LAS VEGAS - Typically, when you hear the words "virtual reality," you envision someone's head encased in some clunky-looking headset. Not this time. Merge VR, the company behind the huggably soft, kid-focused Merge VR headset, recently debuted the Merge 6DOF Blaster. Available sometime in 2018, the yet-to-be-priced toy gun lets you play virtual reality games without a headset. I had the opportunity to take the Blaster for a spin on the CES show floor.
The name "6DOF Blaster" refers to the six degrees of movement that the Nerf-like gun delivers. It's essentially a fancy way of saying you can move back, forward and side-to-side while in a virtual environment. This movement is important when it comes to creating an immersive experience.
Borrowing from the kid-friendly design of the Merge VR headset and the augmented-reality Merge Cube, the 6DOF Blaster's plastic body is painted what I'd call a Barney purple-and-green. There are several triggers situated along the rear and front of the gun, including buttons to reload, shoot, zoom in and activate time warp, a feature that slows down time in the game I demoed. Along the top of the device, toward the rear, sits a holder for your smartphone.
For my demo, I played a first-person shooter game where I was tasked with blasting blocky yellow guys with my Blaster. Looking at the smartphone's screen, I was transported to a bluish-gray polygonal world where I had to duck, cover and shoot to survive. Needless to say, the game isn't the best-looking VR title I've ever played, but no sooner did I shoot my first enemy than I found myself aiming the gun to look for the next wave of foes. The shooting is surprisingly smooth, and when you throw in the zoom and time warp functionality, it adds some depth and strategy to the gameplay.
While it was obvious the game I played was for demo purposes only, it effectively showed why the 6DOF would be a great VR/AR device for kids and adults alike. It has the potential to deliver compelling gameplay without having to shove your head into a headset, and is pretty simple to use. Working with other developers, Merge VR can create plenty of content before the 6DOF Blaster eventually comes to market. Either way, I'm excited to test the 6DOF Blaster again in the near future.