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Space simulator a killer VR app

For 10 glorious minutes, I was strapped in the cockpit of a spaceship, dodging lasers and explosions among the stars.

All too soon though, my time was up. I had to remove the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset and return to the real world. In this case, the real world was a hotel conference room set up by graphics chipmaker Nvidia for an event two weeks ago to demonstrate the VR headsets from Oculus and HTC.

But in that short time, I became convinced that the space simulator game genre, or space sim, in which you fly a spaceship and engage in dogfights, is the first killer VR app.

I grew up playing classic space sims like the Wing Commander series, FreeSpace series and Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter games. So naturally, I am a fan. And I am excited that Oculus, which kick-started the fledgling VR game industry, shares my belief that VR and space sims are a good fit for each other.

Oculus announced earlier this month that every pre-order of its upcoming VR headset will include a copy of Eve: Valkyrie, the space sim that I tried.

Being able to turn your head to change your in-game perspective instead of using the controller joystick is a game changer. It feels natural and makes the game feel more realistic.

It is not difficult to see why space sim makes a terrific showcase for the VR game industry. Being able to turn your head to change your in-game perspective instead of using the controller joystick is a game changer. It feels natural and makes the game feel more realistic.

Eve: Valkyrie also taps the potential of the VR headset in its gameplay. For instance, you can use your head to track an enemy spaceship and fire your guns without altering your flight path.

The immersion you get from a VR headset is better than multiple-monitor set-ups. This is because the headset blocks out the outside world and surrounds you with audio and visual inputs. I could spend hours flying around the galaxy and taking in the sights.

The Oculus Rift is not perfect. The screen resolution is not quite high enough, so the graphics look slightly pixelated. The bulky headset is a bit tricky to put on when you are wearing glasses. But the overall experience overrides the flaws. More importantly, I did not feel dizzy or nauseous while using it, which was an issue with earlier versions of the VR headset.

Oculus is not the only VR headset in development. Sony recently showed off the retail version of its PlayStation VR headset. The platform has garnered an impressive list of launch titles, including Eve: Valkyrie. The PlayStation VR is probably more accessible to gamers because you do not need a high-end PC to power the VR headset. Instead, Sony appears to be bundling an external processing box for this purpose.

Both the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are expected to launch in the first quarter of 2016. Then, there is the upcoming HTC Vive VR headset, which is expected to be available in April. Next year looks set to be the breakthrough year for VR.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'Space simulator a killer VR app'. Print Edition | Subscribe