It’s a chilly and rainy December afternoon in Manhattan. In a rented corner space of a midtown law office, I’m watching a colleague ride Pegasus.
In reality, it’s actually an exercise bike attached to Sony’s PlayStation VR, but from his perspective it’s Pegasus and from his perspective, control doesn’t feel like an illusion. That’s thanks to VirZOOM, a virtual reality control peripheral hopes to bridge the gap between motion gaming and VR while curing locomotion sickness, the nausea produced when humans see motion while standing still. Thus the peddles.
The logical disconnect isn’t hard to spot: Flying horses don’t have peddles. VirZOOM CEO TK Janszen doesn’t dispute this, but he does point to the effectiveness of this mind trickery. The “blankness” of the peddling action, which is weightless and unnatural in the first place, can be applied to a variety of scenarios, like horseback riding and race car driving.
The bike itself looks like a regular exercise bike because it is an exercise bike — and it can be used as such. VirZoom began as an effort to make riding stationary bikes “less tedious,” but pivoted towards gaming. The bikes have candy-colored controller buttons similar to Xbox and L+ R triggers that remind me of GameCube.
Here’s the VirZOOM pitch boiled down to the basics:
- It uses peddling as a function for motion through virtual reality spaces and tracks how far you go.
- It’s foldable, so you can keep it in a closet when not in use.
- The peripheral connects via USB to your PC or PlayStation 4.
- It comes loaded with five games.
Truly, this technology is only as good as the gameplay it can offer. The first game, Stampede!, in which we roped bandits in the Wild West while riding a bob-tailed nag, was all about rhythm and timing. It was fun and beatable.
Go Fast Car, in which we drove a Formula 1 race car was fun and simple and exactly like you’d expect it to be: better than just biking, but not much.
Then there was Pegaso, in which we rode Pegasus. This was the highlight for really, really obvious reasons.
My initial impression of VirZOOM was that it had a lot in common with a Nintendo Wii. Besides the packaged games really being glorified tech demos, both the Wii and VirZOOM promise active gaming but lack a killer app that inspires immediate purchase. The problem here is that biking games make the most sense, but biking is — stationary or not — a pretty repetitive thing. So is riding a Pegasus after a while, granted that would take a long time to stop being fun. The functionality overshadows the gameplay here and that’s really the opposite of the point.
Still, it feels like there’s enormous promise. The ability to map movement to action without correlation is fascinating. Do I want to get a workout while riding a Star Wars speeder through the forests of Endor? Absolutely. I just want to be able to shoot some storm troopers while I do it.
As it stands, VirZOOM won’t disrupt the gaming of spin markets any time soon, but the right game could help it do the latter and, perhaps, the former too — by bringing a new audience to button mashing. For now, it’s just very funny to watch one’s colleagues ride a flying horse