The recent renaissance in virtual reality has centered around the hardcore gaming market. What we continue to see in terms of game production are a lot of ported titles that don’t fit well into the VR form-factor. Yes, some of these games have been produced as original content for VR, but “port” in this context refers to the actual idea/gameplay behind the game.
Game mechanics that succeeded in a 2D environment will not automatically translate well into virtual reality. Developers and game publishers are not going to be able to simply transfer titles and succeed in unleashing the power of a VR experience. In mobile, it took Apple digging in and making the move to develop iOS as an independent operating system specific to the form-factor that really broke the levee to widespread adoption.
One of the largest components to the mainstream success of VR is content that induces HMD sales. People aren’t going to buy an HMD without having a use case for it, which is why the developer community has such an important role in the future of VR, maybe more than the hardware manufacturers themselves. There will not be powerful use cases on a consumer level until we find what works, which is going to take a boatload of creativity and experimentation. In the future, HMDs will be merely input/output devices that content flows through — like a television or radio. Let’s use a multi-player FPS game like Team Fortress, produced by Valve, as an example of some careless VR implementation that will never catch on in any meaningful way:
What we see with Valve’s take on this game basically translates to a neck-ache after about fifteen minutes of gameplay. You have to look in the direction you want to shoot and then aim with the mouse/input device. To be a “demo man” in TFC means you shoot the rocket at the ground to move around and supplement the character’s slow running speed. A seasoned player knows that at the minimum, you probably do this 50 times in any given round of play. The above example translates to looking down a dizzying amount of times and also worrying about aiming, flipping around to shoot people in back of you and general map navigation. Even as other class’ of character in Team Fortress, the amount of head movement simply does not work with a game of this pace. The only feasible input option I can see with an FPS like this would be a Virtuix Omni. With any pragmatism, it’s easy to see that Omni won’t be in every living room, at least not for a very long time. There are issues with space, price and setup (the shoes?) that are going to keep this input as a luxury VR item for quite some time. To get down to brass tax, this type of approach to FPS games is wrong. If publishers end up trying to standardize these mechanics, don’t ever expect them to take off, or for the next Call of Duty in VR to be created.
Mainstream consumers are already going to feel weird enough with an HMD on. We need to create truly compelling experiences to overcome that self-conscious feeling. Games that are not built from the ground-up with an intuitive understanding of VR will do nothing to push the needle forward with widespread adoption. Furthermore, the intuitive understanding is only going to be obtained by developers thinking outside of the box in terms of game mechanics, beyond walking/strafing/shooting/flying.
We need to be creative with game mechanics and worry less about textures and graphics right now.
Testing the Limits
That brings us to some really exciting experiments that a young developer from Germany named Tore Knabe has been creating. The approaches in these demos are extremely intriguing to say the least. The experiences focus on the use of binaural audio and scratches the surface of some new approaches to VR gameplay.. the recap by Virtual Reality Reviewer is fascinating and they do a great job explaining everything. You are able to switch player/point-of-view in the Socratic demo to promote a dialectic philosophical conversation (you can even save your conversation as a text file for further examination after the demo ends). One demo looks to test the waters with time perception in a virtual world. The most fascinating experience puts a woman’s silhouette in plain view on the wall as she whispers in your ear. There is an eery sense that there really is someone standing behind you. What is most interesting in these demos is the focus on the experience/mechanics, and not things blowing up, or scaring the user with a ghost popping out when you turn your head.
Tore is focused on what makes an immersive and interesting experience in the first place. The difference between a game like Team Fortress that had a lot of resources put behind it to produce and what Tore’s done is truly stunning with regards to overall impact. His demos focus on the meat of what makes a great VR experience. Overall, I think this is what we as a community of developers need to keep pressing forward with. It all comes back to creativity.
It’s truly innovative what Tore has done with this set of demos and how he is thinking about VR. In the future, we will break down some more of the demos on an in-depth level. Below is a download link to try Tore’s work out for yourself.
All of Tore’s demos can be accessed for download here
You can visit Virtual Reality Reviewer here
More to come with interesting uses of gameplay mechanics in VR on some upcoming posts.