Hands-on with Minecraft for Windows Mixed Reality

We have been eyes- and hands-on with Minecraft's new WMR version on HP's headset, and honestly, it's a total blast. But a fatal flaw could prevent it from becoming WMR's killer app.

What's different in Minecraft VR?

Few games support as many paradigms and inputs as Minecraft. You can play Minecraft with touch controls on Android, iOS, or even Windows 10 Mobile. You can play with an Xbox controller. You can play with mouse and keyboard. And now, you can play using WMR's motion controllers.

If you're unfamiliar with the WMR motion controllers, they have a touch-sensitive circular button, joysticks, a handle button, and a trigger, as well as a Windows key that doubles as an on/off switch. For Minecraft, your right hand becomes the "mouse," while your left hand can be used to view your hotbar inventory. Pressing the circular button will cycle through items on your hotbar, leaving your other hand free for slicing zombies with a sword, punching down trees, or mining. You can use the right motion controller as a cursor, selecting items in your inventory, or aiming your sword or pickaxe.

The joysticks control movement, although the experience is a little odd. There are two modes in Minecraft on WMR: "classic" and VR-enhanced modes. The classic-style controls, as you might expect, work with movement controlled by both joysticks.

Me and several other staffers on Windows Central have found both control modes to be motion-sickness inducing.

The VR-enhanced mode however, feels a little odd. The "look" joystick, which you would normally be used to on a gamepad or while using the mouse, snaps your view left and right a certain amount of degrees. This is how you change your heading for moving forward, and frankly, me and several other staff on Windows Central have found both control modes to be motion sickness inducing.

In Arizona Sunshine, you choose where you want to move to using a positional teleporter, bound to the movement joystick, and it feels a lot more pleasant to use. In Minecraft VR, the physical separation from your legs and movement inside the game could be what is causing the motion sickness some of us have been experiencing to varying degrees. A click of the left stick lets you exit the VR world, giving you a more traditional on-screen experience, albeit on a large virtual screen in a Minecraft-style room. It's a nice addition to take a breather from the disorienting full VR experience, but I'd much prefer background sensation of nausea was just solved somehow instead.

Some will get used to this, some won't experience it at all, but I experienced it enough to make the game difficult to play for long periods of time. Which is a shame, because some things just feel so great in VR for Minecraft.

Virtual mining goodness

While Minecraft for WMR needs refinements to prevent motion sickness, the experience overall is quite incredible. Being able to rapidly aim your pickaxe with the motion controller feels really great, given how much extra screen real estate you have while fully immersed in the blocky game world. It's also a little vivid being able to rotate and examine a porkchop up close, after years of it being resigned to flat-screen displays.

So weird having a 3D virtual porkchop... #Minecraft pic.twitter.com/E3oRU5Piqq— Jez☕ (@JezCorden) November 22, 2017

Combat gets a boost, too, now that the look function is released from aiming. Simply point your motion controller, sword in hand, and swing it through zombie skulls for great justice. The accuracy is incredibly precise, and it just feels natural and intuitive to aim and fight this way.

Once you get used to the shifted controls for things like building, fighting, and jumping, this could become the definitive way to experience Minecraft, if the motion issues are resolved.

This could be a killer VR app, but ...

Minecraft VR is already available on other platforms, but experiences like this could really give WMR an advantage once they achieve true refinement. With a WMR headset, the barrier to true VR experiences has never been lower, and Microsoft is no doubt working hard to decrease the threshold even further.

There's a large message that displays when Minecraft on WMR loads, noting that it is indeed a work in progress and that frequent breaks from the game may be needed. It sounds as though Mojang and the Minecraft team at Microsoft is aware of the intensity of the experience and the issues that comes with it. That fact presents a bigger barrier to VR proliferation to me than the costs involved, given that for so many, games like this can be such a physically unpleasant experience.

