5. Virtual baby steps
I’ll tell you a little secret. Are you ready?
I’m a luddite.
It might seem unusual for someone who works with digital games and technology, but I’ve never been an early adopter of new gadgets and programs.
I resisted getting on Steam for as long as I could, preferring physical copies for most of my gaming, and I only acquired my first smart phone after I started working as a game designer for a mobile game company. It’s not that I hate new tech, but I’m having so much fun with the old stuff that I tend to not come around to the cutting edge until it’s been around for a while. That, and I’m usually skint to the bone for cash. I don’t know where it keeps going, but it doesn’t like to stay in my wallet!
So, true to form, my first experiences with VR came after I’d signed the contract to work on Cave Digger 2. The last few months have essentially been a bit of a crash course of VR games, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it (not least because I’ve been able to benefit from the VRKiwi’s extensive cavalcade of VR gear). This week, Jaakko asked me to narrate my experience here on our dev blog.
Here I am, trying on a VR headset for the first time ever. Jaakko (who is the greatest leader ever) took this picture without my consent. I forgive him for it and promise not to sue him at all.
First of all, I was a little apprehensive to try virtual reality gaming. My eyesight isn’t really standard, and I’ve some inner ear issues, so plonking on a VR helmet and getting stuck in seemed a likely way to bring on a throbbing headache and possibly some bruises from falling over. Luckily, I was wrong. After getting over some slight motion sickness the only actual damage I’ve caused has been to my bedroom lamp, as I keep punching it while playing.
Which brings me to my second point: man are these games immersive! As with anything, getting used to the control scheme takes a little time, but once you do, you can get really deep into it. Even arcade-style VR games can really hook you in and make you forget your surroundings and even your body, for a while anyhow. One of the first things I did was get stuck in Pistol Whip to play enough to break my thighs; I could barely walk for a week.
If we’re talking immersion, Half-Life: Alyx brings the gold standard from what I’ve tried so far. Exploring the overrun city was really atmospheric and immersive, not least because I’ve travelled in Eastern Europe and a lot of the environments seemed weirdly familiar. I even had a bit of a near-heart attack experience as I was exploring some tunnels teeming with crab-zombies and the restaurant next to my house decided to pour their empty bottles into the glass recycling bin out back. For a short moment I was entirely convinced that I’d be eaten!
As a third point, game design for virtual reality as a platform is obviously very interesting. It differs from designing for the PC by virtue of tactility: in a way, less is more when the player should be able to interact with everything the game contains. There’s less of a focus on systemic design, and more of an emphasis on designing experiences and content. I of course have quite a number of thoughts and ideas on this topic, but I’m afraid we’ve ran out of space this time. Maybe I’ll expand on the tactility of virtual game design some other time, if Jaakko lets me share our secrets with you.
Random development quote: “Mulla on tehnyt hulluna vodkaa mieli. Monta päivää.“