The most immediate appeal of VR is the sense of presence, where the player feels fully implanted and immersed into any variety of worlds that you couldn’t experience in normal reality. Most of the currently available VR games make full advantage of this, putting the player underwater locking eyes with a terrifyingly huge whale (The Blu) or on a space station defending your ship and yourself from an endless stream of flying ocular-laser robots (Space Pirate Trainer). These games and most others do a wonderful job of fully convincing your brain that you have been transported to a space beyond your wildest imagination, but with pretty severe limitations.
The illusion of presence is successful until you walk too far forward and run into the laser grid barrier telling you that you can’t explore any farther, because you’ll run into the wall in the actual physical world. With just those few simple grid lines, the magical transportation reverses itself and you suddenly remember that you’re actually just at home (probably in your underwear), and not making friends with any deep sea aquatic life.
It’s too easy to break the illusion, because when the games convince you that you are a human inside of this new world, you naturally expect the freedom of movement that you have normally, and thus hitting the spacial limitations immediately annihilates any sense of presence. This locomotion limitation is the largest design hurdle for most VR games at this point in it’s life span, but Xortex solves the problem by completely avoiding it.
In Xortex (one of the many demos in Valve’s “The Lab”), the player isn’t the protagonist. Instead of most games where the player has to move their whole body to dodge incoming fire, you just need to dodge with your hand. By abstracting the difference between the player and the protagonist, Xortex avoids the problem of the natural human desire to want to explore their surrounding space.
This simple concept really opens up the options for what a VR game can be. You still feel the presence in Xortex, even without being a character, so the game effectively transports you to another place, while naturally and immersively limiting where you can go.