Hours after Meta (nee Facebook) finally opened Horizons World, its first baby step into the Metaverse, to virtually everyone with a Facebook account and compatible Oculus headset, I found myself talking to a floating community manager about how to switch from teleporting to the more naturalistic gliding around.
It wasn’t that easy to enter the first blush of what’s supposed to become a rich, multiverse, digital environment where we can work, play, hang out, and build our own new worlds. It took a key Oculus Quest system upgrade and then not one, but two Horizon Worlds updates, one of which changed key interface elements I’d learned only hours before.
Before you get too excited about Meta’s Metaverse potential, understand that Horizon Worlds is very much Alpha software and, if you don’t have the newest hardware, you might not be able to enter it at all. My Oculus Quest version 1 virtual reality headset is set to end Horizon support in January. It’s unclear to me if that means I’ll lose the software on my headset, as well as access to this somewhat janky world.
While some parts of Horizons World are impressive, like the way the remote visualization disappears for animated hands (though I wish I could just use my hands, which is supported in some Quest apps) and how sound is spatial and localized, most of the environment feels small and sparsely populated.
Welcome to a new world
After running through the major system update that radically changed my Oculus Quest home interface—for the better, I might say—and the updates for Horizon, I launched the app and was inside Horizon Worlds where, thanks to my Quest being tied to my Facebook account, I was immediately identified by my full name. Between that and the system defaulting to projecting my voice inside Horizon Worlds, I felt exposed but tried to move on and follow some of the guidance tips.
There was also a prompt—one of many that appeared floating way too close to my face—to create a new avatar. I was warned that even though I could choose a full outfit, not all experiences would support legs (hence the legless, floating avatars).
I had ample choices for hairstyle, facial features, skin tone, and clothing. Still, they weren’t detailed enough to make something that looked much like me. I either need more control or more time. In any case, I set off into Horizon Worlds with a digital me that looked a bit like Moby.
Another prompt showed me that if I turned over my left hand, a little menu would appear on my virtual wrist. I use it to navigate among three primary environments Play, Attend, and Hangout.
All loaded slowly, asking me to wait as the system was “Painting scene” and “Preparing for visitors.” None of these experiences is transformative.
I started by entering the rather primitive-looking Play area where I quickly found a game called Action Island Teams. In it, a bunch of legless users picked up guns (single shot and machine), shot each other and team-style, tried to capture the flag. I could hear player chatter all around me and, apparently, they could hear me as well. One guy complained that his avatar looked messed up and other players who examined him quickly agreed.
At this point, I was still identifying a spot in front of me and then teleporting to it. Others appeared to be moving about more smoothly, and I was quickly shot dead on sight over and over again. Reloading brought me back into the game.
A second game involved Minecraft-looking zombies emerging from a defunct mall’s shuttered stores and corridors. You had to shoot them before they ate you to gain enough coins to buy new weapons. It was just me and, I could tell from the voice, one frustrated kid playing. I soon left.
These games I was trying were apparently built by users, which accounts for the incredibly rough looks and rudimentary features.
"Attend" is just a series of events I could go to later today and in the coming days as long as I RSVPed. Most of them were about learning the ropes of Horizon Worlds.
Finally, I ended up in Hangout’s The Plaza (currently the only hangout). Immediately I noticed far better graphics, more people (I think everyone eventually ends up there), and a handful of pleasant activities.
Learning the ropes
As soon as I arrived and started teleporting from spot to spot, a Community Guide (there were around half a dozen standing in the space waiting to greet visitors like me) noticed how I moved. “You're still teleporting, let me show you how to glide,” he said helpfully.
Then he sidled up next to me and walked me through opening my setup menu, which had moved between yesterday and today in that update and showed me how to change my movement style and how to make sure the screen view didn’t narrow while I moved.
He also showed me how to jump by pressing down the right joystick on my Oculus controller. I wanted to get to the top of a building. He said I didn’t need to take the stairs and that if I walked through a dark archway in front of me, I’d be instantly transported.
On the rooftop, I found some paper airplanes. The guide, who appeared beside me said they were just for fun, and I could throw them wherever I wanted. It was a good way to get used to the mechanics of Horizon Worlds. Later, I threw and caught a boomerang, while trying to hit a floating target, to get even more practice.
There were more guides than Facebook newbie visitors, but when we did see each other, we’d wave our hands nervously (which was really us waving our controllers) and, because we could hear each other, say hello.
I walked upstairs to an auditorium, but nothing was going on there. Then I wandered around exploring but soon found that the space was pretty small. I overheard someone saying that a portion of it that was here today, hadn’t been there yesterday.
So, I guess Facebook/Meta is constantly building and changing. Later when I logged back in I found the space decorated for the holidays.
There was direct access to new worlds people were building, and a tree we all kept climbing, trying—and mostly failing—to reach the top and then jump to nearby clouds.
Navigating the worlds
I virtually bumped into a woman (you can pass right through people) who said a startled “hello!” and then quickly moved passed me. Most of us – but not the community guides – were simply too shy or nervous to strike up a conversation.
I could use my wrist menu to open a camera and take selfies or a picture of what was in front of me. The images in the camera looked completely blurry. I hope the final output is better.
Sadly, I cannot export them from the platform to, say, my computer or email. I can share them on a moderated portion of Facebook devoted to Worlds. I did pose with one of the guides for a selfie and she gave me a big, floating, yellow, thumbs-up emoji. I also saw guides who knew how to sprout confetti from their digital personas like virtual Rip Taylors.
After successfully learning how to press the right combo of buttons to make a thumbs up, I grew bored. There just wasn’t that much to do here.
I also think I know why Facebook/Meta doesn’t want to support my Oculus Quest 1 VR headset. Nothing in the entire experience looked all that good. There’s was some jaggedness and aliasing throughout. The more powerful Quest 2 and probably Rift might be better equipped to handle it.
My Quest is also a bit uncomfortable to wear for long stretches of time (the Quest 2 is lighter). I can’t imagine immersing myself in these worlds for hours at a time.
Horizon Worlds was a fun and eye-opening experience, my first real one in Meta’s idea of an immersive virtual world. I wouldn’t characterize Horizon Worlds as inspiring or impressive. It’s sparsely populated, visually blah, and, for now, painfully small. It’s also unlikely to convince anyone that the Metaverse is just around the virtual corner.