POKER

“Are you real?” PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experience

TAGs: Lucky VR, PokerStars, PokerStars VR

As PokerStars prepare to launch PokerStars VR, Lee Davy, shares his experience of the new format after a brief play with the gear at the European Poker Tour in Barcelona.

"Are you real?" PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experienceI had a choice.

Piglet.

Chick.

Calf.

I chose piglet, and my Oculus Rift headset plunged me into a slaughterhouse.

My mother is lying on her back. A big fat sow. She can’t get up. I’m unsure if she’s mobile, but the bar that sits a caterpillar’s thickness from her hide makes it impossible even if she wanted to.

Someone picks up my brother and removes his tail.

Scrotum, next.

Balls squeezed out.

I am at the back of the pack, listening to the screams, watching the blood falling from the gaping wounds of my brothers and sisters.

The floor looks like someone has gone crazy with fine paintbrushes full of red.

I will spare you the rest of the details.

Tears stream down my face as I prematurely remove the headset and the woman from the animal welfare company asks me if I want to be a chick or a calf?

So when PokerStars’ Manuel Bevand escorted me into a back room at the PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) in Barcelona and told me to put on an Oculus Rift headset, PTSD set in.

Fortunately, the game proved to be the perfect remedy.

Virtual Reality: The Next Big Thing?

According to Statista, the global virtual reality (VR) gaming market will be worth an estimated 22.9 billion dollars by 2020. Movies like Ready Player One give us an insight into a potential future where people scurry to the VR world in a bid to escape the fetid reality on earth.

"Are you real?" PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experienceIt’s an experience with a broad application.

Had I not been vegan before my little piggy experience, I doubt I ever would have eaten another rasher of bacon after watching the way it ends up slathered with ketchup between two thick slices of bread.

The real estate agent down the road from me uses it to give you virtual tours of properties cutting down travelling time. Healthcare professionals. The military. Pornography. Tourism. I’ve even visited the Great Barrier Reef with Sir David Attenborough.

And then there’s poker.

PokerStars VR: A Quick Review

PokerStars has partnered with Lucky VR to create the best poker VR experience in the business.

It’s not ready to be unwrapped yet.

A free-to-play version is currently being tested by a hundred invitees, from all over the world, and I was fortunate enough to give it a whirl.

"Are you real?" PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experienceI put the headset on, slipped my hands into the controllers and walked into a virtual world without moving a muscle. My first task was to spin a wheel that looked like the Wheel of Fortune determining a randomised number of chips.

Next, I opened up a control panel (via my VR watch) and selected an environment.

The final version has five different gaming environments: Macau 2050, The Macau Suite, The Showdown Saloon, Monte-Carlo Yacht and The Void.

I chose Macau 2050.

My Neocortex began sucking in the visual experience. My Limbic brain was flooding me with excitable peptides. The Cerebellum started locking in the neurochemical signature that read:

PokerStars VR = A Fun Time.

I found the experience slightly disorientating, but realise that once I have played it a few times, and my three brains establish a routine, it will feel like I am over the Wyndham Pub taking Neil Farm’s money.

I quickly forgot that I was back on earth. I knew I was sitting in a chair, and that people were sitting next to me, but only on a subconscious level. Consciously, as the game wore on, I became more and more immersed in this avatar.

"Are you real?" PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experienceI switched Macau 2050 to the Westworld inspired Showdown Saloon. Hookers watched from the rail. Fortunately, they had stopped short of rape and murder, although I could buy a gun from my controller, and use it to shoot bottles and glasses on the bar, and even turn the piano off.

The controller came into eyeshot once I had tapped a virtual watch on my wrist. It gave me access to a variety of different options including a shop where I could buy all manner of props including cigars, beer and miniature animals that are life-like in a Stars Wars IV Chewbacca v Luke chess type of way.

You handle the cards as you would in ‘real life’, peeking at them, folding them, and even throwing them at your opponent. I found controlling my chips a tad tricky, but you can call out your options (although it felt like cheating). My opponents didn’t have the same problems, showing me that with time, these minor issues even out as you gain more experience with the product.

It was surreal playing with people.

For a while, I assumed they were AIs, and then I switched on that these were the beta testers from around the world. I kept saying, “Are you guys real?”

Then one of them pulled out a mobile phone and took a photo of me so that I could see my avatar.

“I can also use the video function on the phone to stream across Twitch and other social media platforms,” said the cigar-chomping, bottle shooting cowboy.

"Are you real?" PokerStars prepare to unveil new VR experienceThe Verdict

I loved it.

You quickly forget your playing, and that’s a great sign.

The interactions with real people will be a game changer for me. It will make communicating via chatbox seem as archaic as slaughtering pigs for meat by the by time 2050 rolls around.

The one area I had reservations was personal boundaries. For example, I stopped smoking in 2001 and drinking in 2009. So, it was taken aback when a player put a cigar in my mouth, lit it, and handed me a bottle of beer (on a side note, I blew the VR smoke away in real life forgetting it wasn’t real).

PokerStars has assured me that you won’t be able to do this in the final version and that your boundaries and privacy will be respected in the VR world as it is in the real one.

PokerStars VR isn’t for the serious grinder.

It’s for the enthusiastic amateur who wants to have a good time playing a game they love in a vastly different way.

The incorporation of live video streaming is brilliant.

PokerStars is planning a commercial launch later this year and previewed the product earlier this week in Birmingham at Eurogamer, the UK’s biggest games event.

“PokerStars VR is a chance for us to take this amazing technology and bring something totally unique to poker players,” said Severin Rasset, Director of Poker Innovation and Operations at PokerStars. “Poker is about interaction. It’s been bringing people together for well over a century. We’re really excited to invest in the next generation of the game and to give players the opportunity to meet in a brand new virtual reality dimension.”

I can’t see them shelving this once they cut the ribbon loose.

Now.

Calf or Chick?

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