Ask Your Doctor if VR is Right For You
Listen, you’re going to see a lot of VR-themed posts here at LCHQ. I’ll make sure to include “VR” in the title so if you decide that this technology is not your thing, you’ll be able to know before you invest your mornings in my walls of text.
I’ve spent more time with the PSVR, and have a few observations on various aspects both related and surfaced by my experience.
Demos Need To Make A Comeback
The PSVR came with a demo disk, and also the option to download a VR arcade minigame bundle. I have now played several VR games without having to buy any, and this has done more to sell me on the idea of VR than anything else. The demo disk contains a good array of options, from racing to music to puzzles to shooters to horror. I’m sure that had I been forced to buy a game blind I would have made some bad decisions that I would have regretted, which would have started a regret-spiral.
VR Games Are The New 3D Movies
Back when 3D movies relied on the red and blue cardboard glasses, filmmakers wanted to make sure you knew you were watching a 3D movie so they spent a lot of celluloid on contrived reasons to poke things towards the camera and out towards you.
The VR analogue to this is to use the FOV, depth, and 360-degree freedom to heighten not just inner-ear trickery, but straight-on terror. I refuse to play any horror games in VR, but there are a few games which look promising which contain elements that I know will earn me a trip in an ambulance. For example, in the game Robinson: The Journey you encounter a freakin’ T-rex, and although the devs seem to have purposefully avoided the full on “dino-face-chomping” one might expect in a real-world encounter, the rex does charge at you at one point. I ain’t down with that.
Is There a Limit to the VR Experience?
VR is currently a nascent technology which works, but which demands compelling software support. Because it takes a long time to create a Skyrim or Horizon: Zero Dawn, we’re not far enough from the initial VR dev kits to really see those kinds of games being released for VR. Add to this the fact that the technology is still heavily questioned by pundits and consumers, making a high-cost project targeting VR more of a gamble than developers and publishers are normally willing to take.
Current VR offerings (that I have seen for the PSVR) seem to be very limited in scope. The most interesting games (to me) like Batman Arkham VR or Robinson seem to be very linear and relatively short, leading to a quick burn without a lot of replay value. As someone whose bread and butter is MMOs and open-world games, this makes me hesitant to pay premium prices for a game that is less than 10 hours long (Halo 5 notwithstanding).
On top of this, and linked to the previous section, a lot of VR games rightfully do what VR games are designed to do: focus on the level of immersion that the headset and control scheme can offer. To that end, however, it seems that a lot of time is spent on button pushing, examining surroundings, and engaging in puzzle-solving in ways that the control scheme allows us to. In a video for Robinson that I watched on YouTube, the player had to use an eye-scanner security panel. Normally, we’d expect to click on it to “simulate” our desire to use this scanner, but with a VR system, the player actually has to move his or her head closer to the camera which brings the avatar closer. In reality, this makes a lot of sense, but in an example of taking it to the extreme, a video I watched on the Batman VR game seems to focus on Batman the Detective, and not Batman The Reason Why People Like Him Because He Kicks Asses. There’s no free movement, but there is a lot of button pressing, picking up of things, scanning, and general interacting with environments. I didn’t see anything in the video that was overtly Batmanish.
Are these experiences what we’re going to come to expect from VR going forward? Mobile was lauded as the next great frontier of gaming, but we’re now thickly settled with tropes like slowly recharging energy that limits gameplay, friend codes, async PvP, collection and upgrade systems, and a sea of title-icons featuring screaming men in headgear.
q: hey justine why did you wanna get out of mobile games so bad
— Justine Raymond (@jmarieray) April 12, 2017
I hope to gawd that VR isn’t going to stop at the point where the entire experience relies on the “gee whiz” of immersion and instead tries to marry what we love about games currently with what VR can apply to enhance our experience. I understand that VR brings with it a whole new paradigm shift in how we think about the aspects of games that we take for granted, like movement, input, and immersion, but I don’t want it to become divested such that it becomes an entity unto itself. We shouldn’t have an Elder Scrolls game which features a Khajit re-arranging his cart, or a Star Wars game which has us using the Force to stack droids as high as possible. Those would probably be easier to make than, say, an open-world ESO game in VR, or a Star Wars RPG in VR, but it would probably be an albatross around the technology’s neck that it wouldn’t be able to shake at a point where it needs to convince nay-sayers about the segment’s viability.
I have high-hopes for VR because as a consumer I know where I’d like to see the technology go. I’d rather it parallel current PC/console game options, and stay away from the walled concept garden that’s turned mobile gaming’s promise into a swamp of dead ideas.
To do this, VR developers would need to merge VR with current generation gaming. FPS and MMO games practically beg for this, but other genres like MOBA or shmup’s could find ways to use technological aspects of VR like depth and FOV to enhance — but not replace for the sake of sexing things up — their gameplay. Remember that not everyone has or will be on board with VR, so allowing VR and non VR players to interact in the same game is going to be key. That means taking virtual reality in a whole new direction perpendicular to current games isn’t going to help sell the tech to people who love where they are right now and are skeptical about why they’d want to invest in VR.