Gaming

Explore bleeding-edge hardware on ​Nvidia's free VR Steam Funhouse

This high-end carnival's goal is to push next-level VR effects and very realistic sword haptics.

Sending one sword crashing against another, pulling a bow back to aim and feeling the creak of the string as I load the arrow are the coolest experiences in Nvidia's first-ever game. It's a free collection of carnival experiences called VR Funhouse.

It's available now on Steam, and I got to try it out before release. It's pretty simple stuff: an archery game, virtual whack-a-mole, a paint-gun game to inflate and pop balloons. But the real goal for VR Funhouse isn't really the game itself, but to remind game developers of how to push new tools to take advantage of graphics hardware.

Funhouse won't even run on a lot of older systems (it's designed for new GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards, and you need a minimum Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti or better to even play, which is a steep threshold for a casual carnival game). But that's because, according to Nvidia, the physics and effects demand it. One target skeet-shooting game has you blasting plates and teacups, but the particles all have real physics and can be shot at and shattered even more times if you can aim well enough. The paint-gun game uses streams of fluid paint that wobble and interact in real time. Fire effects in archery move dynamically.

Nvidia's actually using this game as a demo for its tech and its Nvidia GamesWorks SDK. Lurking in each game are a variety of tools, all pushing the capabilities of high-end graphics hardware: Nvidia PhysX, Flow, FleX, Destruction, and Hairworks.

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Check out that mole hair.

Nvidia

Yes, Hairworks -- a "hair engine" that's in the whack-a-mole game. The furry-headed stuffed-animal targets you bop have adorable heads of fuzzy hair that sway around.

The best part, to me, was the haptics. Using the HTC Vive game controllers, Funhouse VR makes everyday objects feel more realistic in space. If I held a sword, the slight tap or buzz as I nudged a balloon or scraped against a table gave me a sense of space. Two swords together, scraped back and forth, almost felt as real to my arms as holding two grill tongs in front of my backyard barbecue.

The rest of the effects are okay, but I had a hard time appreciating their impact versus other VR games. But hey, it's a fun freebie (and, soon, Nvidia's making the game open source so people can design their own additions). Nvidia's clearly trying to push higher-end graphics hardware in its newer cards, something that a lot of current PC-based VR on the Rift and Vive don't necessarily take advantage of. If you've got a newer system, it's at least a demo worth checking out. But if it's a sign of a next wave of VR games with higher-end graphics settings, I hope older systems don't start getting left in the dust.