Minecraft has grown into a worldwide phenomenon since its release in 2011, rapidly becoming a game that is defining an entire generation of gamers. Since it was sold to Microsoft in late 2014, the publishing giant has been looking to help audiences experience Mojang's world builder in new ways. The idea of Minecraft working in conjunction with the upcoming HoloLens technology certainly enticed audiences last year, but now Mojang and Microsoft are going even further by bringing Minecraft to Oculus Rift. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to strap on an Oculus Rift headset to see just how much of a game-changing experience this transition is.
The first thing to note is that this version of Minecraft is further building on an existing version of the game. While the goal has been to make Minecraft platform agnostic, this Oculus Rift version is running off of the Minecraft Windows 10 beta/Pocket Edition, which is making another case for that to be the definitive version of the game.
So how does the actual virtual reality element feel? After strapping on a headset, the result is a bit jarring. This isn't merely looking at the Minecraft world from a first-person perspective. This is Minecraft that's to scale. That means everything is life-sized, from the blocks, to the weapons and crafting tools, and yes, all the way to the enemies. Spiders, Creepers, and zombies are certainly a lot more intimidating in VR, where they can look you eye-to-eye. Getting past all the life-sized models, just looking around and soaking in the Minecraft landscape is an immersive experience. This demo was running a world built specifically to show off VR's capabilities and it showed, as I looked around and saw a massive waterfall running down a steep cliff, along with massive structures off to the distance.
The effects feel just as impressive. At one point, I hit a switch to launch piles of TNT towards a labeled target. The ensuing explosion created a monument-sized statue of an Enderman. All of this looked impressive on its own, but it wasn't until I found a mine cart that the true potential of Minecraft in VR set in. Sure, there was the primitive 'teleporting into the cart' effect, but once the cart started moving, I was able to look around in full 360-degree view and witness the full constructed world from the most personal of perspectives. My only thought was how this could revolutionize Minecraft roller coasters, giving players a new way to enjoy rides across custom worlds.
But Minecraft is also about exploration and the VR demo certainly showed what VR could do for that element, as well. My first step into the custom temple had me wade into the darkness, where the idea was to place torches around me to help illuminate the area. There's an extra sense of anxiety that sets in when doing this in a VR setting and that truly set in after I set my fourth torch and was met by a life-sized spider. The illusion is slightly broken during combat, since VR Minecraft still operates with a standard controller/keyboard and mouse, but the VR perspective is utilized when it comes to helping aim arrows. This came into play as I watched several of my arrows miss their mark when trying to trigger a water trap to douse a lava-filled floor.
After a while, there was a sense of vertigo that started to kick in, at which point, I took set Minecraft to its alternate perspective, in which players are put into a virtual Minecraft-style living room playing the game on a virtual big-screen monitor. This 'step back' in perspective reduced that nausea sensation and helped me reacclimate myself to my situation.
Minecraft to me has always been about building, but VR Minecraft's main draw may very well be exploration. It's that sensation of exploring uncharted territory in that first-person view, but it's also about marveling at your friends' creations from the seat of a moving mine cart and enjoying that 360-degree field of view. For the younger generation of player, it's absolutely the kind of experience that could sell them on virtual reality, especially given that it'll allow them to explore the familiar Windows 10/Pocket Edition worlds they've already built. Minecraft on Oculus Rift is definitely something worth looking out for and it'll be here sooner than later, with a Spring release just around the corner.