With VR becoming a realistic option for developers, what are some of the possibilities and how can they be made a reality?
In 2016 VR will become available to the mainstream market for the first time, combining optics, audio and movement of head and limbs to present an experience of an alternative reality. Adopters will need to make an early investment decision on platform set-up between the big three high capability headsets, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR. There are peripheral enhancements to the head-oriented approach such as gloves, accessories and control options and all VR demands significant computer power of compatible hardware. So now that it’s here, what possibilities does this tech bring within games?
VR will enhance game experiences with a level of immersion that has never been experienced before. “The world is constrained in many ways” says Scott Kirkland of Secret Sourcery “by setting aside our preconceptions you can take players on an endlessly engaging, challenging and rewarding voyage of discovery”. These experiences are not reserved for the hard core gamer either. At GDC in March Oculus already had 40 demo games of their 100 due for release this year.
You can take players on an endlessly engaging, challenging and rewarding voyage of discovery
VR doesn’t require a total reinvention of the wheel, you can take a currently successful genre and figure out how to rework it really well in VR. Forgotten classic genres may have renewed success in VR. “Take a look at game concepts, IPs and gameplay mechanics through the prism of VR” suggests Patrick O'Luanaigh from nDreams “and see if you can create something fresh and new from it”. From the native VR title Lucky's Tale to Frontier’s VR enhanced Elite Dangerous, already we can see the broad appeal of the launch bundle titles.
VR also opens up a whole new array of content for games both within and outside of leisure. The affinity with simulation is already familiar with examples like train-driving or farming. You can find out what it feels like to fly like an eagle. Perhaps you can learn to ski before that holiday or watch a football match from the pitch. Retailers can sell large item goods like cars by having a virtual tour of the cabin. With the advent of serious games you will be able to check out the life of a chef or a surgeon in work-orientated experiences. Pilots have long-since used aircraft simulators and there is surely space for military, education or research-fields to tap in to the real-world skills training in a virtual environment. VR thought-leader Dave Ranyard underlines the significance of the games industry in shaping VR, “I believe Game devs will lead the way by creating engaging mechanics which will influence the rest of the world” he says. It really does feel as though the possibilities are endless.
Game devs will lead the way by creating engaging mechanics which will influence the rest of the world; the possibilities are endless
So back to games, in this exciting time what will embarking on VR projects mean for the developers and their teams? The rules are being re-written so this is a great time to take the lid off during the ideas stage, seeking new inspiration and pushing the boundaries. VR will allow new types of games with new gameplay mechanics that only make sense in VR. “Devs can open up brainstorm with the team, run game hacks and prototype new ideas” says O'Luanaigh. He continues, “I’m convinced that there are new genres and game styles out there waiting to be discovered”.
VR tech has been a mutual project between developers and hardware manufacturers in many cases. Developing such relationships will be an increasing feature especially among indie devs who may not have in-house R&D capability. All aspects of gameplay have an enhanced significance in 3 dimensions but does this complexity mean it is difficult to break in to VR? Kirkland thinks not; “In this golden age of creative technology where free to use, mature engine options are available the bar to entry is low enough that pretty much anyone with imagination and determination can make something amazing”.
More generally for developers, creating games in VR does bring new complexity. Unlike some of the more recent games of our time where you can release, test or upgrade in a continuous loop from player to developer, VR requires a whole other level of player comfort and safety standards to be defined and created. Horror stories of smashed windows or dizzy players are best avoided and QA testing could be entering an entirely new field. With such a literally physical tech there are many practical challenges involving the space in which VR is utilised. One solution is location-based VR arcade venues such as the much-anticipated StarCade project from Starbreeze.
There’s huge opportunity for newcomers to the VR development community to quickly become pioneers and innovators
Ultimately, it’s very early days. The tech is here but the market will mature through adoption and we will see what will sell and become a success. Fortunately for the games industry, embracing new tech with speed and agility is a core strength of ours. O'Luanaigh advises “‘An upsurge is already happening in work-for-hire VR projects. If you’re starting a new team, or struggling on a traditional platform, you might find that work-for-hire VR projects are a great way to learn more about VR and get a leg-up into this exciting new area”. “Relying on prior wisdom doesn’t always bring the expected outcome” concludes Kirkland “but this means that there’s huge opportunity for newcomers to the VR development community to quickly become pioneers and innovators with their unbiased and original perspectives and ideas”.