Making virtual a reality – The game changer

I’ve had the Vive for several months now. Initially I didn’t want to make any sort of judgement on it until the novelty had warn off.

Now that I’m over the first impressions i’m happy to say it definitely is the way forward. I don’t think it will replace computer games as they are now but it will be a new avenue with its own possibilities and limitations. At the moment many conventions which were previously set in stone have been thrown out and for better or worse we are in the wild west.

The biggest hurdle at the moment is movement. For the uninitiated when you are in VR if you aren’t in a vehicle or on another sort of platform, movement with a DPad is nausea inducing for most people. There is a disconnect between what your body feels and your eyes see. Its a lot like travel sickness. The favoured way of getting around this at the moment is a teleport mechanic where you use a pointer to select a spot you want to go to. Due to this a typical first person shooter won’t work, but games like Budget Cuts and Raw Data prove that you can still make experiences that scratch that itch, they are just different to what we are accustomed to. Even these two do the mechanic very differently given their different pacing. Budget Cuts is a stealth game based in the demo at least inside an office. Movement needs to be slow and deliberate so portal based system is used. When you select a point to teleport to a portal opens up and you can look through to check the coast is clear before you actually move. Raw Data requires faster movement and so move you to the new location with a dashing effect. Once you become a bit more proficient at it you can quiet easily do it outside your field of view. Both of these feel very different to the movement we are used to but they both work here thematically. It seems like a mechanic that fits the cover based shooter genre well.

Inventory changes from game to game and there are already several permutations which are proving successful. Budget Cuts uses a fan of items which radiate out from one of the controllers which can then be grasped. This also has an intuitive mechanic for simply clipping attachments on to your controller to change their function. The gallery uses a bag which you grasp from behind your back, it then hovers in front of you whilst you select items. Raw Data and a few others use belt or shoulder mounted pockets which you can take items from. This lets you grab items without looking which is very immersive and adds a sense of skill but it’s not 100% reliable as it is guessing where your hips are based on your head location. Tilt Brush uses a rotating palette on one controller that allows lots of buttons to be storage in on place. I can see this being used a lot in menu heavy driven software as it is relatively slow to use but allows for more complex options.

One of the biggest surprises to me was the social aspects of VR. Rec Room in particular is a great example of this. Multiplayer as a whole moves to a new epoch when everyone around you is a moving avatar of themselves. Basic human gestures communicate subtle information casually and quickly. The sense of an actual person being more real endears people to be kind and friendlier (although a few lewd experiences have occurred) . Where the anonymity of the internet usually causes people to act up in VR so far at least it combines semi corporeal body’s with this to give people enough humanity to treat people like humans whilst also dropping their own barriers a bit. This could be an affect of the current high buy in price but I really hope it isn’t.

At the moment there are very few full game experiences available but what is available is very promising. Without there being a huge install base very few large developers are willing to invest in making VR experiences. This is why the big boys are currently focusing on retrofitting VR in to existing games like Fallout, Doom and Elite. Whilst this is a small step in the right direction it is very exploratory at the moment. All of the discovery work appears to be being done by smaller studios themselves.

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