I recently saw some gameplay of an upcoming VR game for the PSVR called Bravo Team and it shares a common issue that a lot of moderate budget games have as well as games releasing on more mainstream VR platforms like the PSVR. They have some decent polish to them and look like they will offer a lot of content/play time to the player but when it comes to their gameplay mechanics they are dull and take no chances. When I saw the gameplay video linked below, I couldn’t help but think to myself the whole time that I was looking at some gameplay of a mobile game for phones and tablets, and that sucks.
When modern day VR was becoming a thing a few years ago, while the Rift and Vive hadn’t yet released their consumer ready versions, pretty much everyone was scared to release a game that had the player moving in the same traditional way that they have for years in games. Though, at the time we didn’t have a lot of test cases of the masses trying VR and also the headsets at the time were sporting lower resolutions, FoV (field of view), and most importantly a lower refresh-rate (the frequency at which the screen displays rendered frames from the PC).
These fears were legit in that motion sickness (or something similar to it as the eyes tell the brain something different than what your ears’ vestibular system) will ruin any players experience, no matter how much fun the VR game is. Of course, this is a big concern of ours at Digital Worlds since it’s hard to get repeat customers if they get sick after 15 minutes using our services, not to mention a lot of time spent cleaning. This was quite a few years ago though, so my question is why developers and publishers are still afraid to take their game’s gameplay to the true potential of VR?
Indie game creators are making games with budgets that don’t go into the millions, so they can take more risks, that’s nothing new or revolutionary, but it’s especially true with VR. Movement has been a hot topic in VR as no one knows the best way to move the player through the game as they all have differing levels of immersion, complexity, and of course impact on making the player sick. Some of the common types are teleport, dash, smooth, arm-swinger, and walking-in-place, oh, and room-scale which is the only non-artificial locomotion type.
Teleport is generally accepted as the safest form of locomotion for VR games as there’s no movement around the virtual game world that the player sees other than any slight room-scale movement they make. For many gamers though, this form of locomotion breaks their immersion into the game, which is one of VR’s strong suits. As stated before, it doesn’t matter how fun, good, or immersive a game is, if it makes the player sick then there’s no way people will buy it which means game creators will not make any money, so it only makes sense that teleport would be the most common locomotion type, even all these years later. But that begs the question:
Why can’t we have both options? Many games do it from the start, even titles from AAA companies have offered both, like they did with the VR version of Fallout 4. Other games like Rec Room and DOOM VFR have seen smooth locomotion added post-launch so that players can choose what makes them happy. It’s the beauty of PC gaming in general, choice. Better graphics or faster frame-rate, monitor at desk or TV at couch, mouse & keyboard or gamepad, AMD or nVidia, AMD or Intel, optical or laser (or ball mouse for some), mechanical or membrane, Oculus & the Rift or HTC & the Vive, etc… It’s up to you as the player. So why hasn’t that translated yet into the controls of our VR games?
This doesn’t mean there are no risk takers out there. Sairento is one of the standouts for this. They let players jump (and even double jump) around rooms, wall-run, and even do backflips. Even I didn’t expect that sort of stuff in VR in 2017 but I’m so glad they took those risks and added those things in as it was one of my favorite VR games of the year. They also offer teleport and smooth locomotion if you don’t have a strong stomach or just want to keep your feet on the ground.
One upcoming game, NeverBound, looks to give Sairento a run for its money as it is a shooter that offers a key gameplay mechanic of altering gravity, meaning that your floor right now might soon be a wall or a ceiling, causing you to now fall to your new floor. As someone who has played Hold My Beer and its skateboard mode, messing with a player’s gravitational orientation may not make them get sick but it can easily make them almost fall over in their room.
There’s even the recent game from developer/publisher Survios, Sprint Vector, which isn’t the first game to use arm-swinger locomotion, but is by far the highest profile game to feature the locomotion style. As someone who is a fan of arm-swinger locomotion in platformers like Climbey, shooters like Vindicta, and stealth games like Unknightly, I am crossing my fingers that it starts to grab the attention of players and therefor creators. Sadly, I still can’t see myself enjoying something like Bravo Team due to its predefined node based teleportation system. Despite all of its polish, amazing visuals, satisfying gunplay, and creative level design, I never found myself enjoying ARKTIKA 1 for the same limiting locomotion.
Please VR developers and publishers, take risks in your VR games. Try these interesting locomotion types, but more importantly give the player the choice of which system they want to use. Don’t force teleportation on the player, don’t force smooth locomotion on the player, build them both into the game and let them pick which is right for them (and add in all sorts of tweaks we can make to each if we choose to). Node based teleport should be tossed into a fire though. That’s not moving forward or even staying put, that’s taking the industry a lot of steps backwards.
Yes, that was a locomotion joke.