Brian Koponen

Programming and Tech Tips

Should You Buy VorpX?

VorpX is a program that lets you play flat screen games in your VR headset. They can be viewed either on a giant virtual 3DTV screen or actually in full VR depending on the game. A lot of people wonder how well it works and whether they should buy it or not.

It is fairly expensive at $40, has no trial and no refunds, so there is a certain risk involved. On top of that, like most things in VR, it is very difficult to review because there is a highly subjective element to the experience. What bothers me may be no big deal to someone else.

I watched a lot of videos about VorpX before I bought it and I can tell you that videos do not properly show what it looks like in the headset. All the videos I saw, even ones that were negative, couldn't properly show the problems they were experiencing. Videos definitely make it look better than it actually is. That's true for every video trying to show VR in 2D, but it is even more so when dealing with VorpX.

With that said, I am going to try my best to describe what VorpX actually does, talk about what has worked well and what hasn't in my experience. In the end you should have a pretty good idea if VorpX is worth the money for your purposes or not.


VorpX Overview

VorpX is a driver injector that can turn certain flat-screen games into stereoscopic 3D games. The process it uses is game-specific, so you have to do some research to see if a game you want to play is supported at all. It primarily works with games that use DirectX 9 - DirectX 11 and some older OpenGL titles. More recent games that use OpenGL or Vulkan won't work at all.

To find out if a game is supported, check the officially supported game list. If it's not there, search through the User Profiles section of the forum, which is a list of games the community has gotten to work. Indeed, it turns out that there are a lot of games that work with VorpX to some degree or another. The developer continues to add support for more games fairly regularly, so the list will continue to grow over time.

The process of using VorpX is straightforward. You simply run VorpX, then launch the game. A VorpX logo will appear on your monitor if VorpX successfully injected into the game. This logo does not appear in the headset. When you put on your VR headset, you will be in the VorpX environment where you can configure all of its settings for the game you are playing.

Most games require tweaking both in the game settings and the VorpX settings to get a good experience. If you hate tinkering around with settings like this, you are probably not going to enjoy using VorpX that much. The good news is that once you get everything setup, you never have to do it again for that game. But while you're first getting started and testing things out, this can be a trying experience.


Display Modes

VorpX has three display modes: Cinema Mode, Immersive Screen Mode and Full VR.

Cinema Mode creates the experience of having a huge 3DTV in your living room. This is the most widely supported mode for the games you will play. For any non-first person game, this is the only mode that even makes sense to use.

Full VR is the most exciting mode, but also where there are the most disappointments. First of all, the amount of games that support Full VR is much smaller, and of the ones that do work, there are often some inherent issues in the games that can ruin the experience. In the best case scenario, Full VR does indeed put you in the game world as if the game was made for VR, including full head tracking, allowing you to bend down and look at objects however you want.

Immersive Screen mode is a variant of Cinema Mode that puts the screen incredibly close to you, so you can just see the edges around your vision. It enables a little bit of head tracking like Full VR Mode. This is useful for some games that won't work in Full VR, but you can get a pretty close approximation using this method.


Direct VR

For Full VR to work, you need to adjust the in-game field of view to match your headset. This can be a frustrating process, often requiring changes to the game's ini files. Thankfully, VorpX has included a mode for the most popular games that can do this configuration automatically. This is called Direct VR.

In games that support Direct VR, when you first enter the game world, VorpX will detect the necessary changes that need to be made. When you restart the game, all the settings will have been applied and the game will work as best as possible in Full VR.

The full list of games that have Direct VR can be found in this forum post. Keep in mind that although a game might support Direct VR, it doesn't mean that the game will be fun to play in VR. There are often a lot of issues that I'll talk more about in a bit.


3D Modes

VorpX has three main ways it creates the 3D effect: Z-Normal, Z-Adaptive and Geometry 3D. Z-Normal and Z-Adaptive use information from the depth-buffer to create a pseudo-3D effect. Z-Adaptive will try to enhance the 3D effect based on where you are looking in the scene. These modes have very little effect on the frame rate, making them very useful for lower-end computers. The effectiveness of the 3D effect depends entirely on the game you are playing. Sometimes it works really well, but more often than not, it is pretty lackluster.

Geometry 3D creates actual 3D by rendering the scene once for each eye exactly as is done for a native VR game. While the 3D effect is fantastic in this mode, it is hard on performance, literally doubling the work the computer has to do. Expect that you will have to turn down a lot of graphics settings in the game to get this to run at a full 90fps. If the game works with Geometry 3D, it is worth it. This isn't an approximation of 3D, it is the real thing.


How is the experience?

Now that you know that you are going to have to put in some effort to set up the game and VorpX with all the right settings, you are probably wanting to know if the effort is actually worth it.

