We have seen the future of Exergaming, and it is…VirZoom
As promised, I’ll be posting my belated experiences with using the Apple Watch as a FitBit alternative shortly (I did order my Watch on Black Friday but I’ve been so busy at work it’s just been sitting in the box).
But rather than being a laggard in posting stuff about 7 month old technology, I have the extreme pleasure of being one of the first to tell you about the next big thing for exercise fitness and exergaming. It’s something called VirZoom. And having tried it in person a few weeks ago, it is AMAZING (in fact, I’ve been chomping at the bit to share my experience with you, but because the announcement was embargoed I’ve had to stay quiet…until now).
Since I started this blog you’ve heard me say that the best exergames are the ones where you’re having so much fun you don’t even realize you’re getting a workout. We’ve come close over the years. The balance exercises in Wii Fit and Wii Fit U, the live action fighting in Kung Fu Live on the Xbox 360, and of course the dancing in games from DDR to Just Dance.
As you probably know, next year we’re about to see the next big step in gaming. The Oculus Rift, after years of being hyped up, will finally be released. Not far behind is Sony’s Playstation VR which will be an add-on to the PS4 (hopefully managed a little better than the Playstation Move). And the HTC Hive will also be in the mix.
When I tried an Oculus a few years ago at a demo at the US Tennis Open, I honestly wasn’t very impressed. Yes, you could look up, down, left, and right but it seemed more like a gimmick than anything that I’d eventually pay thousands of dollars for when you factor in the console and all the games.
A few weeks ago I was invited to demo something called VirZoom, and as a bonus I got to demo it on a pre-production Playstation VR. And as someone who’s been following exergaming since the days of My Fitness Coach and DDR, I can say that the dream of having a full immersive exercise experience is finally here.
What is VirZoom? Well, on the surface it’s an exercise bike.
I know what a lot of you are thinking. That looks a heck of a lot like an old a Cyberbike. But that’s like saying that a Lamborghini is like a Model T.
The bike itself feels great. It’s light enough to carry and ship without am army of people to lift it, but it feels solid to ride. Unlike the Cyberbike (which felt like a rock against your posterior and seemed like it was going to fall apart at any second), the VirZoom bike was comfortable and had decent resistance when pedaling.
But what set this experience apart was when I put on the Playstation VR glasses. They ran me through a couple different games, most of which can be seen in this gameplay reel.
What this video doesn’t capture is that you don’t just see the screen in front of you, but you can turn your head up, down, left, and right and be immersed in the scene.
All the games were from a first person POV. In the first game, I felt like I was riding a horse. I could look around the whole scene and see an entire Old West town, and as I pedaled faster the horse I was on would gallop faster. Once I got over the initial “this is cool” factor, I focused in on the task of lassoing the bad guys, which felt incredibly realistic. And yes, by the time I lassoed all of them I didn’t even realize I’d pedaled a decent amount.
The next demo had me driving a racecar. While you might think pedaling at 12 MPH to control a race car at 200 MPH would be disconcerting, it felt strangely natural.
They saved the best game for last–one when you’re on a Pegasus. You start off on a road at the edge of a cliff and then ride your horse off a cliff, at which point you realize you’re flying through the air. The sensation of looking down at the earth far below was stunning.
A few things surprised me. First, I was surprised at how comfortable the glasses felt–they were a bit bulky but certainly stayed on my head securely.
The credentials of the team who developed this system are impressive. The co-founder served as the head tech engineer for Harmonix. One of the developers led the development of the accelerometer that made the WiiMote possible. As brilliant as these guys are technically, their most brilliant move is probably getting in on the ground floor of what will be one of the “killer applications” for VR.
I just had a quick 20 minute look at this, but from my gushing you can probably tell I was impressed. If you want to get in on the ground floor of something big, head on over to their Web site at http://www.virzoom.com/. They’ll be selling the first 300 units at $199.95, which I suspect will go quickly. The regular price will be $249.95, which is an amazing price point for new technology.
Of course, you’ll need to wait until the Oculus, Playstation VR, or HTC Vive to actually use it (the VirZoom will ship in the first half of 2016, presumably after these manufacturers release the products for general availability).
Needless to say, just as exergaming itself is evolving, I’ll be looking forward to providing you with updates as these products go live. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the death of video game fitness are greatly exaggerated.
More on this in the first half of 2016!