Luckily, more and more developers building games like Arizona Sunshine (opens in new tab), Superhot VR (opens in new tab), and Job Simulator understand what needs to be done to solve some of the motion-sickness problems, but for games like Minecraft where full lateral movement is important, it might take a bit of time to catch up.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Sounds like my experience with minecraft in Gear VR.  Plays great and is really immersive, but in full VR mode I got motion sickness really easily.  Switching to the big-screen mode still provided some of the immersiveness but helped a lot with eliminating motion sickness.  
  • It is the same thing as sea sickness. No difference really, except sea sickness is worse because your legs move as well as the horizon but differently to what your brain expects. If you press on through, most people by far will simply get used to it and the problem will go away, just like on board ship. If you need a little something to help on the way, suck a bit of stem ginger. If you avoid the issue i.e. with big-screen mode or teleporting then you'll forever have this problem. Gotta face it down bro.
    And Jez, it is not a 'barrier to VR proliferation' any more than sea sickness has proven to be a barrier to ship proliferation or travel sickness has been a barrier to car proliferation. Just apply the same solutions that people have always applied. Because they work. Please don't encourage companies to keep up with these crazy immersion breaking and disorienting screen blackouts or stuttering teleport stuff. This is a temporary problem, and so a permanent crippling of the game will ultimately either be a problem for most or worse will keep people from adapting so they'll always be limited in what they can do in VR. It really isn't needed.
  • No, no and a thousand times NO! Stop posting this junk, and stop being a total jerk. What you are saying is NOT TRUE. This is a real phenomenon and you CANNOT just get used to it! No amount of "face it down" will help. I have studied and worked with VR for 15 years, and this is a REAL issue.
  • I used to get travel sick and sea sick when I was a kid, many people do. It is absolutely real. It is also very much the case that most people will get over it with a little acclimatisation. Ask any seafarer (Oh, by the way, I've worked in shipping longer than you have in VR. Hardly matters though, as travel sickness and sea sickness are not exactly alien experiences for folk in general so why wave *******?). [That got blanked? Good grief, I really am surprised at that, I mean it's hardly swearing or bad language, I could have said 'why wave roosters' and been fine, which is much harder stuff really, and lacks the fun aliteration. Oh well, I can still be surprised by filters.]
  • Lucky that you can get over it. Stop trying to make it seem like everybody can. Informal numbers suggest that about 10% of the population cannot do VR without sickness, and cannot get over it, so trying to minimize that number is a worthwhile endeavor. My point in bringing up my experience in VR is that if it were possible to get over motion sickness in VR, then I would have by now. I have also worked with people whose sensitivity is even higher than mine. Your "solution" isn't really a solution. It's just boasting of the "well, I can do it, so anyone who can't is just a weakling!" variety, or "ableism" or whatever you want to call it. I call it being a jerk.
  • I am not saying everyone who can't get over it is a 'weakling'. There are plenty of things I can't do (with my back) that others can. There's plenty I can do that others often can't, too. We are all different. Recognising those differences is not being a jerk. Using a ham fisted one size fits all approach that penalises the other 90% because you don't give a toot about people's differences, now that's jerky. Thing is, many more people than 10% will experience sickness, especially in the younger (less experienced) audience but certainly not only. This very sizable group of people would get over it, if they had the chance and pushed on through. So long as we stop trying to medicalise everything and stop encouraging people to think they can't get over it, because that does have a big impact. Unfortunately the jerks who are forcing compensation methods on everyone using this shotgun method risk delaying or preventing altogether a larger number of people from acclimatising, and so making the problem worse. Think of it like this. Imagine 2D Windows on the desktop, with all of the accessibility features jammed on. That's what used to be called Equality back when I was a kid. Not a great approach. These days we talk about Diversity. So we can celebrate everyone's differences and turn that stuff off dependent on what helps us be the best we can be. Windows is now becoming a 3D virtual OS as well, but somehow the memo hasn't reached the VR coders and they're still using 'The 80's Guide to Equal Rights for the Needy'. Are we to have the accessibility features jammed on forever in the new virtual Windows world? Doesn't sound great to me.
  • And by the way, one of the first screens in Minecraft VR is one that asks the user to choose between the motion sickness compensating controls or "classic" ones with full motion control on the gamepad. So your entire rant is not only technically wrong about the severity of simulator sickness, but doesn't even aspply to Minecraft since they give you the option you want. Jerk.
