analog stick or mouse will require some adjustment.
That one aspect of having to flick the stick to turn is the only less-than-amazing thing I saw when playing Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta with the Oculus Rift headset. The demo focused on the sheer size of the environments, melee and bow-and-arrow combat, virtual mine cart rides, and more. Mine carts are very well suited for VR since you don't need to worry about turning. You can just relax and take in the blocky vistas.
Virtual Reality impending
Microsoft promised that Oculus Rift players will be able to play with existing Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition Beta players. You can join a regular PC player's game and experience that world in full-scale VR without issue. For dedicated Minecraft players with the hardware and finances required to pick up the Oculus Rift, Minecraft VR will bring a whole new life to the game.
According to Microsoft, Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition with Oculus Rift support will be available through both the Windows and Oculus Stores this Spring. The VR feature will come via a free update for all Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition Beta owners. We'll have more details in the weeks to come!