The hard truth is that the vast majority of flat-screen games have a lot of issues running in stereoscopic 3D, let alone in Full VR mode. The rendering tricks they use are contingent on there being a single camera. As soon as you try to introduce a second camera to make it 3D, the tricks break down. Shadows and reflections, for instance, are often disconnected from the scene when viewed in 3D.

Even games that don't have obvious rendering problems will still have problems with the user interface. It's a very weird mismatch to see the 2D HUD elements floating over a properly rendered 3D scene. Games with a lot of menus and interface interaction can get pretty tiring to play this way. VorpX has a feature that mitigates this a bit. If you click the middle mouse wheel, it pulls back the screen into Cinema Mode, so you can easily manipulate menus and such. For games where you occasionally manage your inventory, for instance, this works really well.

First person shooters have a terrible problem rendering the gun properly. Guns are typically rendered in such a way that they lack the proper depth, scale and perspective. The problem arises because they are rendered to look correct from the eye point of the viewer a few feet in front of the screen, as if you are holding a pistol at arms length in front of you. When played in VR, however, the viewer's eye point becomes the screen itself. So instead of holding the pistol at arms length, you are now holding it directly in front of your eyes.

This is especially bad for guns that are supposedly being held at waist height, like the Gravity Gun in Half Life 2 or the gun in Portal. When viewed on a flat screen monitor, they look correct. In VR, it looks like an enormous cardboard cutout of the gun that you are holding directly in front of your face. Some people don't seem terribly bothered by this, but you should be aware of this effect before you buy if all you want to play is shooters.

Even when the technology is working at its best, playing a flat screen game in VR can show off some unexpected issues. Typically objects are much bigger than how they feel when you play the game normally. You will often see that the ceilings are much taller than you would expect and doorways are huge. The size and placement of every object are made to look good when you are sitting in front of a screen. When you insert yourself into the scene directly, it can feel like you are pulling back the curtain, ruining the magic.

It's important to remember that VorpX cannot change the way games play. You will still play games with a gamepad or mouse and keyboard. Though VorpX allows you to map the buttons of the VR controllers to act like a gamepad or keyboard input you won't get any motion controls. The experience isn't anything like SkyrimVR, for instance.

You cannot move your head and aim your gun independently like you can in native VR games. In fact, your head movements are actually just being converted to act as the mouse input. This can get very annoying because you have to hold your head very still when you are trying to aim accurately. For many games I found it better to turn off the head tracking completely and just use the mouse as you normally would to look around.

Naturally, people think of first-person shooters as great candidates for being put in VR. But with all the problems they have, however, it is often third-person games that work best and are the most fun to play, since they don't have many of the problems inherent with first person games.


Motion Sickness

If you are prone to motion sickness in VR games, VorpX is almost certainly not for you. VorpX can't add teleporting or snap turning or any of the other comfort modes that are common in VR games. Games not designed for VR will cause motion sickness at some point. Mouse controls are very twitchy and WASD movement has a lot of sudden starts and stops. I never get motion sick from any VR games, but playing too long in VorpX with a mouse and keyboard definitely starts to get to me.

You can help the situation by turning the control sensitivity way down. If the game allows it, experiment with gamepad controls as the analog movement might be better than WASD controls. Remember to take breaks more frequently than you would in VR to prevent the buildup of motion sickness.


Great Experiences

It is rare for any game to be actively improved by being played in VR using VorpX, since it is only adding a 3D visual component and not changing the gameplay. In a very few instances, however, running a game in VR can actually improve the gameplay experience.

Dear Esther (Original Version)

So far, the only game I have found that has worked perfectly in Full VR is Dear Esther (Original Version). It works right out of the box using Direct VR and has no HUD or guns to break the illusion. Unfortunately, this version isn't sold anymore in favor of the updated Landmark Edition, which doesn't work with VorpX. But if you already have it, definitely go back and play this with VorpX.

The entire purpose of this game is to put the player in an immersive environment to tell a story. Playing in Full VR takes the immersion to a new level. Play this standing and you get a true room-scale experience. You can bend down and look at items closer than you can normally and really exist in the space.

Neon Drive

Neon Drive is a retro-80s themed rhythm driving game. Playing this in Cinema Mode provides two distinct advantages over playing on a traditional monitor. The 3D effect gives you a better sense of distance to the oncoming objects and running the game at 90fps makes the controls more responsive compared to playing at 60fps. It is a difficult game, but it looks great in 3D and is a lot of fun. I recommend checking it out.


Good Experiences

For most games, the 3D effect is a fun addition, but doesn't really change the experience of playing the game. These may have small issues, but I would say the 3D effect is a welcome enhancement.

A Story About My Uncle

A Story About My Uncle is essentially a parkour game with lots of big flying leaps through a surreal landscape. I was completely surprised how well this worked. The feeling of motion is smooth and a lot of fun in 3D. It has some frame rate issues that may lock it to 45fps, but it still works well.