  • Seriously, please don't keep posting this. The reviewer himself is saying that the game may induce sickness as a real issue, Zac Bowden has mentioned it too. It's there. Good thing you can "man it up", "shrug it off", "get accustomed", etc. You can't ask that of everyone. Besides, what harm does it make to you that games implement a full range of locomotion options? Many leading VR games have them all together so each user can choose. What's better than that? Personally I rather have a game with choices that suit me, suit you, and suit the next guy who gets sick more or less than me. Just respect the differences in every person.
  • I have not once denied it is an issue. It is a fact that reinforcing the idea that people can't get over this will reduce the chances of someone getting over it though, so I'm not trying to draw attention to the possibility either as that would not be fair to do. Many more people can become acclimatised than cannot, it is common human experience and has been since prehistory. Yes, some people (I'm told about 10%) won't be able to get through it. I've not once stated I expect them to be able to shrug it off. I have never indicated I expect such of everyone. Nothing is better than having an off switch for the accessibility features, I have never suggested otherwise. That's exactly the best approach. It's worked well for 2D Windows so far. I have no clue why we're doing the opposite in VR Windows for most things I've seen so far. In fact Microsoft recommend everyone use the approach from Cliff House which (whilst far from the worst and more common methods I've seen) is to jam on the accessibility features for everyone. Very respectful of people's differences, I don't think. Who are you responding to? Because it seems like you've not read any of my posts.
  • Saying "man up" means that those who cannot do so are "weak" or "inferior" -- that is prime jerk behavior (I mean a worse word but don't want to trigger filters) and shows that you have no understanding of how this affects people. Saying that "the vast majority can get over it" is false and again implies that it isn't a problem. Around 10% cannot use VR _AT ALL_ right now due to sickness. Most people feel some level of discomfort, and the techniques used here are what allows "most people" to be able to use VR. You are vastly understating the pervasiveness of simulator sickness (the technical term for this) which is why we keep telling you that you are denying the problem.
  • Note for everyone, DON'T BUY THIS FROM THE MS STORE! Ignore the article's link. You can get the same MS store version as well as the Java version in a package for significantly less money (£5 less) if you buy directly from the devs' web site at Minecraft.net so hop on over and save some cash whilst supporting the devs.
  • As I said when you posted this junk on the other article, 5 cents is not "significantly less money" -- You can politely point out that you do get both versions from minecraft.net for the same money without being a jerk about it.
  • And as I said, £5 difference is a free lunch. What's not to like? That's not being a jerk, that's a bargain.
  • Posting in all caps about a difference that is not there for most customers is being a jerk.
  • Except there would be every reason for me to expect the price delta to be the same when posting, so how's that being a jerk? So you have helpful extra info to add to my informative post (US does not equal most) but instead you just attack me over it? You are a charmer.
  • I told you in the other place you posted this about the smaller price difference in the US, but you posted the exact same inflammatory message here. Not learning from that and continuing your rude behavior is what makes you a jerk. So far, all we know is that the UK pricing is different. That most definitely does NOT equal most. Until we hear otherwise, I feel it is safe to assuyme that most of the world will see similar pricing.
  • Jsz: How do you feel about the solution they use in the Cliff House? Teleportation with a smooth animated motion in between and a sound effect. I found it to be more comfortable than the way it is done in Minecraft. I also found that disabling the "HUD glide" or whatever it is called also helped in Minecraft. With the HUD locked on screen, it felt to me more like I had a non-moving reference point that minimized the queasiness.
  • It's way better than those awful blank screens or the huge iris effect on some things. The slight iris effect is tolerable (but unnecessary). I prefer the way it goes backward though, much more natural than the way it leaps forward and easier to adjust position that way. Looks like they've tried a bunch of things at once to see what sticks, hopefully they'll settle on just one of them and can drop the others. Ideally, with an off switch. I mean, how hard is an off switch to arrange? They go to all this effort for a few people who unfortunately can't find their sea legs like most do, but won't put in an off switch for everyone else? Seems barmy to me.
  • Love it but got motion sickness too. First time after a week's use of my WMR headset.