COLOGNE, Germany — Earlier this year, Ubisoft announced it was interested in bringing “some of its games” to VR platforms, such as the flip-powered HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and Sony’s Project Morpheus. While there is nothing on the scale of Assassin’s Creed or Splinter cell so far, the company is making progress with the nascent platforms. As with anything VR, it’s more about baby steps than one giant leap.
from Ubisoft Eagle flight demo, which is being demoed with Oculus Rift at this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, is one of those first attempts. It puts you in the shoes (claws?) of an eagle, complete with a beak in peripheral vision, flying over the rooftops of Paris. The controls are entirely motion-based, with a head tilt that moves you back and forth. While that may seem a bit disorienting or even potentially nauseating, it works very well indeed.
OK, so I didn’t quite scream “oh my god I’m flyyyiiiing!” when I tried it, but the tilt controls were responsive and even dramatic dives from a height caused no problems. At least it could have been a little faster or at least convey the sense of speed and scale better to really capture that feeling of flying. But most importantly, I didn’t feel sick. If you can capture that in VR, it’s really half the battle.
The first part of the Eagle flight demo revolved around flying through rings and passing through checkpoints to reach the Eiffel Tower and fly to the impressive summit. The second half kicked things up a notch, splitting the group I was with into two teams (did I mention Eagle flight is multiplayer?) and participate in a simple capture-the-flag game. A controller was involved here, although Ubisoft wisely kept all directional controls on the headset. The controller served only to adjust speed and fire eagle shrieks to kill the opponent.
Eagle flight was ridiculously nice for something so simple. Granted, you need the right type of people to play it with, but when you do, it’s a beautiful thing to team up to take down a flag-carrying enemy eagle with a clever diving maneuver. My session got pretty heated too, with a 2-0 down leading my teammate and I to launch frantic eagle screams at the opposition to catch up. First-person dog fighting, or bird fighting in this case, is hardly a new starting point for VR – see for example Eve: Valkyrie and Elite: Dangerous– but Ubisoft’s early effort is a good one. You can imagine the possibilities that open up by enabling things like turbo boosts, homing projectiles, and maybe even other kinds of angry birds. (Sorry.)
Ubisoft’s second demo recreated the classic “definition of insanity” scene Far cry 3 (embedded above) in VR. It’s a great scene anyway, but when Vass (the villain from the scene) comes right in your face with that goofy look in his eye and spews nonsense about the definition of insanity, it’s very exciting indeed. And – (warning: teeny weeny spoiler from the start of the game) – you’re strapped to a concrete block, which he then kicks off from the top of a very large cliff. It’s a truly heartbreaking moment when viewed in VR, and it shows the kind of storytelling possibilities the medium offers.
Ubisoft also had another VR demo on display, this one built for Sony’s Project Morpheus with a special version of Trackmania. Yes, Trackmania is the high-speed, super-crazy racing game where you do loop-the-loops and 360-degree spins in the air. That may sound like a recipe for confusing disaster, but again, Ubisoft’s implementation worked well without inducing nausea. Don’t get me wrong, doing a loop-the-loop won’t always feel great – and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you’re hungover – but with the sense of speed you come in Track maniait is very nice (for the largest part).
Racing games are an obvious use of VR, especially given that real cars are also driven from a stationary position, but as I said before, it’s all about baby steps. Ubisoft is finding its way with VR and doing a great job. Getting the hang of the basics, making sure players don’t feel sick, and making the controls tight and natural are more important right now than trying to complete a full-fledged game.
Now that we know Ubisoft is on the right track, maybe we can start dreaming of what it can do with, among others Assassin’s Creed, Distant cryor – if we’re really lucky – a brand new IP address.
List image by Flickr