On Virtual Reality
Arthur Mostovoy, Lead Game Designer
It’s 2017 and it’s hard not to admit that Virtual Reality is, quite virtually, everywhere. There probably isn’t a major IT company that doesn’t have a VR team researching the technology or already creating something. Every game industry conference is bursting with variety and diversity of VR projects ranging from modern cars virtual tours and taking off to Mars simulators to full-blown (as much as relatively short development timeframe could allow) games. Hell, I’ve seen a group of people comparable in size to Dark Souls first look line waiting to try out a VR dating sim.
While the concept of VR gaming seems exciting and full of new opportunities at a glance, is it really the hottest place in town at the moment?
Well, isn’t it cool to be the first in something. VR market gives you a unique opportunity to enter (almost) untreaded waters and come out basking in glory. Or, well, not quite.
Aside from games like Raw Data and a couple others there are’t many widely-known VR hits at the moment. This is particularly true in commercial aspect which as we well know is one of the main drivers of the industry.
There are numerous possible reasons to this. The market is still in some sort of Wild West state with rules and best practices being set on the spot (speaking of which, there’s literally a Wild West inspired VR game that lets you partake in gunfights). While this gives the developer a lot of freedom, it also means there’s lots of potential caveats on the way.
High-end VR hardware doesn’t come free of charge. One has to pay serious money for the equipment and a console/PC upgrade if necessary. This alone sets the entrance fee pretty high and slows down the propagation rate.
Unless you’re looking at mobile VR, that is. With Google Cardboard costing only 15$ first impressions can be acquired without big investments. However, at this point mobile VR differs from desktop/console VR quite drastically and, although portable, it can’t be viewed as a cheaper replacement.
Fortunately for the market, recent reports show growing hardware sales and even faster-growing consumer services sales (which makes perfect sense, since there’s more and more content being produced for the given hardware) while financial forecasts are predicting twentyfold growth by 2020— so far, the picture’s looking pretty good.
A seemingly small issue that is comparable in its culling effect on the audience to game crashes, it is also dangerous since it may affect the user’s opinion towards virtual reality in general. VR stores are currently full of projects that after 2 minutes of playtime will make you wanna grab a sickness bag and bid goodbye to the new experience as whole.
Some solutions to this problem exist (among them teleportation as opposed to traversing long distances quickly the traditional way, fewer degrees of freedom in movement controls and more) and it’s important to utilize them and do extensive testing with people that have various tolerance to motion sickness.
If you have ever played a VR action game with full tracking for more than an hour, you know it can be compared to a gym routine. Cutting the air with the controllers and jumping around like a madman all while wearing a not-so-lightweight helmet isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Aside from getting physically tired and sweat being concentrated in places of contact of your face and the equipment, your eyes become strained. This simple fact questions the purpose of developing games aimed at longer sessions.
While VR by itself is already a strong immersion catalyst, conveying proper feeling of realism is, to an extent, closely tired to graphics quality. In virtual reality, everything from level geometry to VFX and SFX is a step up from what you’re used to in traditional desktop games.
Supposedly, when you’re able to see things in a more volumetric way from different angles at a finger’s distance it means more complex meshes, higher texture resolution, maximum sound quality along with specific audio sources tuning, accurate animations and more. However, titles like Job Simulator prove that even without photorealistic graphics, a VR game can be a major success.
Besides, it’s highly recommended to have your game maintain 90 FPS consistently and particularly when turning one’s head around which would otherwise result in motion sickness and inability to play. This, in turn, increases the efforts directed at optimization.
While I don’t see VR entirely taking over the traditional flat screen gaming and FPS gamers transcending to some CS:GO VR, there are definitely things that VR can do which flat screen can’t.
VR projects do convey the feeling of presence and immersion exceptionally well and can be used to to try things you never have or will experience in real life, be it jumping from a rooftop, witnessing a massive whale swim by you in the middle of an ocean or decimating hostile robots piece by piece with your bare hands while catching bullets mid-air.
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