I’m in a sparsely decorated bedroom. There’s a bed in the corner under the window, dressed in vaguely familiar ’90s sheets full of geometric shapes. The wall above it is adorned with classic movie posters – Fright Night, Scanners, Blade Runner. Next to the bed is a nightstand with an ’80s style television set perched precariously on top.
Against the wall is a large wooden desk which has seen better days – that holds a more modern looking CRT TV with a Super Nintendo and collection of cartridges scattered amongst dirty dinner plates and some packs of M&Ms.
On the far wall is a large set of old shelving and a tall wardrobe; to my right is a huge chest of drawers. I suddenly realise I feel quite dwarfed by the furniture in this room because I appear to be significantly shorter than usual. Whether that’s an intended feature of this experience coded in by the developer, or a foible of my Oculus Rift’s sensor tracking, I can’t quite tell. But I’ll take it. It feels acceptable to be four foot tall in this room.
The clock on the wall reads 7:15 – looking out of the window, the sun is just starting to peep over the neighbour’s roof across the street. The room is bathed in a warm glow. I can practically smell the crisp linen on the bed in front of me; the remnants of last night’s pizza in the Domino’s box on the floor.
I decide that it’s Saturday. It’s completely silent, there’s no traffic noise and everyone else in the house must still be asleep. The tranquility is bliss. Saturday mornings were always the best part of the week. A big bowl of sugary cereal and some cartoons would be the order of the day.
I wander over to the small ’80s style television next to the bed and, after a little fiddling, manage to bring it to life. As the tube heats up, there’s a brief second of static – something I haven’t seen for years – before it finally picks up a signal and I’m watching the opening credits of Thundercats. I sit on the bed for a moment and lean in closer to the TV, realising I can actually make out the red, green and blue offset pixels.
Moving over to the desk, I rifle through the small stack of cartridges piled on one side. Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: Link To The Past. I literally don’t know what to try first.
I grab the component video lead from the back of the SNES and feed it into the RGB connectors on the front of the TV. It fires up with a familiar bluescreen, so I slot Secret of Mana into the top of the console and slide the power button. The game launches perfectly, its aspect ratio matching that of the TV. Again, if I put my face close enough, the subtle RBG pixels are evident. The authenticity and attention to detail is overwhelming.
Like a kid in a candy shop, I walk away from the desk and over to a huge behemoth television set in the far corner. I raise my left hand, click my fingers and suddenly a 3D menu has appeared in front of my face. Dangling in mid air is a series of small pigeon holes each housing a miniature console. There’s an Atari 2600, a Commodore 64, an Amiga 600, a NES, a Mega Drive (Genesis), a SNES, a PSOne and an N64.
I grab the PSOne and it immediately balloons to full size as I prop it on the stand in front of the TV. I use the same menu to select a disc – Metal Gear Solid – pop the console tray open and click the disc into the spindle. Again, the TV fires up and a wave of nostalgia washes over me.
I spend the next hour wandering around the room, a huge grin on my face, rearranging furniture, moving television sets, spawning in new consoles and games – getting everything just right.
I play Park Patrol on the C64, sitting cross legged on the floor, on a portable television. I spawn two TVs and dual box Road Rash on the Mega Drive along with Super Street Fighter II on the SNES. I lie on the bed and watch some more cartoons while idly playing Space Invaders on an Atari 2600.
In short, I have one of the best gaming experiences in recent memory. For a couple of hours I am 10 years old again. The stresses and strains of modern life are on the other side of the bedroom door and I am staying put. This is what VR was made for.
The team behind EmuVR initially teased their tech demo in a rather interesting video back in November 2014, taking the first step towards making Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One a reality. Since then, the idea of a virtual space filled with emulated versions of classic videogames has been explored by various developers and even Oculus directly.
The idea of strapping on a headset and entering a comfortable, familiar setting to play vintage games was perhaps best realised by Digital Cybercherries with their 2016 launch of NewRetroArcade. At the time, it was a monumental achievement and totally unique.
It effectively gave users their own private ’90s arcade to wander around in, with all their favourite machines and even a SNES style home console plugged into a TV in the corner. They could invite friends and play games together; they could watch movies in the cinema room or listen to classic rock on the radio. It felt like stepping into Parzival and Aech’s loft in the OASIS. It was a place I spent quite a bit of time in during my early years with VR on the DK2.
But the legalities of emulation in the digital marketplace have always scuppered other developers trying to follow suit. Platforms like Steam don’t like the word emulation – they don’t want to deal with baying Nintendo and Sony executives banging on their doors with cease and desist letters. Many publishers are fiercely protective of their back catalogues now – let’s not forget that Nintendo recently sued two large ROM sites for $100million.
For that reason, if you want to experience what EmuVR has to offer, you have to be prepared to do a little legwork. They provide the venue, you bring the games*.
Prior to first boot, I spent a good hour or so getting everything just right – creating wall posters and cart labels, downloading RetroArch cores and fiddling with emulator settings. You have to put a lot of work into this kind of authenticity.
Some titles didn’t work, but that did not detract from the overall experience of recapturing my childhood gaming memories. There was a moment just before I logged out, where the sun rising through the window cast a harsh glare across the TV screen while I was playing Park Patrol on the C64. It awakened a memory in me, long dormant, of playing my own console next to my bedroom window one bright morning.
You can’t buy this kind of experience. And with this software, you don’t have to. EmuVR is a free experience and will always be free. The developers are keen to implement new features like multiplayer and customisable environments, but even in its early access beta state, if you have an Oculus Rift or a HTC Vive and you are fan of retro games, you owe if to yourself to track down and install this unique experience.
Click Here to view some early access footage of EmuVR on our YouTube channel
*Games emulation has always existed in a legal grey area. Some see it as piracy, others see it as a way of preserving classic games. Nobody is quite certain on the legality of the enterprise, so make sure you are comfortable with the steps you need to take in order to get this software to function as intended. There are wealth of resources online if you know where to look. Your first steps should be to Google “RetroArch” – if you can get the games to run on your desktop, you should run fine in EmuVR (Top Tip for AMD users – enable Threaded Video in the RetroArch settings if you experience any slowdown or stuttering).