It feels like we’ve been doing the same for years. At technology and gaming shows across the country, we’ve given journalists impressive tech demos demonstrating the capabilities of this long-promised, soon-to-be-coming wave of new virtual reality hardware. But as the launch of the first of those PC-compatible headsets approaches (the HTC Vive is still scheduled for release this year, the Oculus Rift in early 2016), such tech demos are quickly giving way to time with actually spell that real developers plan to release alongside the hardware.
Experimenting with near-final hardware, rather than via downloads on a home development kit, has greatly reduced fears of nauseating and/or hard-to-use VR headsets in this first generation. And while these titles are really still in development – meaning they’re hard to fully measure in demos that can be as little as 10 or 15 minutes long – they’ve given us our best idea yet of the actual promises and pitfalls of the first wave of virtual reality. spell.
We looked at some promising early titles for Sony’s Project Morpheus at E3 in June, but at PAX Prime two weeks ago, the breadth and depth of the VR offering blew that experience away. While these are just a small sampling of the titles in development, with more to be showcased later this month at the Oculus Connect conference in Hollywood, what we’ve seen so far has already got us excited to finally see some real virtual reality games in our homes for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a tour of some of the titles that will be the first impression of a new world of PC-based virtual reality for home use for many early adopters.
(Note: While these games were all demoed on the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, most of the developers we spoke to were open to the idea of porting the title from one platform to another, should time and market demand dictate. allow. Exceptions to this include Oculus’ VR sports challenge and Edge of nowhereboth of which are currently being developed exclusively for Oculus).
The gallery: A new way to get around
Demonstrated on: HTC Vive
With their room-scale tracking technology, SteamVR and the HTC Vive have finally fulfilled the dream of letting players walk through a virtual space as if they were actually there. Unfortunately, that dream only lasts as far as the size of your room’s walls or the length of the wire you tether to the gaming PC powering the experience. Unless you’re playing a game that’s limited to a single virtual space, this is a problem. How do you let a player walk around a whole world in VR without bumping into real walls?
The Cloudhead Games team believes they have found the perfect solution to this problem The gallery, an episodic adventure game whose first chapter, “Call of the Starseed”, will be released alongside the HTC Vive later this year. Having recently played around with that solution during a 15 minute demo of the game, we hope it catches on and becomes a standard in the space.
Cloudhead calls its VR navigation solution the Blink System. Basically, when you reach the limits of your play space in the real world (displayed as a blue wireframe box in the VR world as you approach), you just hold down a button on the controller and look where you want to go. A small green outline will appear in the center of your gaze, indicating the new bounding area you are “blinking” to. Let go of the button and the scene fades to black before quickly fading to your new position where you can immediately walk through the new environment. You can even rotate the controller before “flashing” to change the angle of your new virtual play space before warping there.
Teleporting around the world this way isn’t as “realistic” as, say, simply walking the length of a remote beach. Still, it’s an incredibly convenient way to get anywhere you can see in the virtual environment without the nausea or disorientation associated with other methods of virtual locomotion (such as pushing a joystick to move your point of view forward). It is also incredibly efficient and saves a lot of heavy walking time between places of interest.
It is a solution that seems perfectly tailored The galleryalso the gameplay. The game reimagines the PC point-and-click adventure as more of a virtual reality walk-and-poke adventure. Puzzles seem to rely more on everyday object interactions than overly clever item combinations. At one point I had to throw a heavy weight at an overhanging plank in the corner to knock down a box. Another had me aiming the sights of a flare gun to ring a distant bell tucked behind a rocky outcrop.
However, the most joyous moments in the short demo were spent tinkering with the environment rather than actively working towards a goal. You can pick up a Roman candle, place it over the fire and watch fireworks explode in the sky wherever you point. Or grab a stereo blaring off a table and hold it to each ear, hearing the music move through your head as you do so. Even lying down and looking at the stars while the sound of the ocean washes through took on a new fascination.
The gallery is also packed with small design details that update common game design interfaces for a new virtual reality world. For example, to get to items stored in your inventory, just reach behind your back, click a button and pull a backpack in front of your face. After browsing through the contents and figuring out what you need, simply pick up the backpack and load it back up behind you. We hope to see more of this kind of intuitive interface design, based on real-world skills, as VR games take off.
Although we have only the tiniest hints of the story and gameplay that will drive The gallery so far, Cloudhead has already created the kind of virtual reality world we wanted to hang out in for much longer than a short demo would allow.