If there's one word that accurately describes the experience of slipping into a virtual realityMinecraft world, it's “VAST.”
Minecraft has always been a huge game. Its randomly generated worlds stretch on forever, serving up new mysteries, new treasures and new dangers as you range further and further into the blocky landscape.
Incredibly, virtual reality makes all of that feel somehow bigger.
By now you know that Minecraft: Pocket Edition is coming to the Gear VR headset. It's eventually coming to Oculus Rift as well, though Microsoft isn't quite ready to get into those details.
The mobile version is more than up to the task of immersing you in Minecraft like you haven't been before. Even if you've messed with the “Minecrift” mod, which makes the PC game work with Oculus dev kits, this is a step forward.
There are two ways to play Minecraft in a Gear VR. If you're looking for something less intense, there's always the option of playing the game on a virtual big screen TV in a Minecraftified living room.
It's cool, but you can also give the Gear VR touchpad a tap to teleport yourself into that virtual TV, for more of a “full” virtual experience.
Here's what you need to know: it works. This is Minecraft with console-style controls — you need a Bluetooth gamepad to play it — except the headset makes it feel like you're inside the world.
The big difference with the controls is the camera, which moves from the right analog stick to your head. Sitting in a swivel chair helps if you want to completely rely on head tracking for turning inside the virtual space.
That's not to say the right stick is useless. Moving it to the left or right turns you in that direction, but it's not a smooth movement like you'd find in other first-person perspective games. It's a stuttering turn, as if the frame rate dropped significantly.
“It's almost like a palette cleanser for your eyes,” Minecraft development manager Mike Weilbacher told Mashable.
“It's almost like a palette cleanser for your eyes.”
“We have some psychology behind it now. We … understand that, depending on how big the gap is, [that helps determine] how much more comfortable it can be. People have different gap sizes.”
The final game's options menu will include a slider that allows you to adjust the gap size. If motion sickness isn't a problem for you in VR, you'll be able to turn off the gaps completely. In that situation, the right stick turns your perspective to the left or right smoothly, as it would in a standard first-person perspective game.
Other than that, the VR version of Minecraft: Pocket Edition carries forward all the features that the game currently boasts, and all the ongoing updates that fans have come to expect.
“It's still Minecraft,” Weilbacher said. “You can still use Redstone, you can still make contraptions, you can still go online. It's still the base game. We've just tweaked some of the edges to make it feel more comfortable.”
The game even allows for cross-platform play, just like the standard mobile edition. You can be running around in a Gear VR while your friend is playing the Windows 10 version on a computer. Once the Rift edition comes out, cross-platform with that will be possible as well.
But what about the Xbox One version of the game? Microsoft recently gave developers the go-ahead to add cross-network play support into their games, allowing Xbox players to link up with PC (and perhaps even PlayStation) users as well.
Will cross-network play allow Minecraft fans on Xbox One to connect with their VR-equipped friends?
“Potentially,” Weilbacher said. “We're just not talking about it right now.”
Minecraft: Pocket Edition is coming to Gear VR sometime this spring. The build we sampled at the 2016 Game Developer's Conference felt great, but there's more work to be done.
“We're doing some optimization to get the performance better and make it more comfortable,” Weilbacher said. “We really want it to be a polished experience.”