Gen Con is primarily focused on tabletop games, but electronic games have been on the rise in the past few years. RPGs, as video gamers understand them, have their place, but the lion's share of the games exhibited are either card game ports or play aids for traditional tabletop roleplaying. AltspaceVR by AltspaceVR demonstrated both of these trends with its online virtual environment, which is set up for playing Dungeons & Dragons and Boss Monster. I'm not enthralled with the current state of virtual reality, but the long lines at the demo units suggest I'm in the minority.
I spent the most time with an Oculus Rift consumer unit in the Dungeons & Dragons room, a 3D tavern that centered on a gaming table. Despite the name and the license, this room can be used to play roleplaying games other than Dungeons & Dragons, although Altspace has the license for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Interacting with virtual consoles around the gaming table allowed the players to display images, text documents, YouTube recordings, and PDFs. The game master used a separate console to add 3D miniatures and flat terrain tiles to the grid on the table. Dice hung from a chandelier above the table, where anyone could look up and roll them by pressing the “Interact” key on the Rift remote.
The experience was disorienting. By the end of the demo, I had stopped ramming into furniture and could position myself appropriately. However, I left with a dizzy headache that didn't wholly go away for several hours. I was assured the environment was easier to navigate with the HTC Vive's room scale VR, and that practice would reduce the dizziness. Much like riding a bike or earning my sea legs, it would just take time.
VR headaches aside, the demo didn't convince me of the necessity of a 3D environment for playing Dungeons & Dragons. The room held too closely to the paradigm of players sitting around a table, rolling dice, and laying down map tiles on a grid. Given the infinite possibilities of a virtual environment, I expected more in the way of aids to enhance the experience. Web-based roleplaying systems like Roll20 don't have animated avatars or emote commands to provide a simulacra of physicality, but they beat computer-free gaming in terms of information management. For a VR gaming table to grab my interest, it will need to provide conveniences above and beyond that of the table to make up for the imperfect closeness of simulated space.
AltspaceVR is available for free and is in open beta for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR. It is also available in 2D mode on Steam and Google Play.