Trine

The Trine series works beautifully in Cinema Mode. They look truly stunning in 3D and are one of the best experiences I've had with VorpX. These games were actually designed to work on 3DTVs, so it is no surprise that they look so good in VorpX.

Torchlight

Both Torchlight games look great in 3D. Some of the UI, like when dialogue appears, is a little awkward because it isn't at the right depth, but these are uncommon occurrences. The gameplay itself works beautifully and the art style looks fantastic in the headset.

Myst V: End of Ages

For an older title, Myst V works surprisingly well in 3D. You have to turn off shadows and reflections, but that doesn't impact the look of the game much at all, since they were used sparingly in the game anyway. You have to use the cursor a lot to interact with the environment, which is a little weird in 3D, but still very enjoyable.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas is a bit of a mixed bag in VR. With a few mods it looks fantastic and it is very playable, but it's not without its issues. Since it is a bit tricky to get working, I've written a guide on Running Fallout: New Vegas in VR that talks about the issues you will encounter and how to work around them as well as the mods that you will need.


Disappointing Experiences

In the worst case, there are some games that I thought would be great, but actually ended up being big disappointments in VR. These are cases where the problems caused by the 3D effect actively harm the gameplay experience in some way.

Half Life 2

Half Life 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. The main problem is the gun rendering, especially for the bigger weapons. I find it very distracting, to the point where it actually takes much of the fun out of the game. Ignoring that, however, it is very cool just to run around for a bit in the different locations in the game. The game is Direct VR supported and, although I wouldn't play the whole game like that, it is very cool to go "sightseeing" around City 17.

Portal / Portal 2

I had really thought the Portal games would be great contenders for the Full VR mode. And while they do actually work in Full VR, there's a couple problems that ruined the experience for me. First of all, I highly recommend playing the openings to both games in Full VR. It truly is a great experience to see the world for a bit in VR.

Unfortunately, you will very quickly notice the first problem. When you walk through a portal, your view snaps to a new direction, which is really annoying. Often you will walk through the portal, only to be spun 180 degrees around and walk right back from where you came. And since you are constantly going through portals, this just breaks the game for me.

The second issue is that the portal gun looks ridiculous, taking up a huge part of your vision. As I said before, this is a problem in many first person shooters, but it is particularly bad here.

The Stanley Parable

Since guns are such a problem in VR, I figured walking simulators would work great. The Stanley Parable is a fun game that has no gun or HUD of any kind. Unfortunately, it has its own problems that were completely unexpected. It turns out that they implemented The Stanley Parable in a very unusual way. Most doorways that you enter are actual invisible portals, which means that every time you walk through a door, you have the same problem of your view spinning around to some weird direction.

On top of that, the illusion of the portals is no longer hidden in 3D. As you move your head around, you can see the world on the other side of the door moving in a very different direction. To even walk through many doors, you will have to carefully line up your head just right so the geometry matches up. It completely destroys the gameplay.

Antichamber

Antichamber has an interesting, but largely feature-less design aesthetic. It turns out it really doesn't work in VR. There just isn't enough visual information to make the 3D effect work well. And like The Stanley Parable, there are instances where the portals and other rendering tricks for the odd spaces just break.

Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 actually works surprisingly well for the most part. Like most shooters, the gun doesn't have the right depth and while this is annoying in certain situations, it isn't the main problem.

What I actually found was that game is designed to be viewed on a fairly high resolution screen, so much of the time, enemies are quite far off in the distance and there is a lot of detail in the textures to see what everything is. Unfortunately, playing the game in VR takes away much of the resolution, which means much of the time, you're shooting at very low resolution enemies that you really can't see very well. And the overall look of the game suffers. So even though it actually works fairly well in VorpX, I much prefer playing it on a normal monitor as the increased resolution makes the game much more fun to play.


Conclusion

When I first heard about VorpX, I got really excited to try all my favorite games in VR. I did as much research as I could and I knew that it wouldn't be perfect, but I still couldn't wait to be in all those worlds. This is the fantasy of VorpX.

The hard reality is that the imperfections get magnified in VR. The fact that your gun looks completely wrong becomes a huge issue that is, literally, constantly in your face. The fact that you can't move your head and gun independently gets real tiring, real fast.

Don't expect that you will get to play all your old games in fully-immersive VR. Instead, think of VorpX as providing a big-screen 3DTV that you can play your old games on as that really is where the best experiences are found.

Ultimately, I would say VorpX is worth the purchase price. Despite all the problems there are with first person shooters in Full VR, it is worth trying them as there is a magic to being inside your favorite games, even if just for a little sightseeing. And, of course, a lot of people aren't bothered by the things I've talked about and have loved playing all the games in Full VR. I've already had enough good experiences to say the money was well spent, even if the experiences weren't quite what I was hoping for. Just go into it with the right expectations and you probably won't be disappointed.

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