Bud­get Cuts

Vive

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/ pub­lisher Neat Cor­po­ra­tion For­mat Vive Ori­gin Swe­den Re­lease 2016

The holy grail of VR is pres­ence: the ab­so­lute sen­sa­tion that you are in an­other place, the real world on the other side of the head­set sim­ply melt­ing away. Too many of the games that launched along­side Rift and Vive of­fer only the holy grail as Monty Python saw it, their lit­tle foibles and con­trivances re­mind­ing you that you are sit­ting in your liv­ing room wear­ing a £700 blind­fold – that those are two halves of a co­conut, not horse’s hooves. Well, no more. Half­way through the all-too-brief level that com­prises the first playable demo of Bud­get Cuts, we try to nudge our cross­bow through a hole in the floor, and are stunned to find that we hit real-world car­pet in­stead. It is some trick to make us feel that we re­ally are ly­ing prone on the floor in a crawlspace above an of­fice com­plex pa­trolled by ro­bot guards, but some­how Neat Cor­po­ra­tion does it.

Even in its cur­rent, one-level, 20-minute form, Bud­get Cuts is full of tricks, but it is the phys­i­cal­ity of it all that gets you first. You crouch be­hind cover, peek­ing over ledges and around cor­ners. You shrink back out of sight when spot­ted, rum­mag­ing ur­gently through your in­ven­tory to grab some­thing to fight back with. We won’t judge you if, as you lift your­self gin­gerly up from the floor to peer over a low wall, you try to put your hand on it and pull your­self up, the limb flap­ping point­lessly through thin air. We may have done pre­cisely the same thing.

With its first VR game, Neat Cor­po­ra­tion has solved the pres­ence co­nun­drum with gusto – and it doesn’t stop there. Bud­get Cuts sees the young Swedish stu­dio put for­ward a finely con­sid­ered take on player lo­co­mo­tion, an­other thorny is­sue in VR. Its so­lu­tion is the Translo­ca­tor, a term bor­rowed from a

sim­i­lar de­vice used in Un­real Tour­na­ment, though there is an ob­vi­ous touch of Por­tal here too. Squeeze the trig­ger on the con­troller in your non-dom­i­nant hand and you shoot a small, spher­i­cal pro­jec­tile; once it comes to rest, a win­dow opens on the world around it. You can pan around to en­sure it’s a safe spot be­fore you com­mit by press­ing the lit­tle-used Grip but­ton on the side of the Vive con­troller. The pro­jec­tile is a physics ob­ject, mean­ing you can fire round cor­ners or on top of fur­ni­ture. It means Bud­get Cuts is the first VR game to turn au­to­mated move­ment, a tech­ni­cal ne­ces­sity, into a fun me­chanic.

“We wanted to have a nice sys­tem for mov­ing around, since it’s such a ba­sic thing to do,” co-founder Joachim Holmér tells us. “The stealth me­chan­ics came af­ter­wards – we just no­ticed you could use it for look­ing round cor­ners, spy­ing on ar­eas that are far­ther away. The way it works right now, it’s al­most too pow­er­ful – you can look any­where [with­out risk], which re­moves a big el­e­ment of stealth games. We’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with hav­ing en­e­mies be able to see the Translo­ca­tor ball – it’s go­ing to change quite a lot, I think.”

The guards could cer­tainly do with a leg up. They’re quite hap­less, in a cheer­ful sort of way – if one hap­pens upon the corpse of a fallen com­rade it emits a me­chan­i­cal scream and runs laps for a while. Even­tu­ally it’ll give up and re­turn to its post – un­less it sees the corpse again, any­way. Still, en­e­mies are quick to act when they spot you, though just slow enough on the draw for you to ei­ther duck be­hind cover to es­cape the shot, or loose off a quick throw­ing knife. Puz­zles are sim­ple, too – rum­mag­ing around for keys, trac­ing power lines to de­ac­ti­vate wall-mounted sen­tries – and Holmér says we can ex­pect the com­plex­ity to ramp up in the fi­nal game.

But even in its cur­rent form, Bud­get Cuts is in­tox­i­cat­ing, a play­ful lit­tle thriller that al­ready feels re­mark­ably fully formed as a game, while also putting for­ward el­e­gant so­lu­tions to some of the big­gest tech­ni­cal hur­dles that VR de­vel­op­ers face. It’s a huge achieve­ment for a stu­dio which launched with a failed Kick­starter project, went on hia­tus while its founders free­lanced to pay the bills, is now be­ing funded by a shader tool Holmér sells on the Unity As­set Store, and only got into VR af­ter bump­ing into Valve’s Chet Fal­iszek at a party dur­ing GDC.

When we speak, Holmér’s in Seat­tle, where he’s work­ing on the game for a month at Valve HQ. “They help out with var­i­ous things – if you’ve got tech­ni­cal is­sues, need help with de­sign, or just playtest­ing, since there’s a bunch of peo­ple there that can give re­ally good feed­back,” he says. “And they just see the po­ten­tial in VR, and want to help it grow. VR’s a strange new world: it’s hard to con­vince peo­ple about it, and to get con­tent out there. Large com­pa­nies don’t want to com­mit be­cause the au­di­ence is so small. It makes sense to sup­port smaller de­vel­op­ers.” On this ev­i­dence, it most cer­tainly does.

It’s the first vir­tual re­al­ity game to turn au­to­mated move­ment into a fun me­chanic

You can switch freely be­tween the var­i­ous gad­gets avail­able in each hand – you’ll nor­mally want ac­cess to the Translo­ca­tor at all times, but when com­bat’s on the agenda, two throw­ing knives is a fine op­tion

ABOVE The open­ing puz­zle has you trace the power ca­ble from this vent to a locked safe, which con­tains the off but­ton for the vent’s force­field. The so­lu­tion is so sim­ple it took us an age to work out – the key’s in a drawer on the desk above

LEFT Guards are ei­ther static or on fixed pa­trols – this one will even­tu­ally turn its back, al­low­ing you to tele­port be­hind it for the kill.

The demo fea­tures three gad­gets: your Translo­ca­tor, throw­ing arm and cross­bow. Holmér says many more will fea­ture in the fi­nal game

BELOW Vent hatches of­fer a speedy route away from trou­ble, though in our haste we’ve seen the Translo­ca­tor bounce back off the edge

Joachim Holmér, co-founder, Neat

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