In re­al­ity, VR isn’t quite there

The hyped for­mat can charm, but there are more ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing in games.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Todd Martens

Vir­tual re­al­ity was sup­pos­edly the fu­ture at the Elec­tronic En­ter­tain­ment Expo, the shiny new toy that was go­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize gam­ing. But vir­tual re­al­ity has been the shiny new toy that was go­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize gam­ing since Nintendo in­tro­duced the Vir­tual Boy in the mid-1990s.

Trust us, com­pa­nies such as Sony and the Face­book-owned Ocu­lus VR say, vir­tual re­al­ity is back.

In­deed, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that by this time next year, two of the most promis­ing head­sets in the VR space, Sony’s Pro­ject Mor­pheus and the Ocu­lus Rift, will come to mar­ket. Thus, vir­tual re­al­ity, and Mi­crosoft’s HoloLens, which cre­ates holo­graphic im­ages in a small field of view, were the media dar­lings of E3.

I went to E3 view­ing vir­tual re­al­ity with arms-folded sus­pi­cion. At times, I was charmed. Once, while a play­ing a first-per­son shoot-

er, I stum­bled and nearly fell. Of­ten, I strug­gled to get head­sets on or off over my glasses. I was even ad­vised to not wear the glasses, but my vi­sion is hor­ri­ble and ev­ery­thing was slightly blurry.

For me, the most ex­cit­ing trend at E3 was not VR. In­stead, if one paid close at­ten­tion to the games on the f loor, it was clear that video game de­sign­ers are con­tin­u­ing to push the medium into more hon­est, di­verse and emo­tional spa­ces.

Take “Be­yond Eyes,” an in-de­vel­op­ment in­de­pen­dent game for Mi­crosoft’s Xbox One con­sole that’s due for re­lease this sum­mer. It fea­tures a young girl who lost her sight and ven­tures out­side the safety of her home af­ter her best friend, her cat, goes miss­ing.

The game screen be­fore me was largely white. With each hes­i­tant step of the girl, f low­ers and grass slowly sprang to life, as if drawn by an in­vis­i­ble paint­brush.

There wasn’t much else — I could hear a rustling of leaves, maybe a wa­ter foun­tain — but the game from Tiger & Squid res­onates be­cause it en­cour­ages the player to get in­side the headspace of a child, Rae, and to prod her for­ward de­spite her un­cer­tainty. The player will rec­og­nize the sound of a high­way, but Rae will not; she will vi­su­al­ize it as an op­pres­sive wall of black­ness. It’s OK, it’s just a high­way, you want to say to her, and then you re­mem­ber that some­where out in this world is a cat that she won’t be able to see, and ev­ery sound is a po­ten­tial threat. I couldn’t get it out of my head.

The top games at E3 show us new ways to view the world. In “Be­yond Eyes” it’s from the mind of a fright­ened child, and in “Un­ravel” it’s as a tiny piece of yarn try­ing to stitch to­gether the mem­o­ries of an ag­ing woman. Then, there’s an el­derly king in “King’s Quest” re­lay­ing tall tales to his grand­daugh­ter. Weirder still, there’s a sad pil­low in “Wat­tam” who’s bummed out be­cause all its friends just want to sleep.

Games like “Be­yond Eyes” and Funom­ena’s in-de­vel­op­ment “Wat­tam” are em­blem­atic of a video game medium in tran­si­tion, one in­creas­ingly split be­tween big-bud­get and com­plex block­buster wannabes — here’s hop­ing you have 50 hours to com­plete one — and in­de­pen­dent de­vel­op­ers who be­lieve an in­ter­ac­tive medium is best when it’s ac­ces­si­ble and elic­its an emo­tional re­sponse. I wanted to hug ev­ery one of “Wat­tam’s” char­ac­ters, and that sen­sa­tion was achieved with­out an ad­di­tional pair of glasses.

That doesn’t mean it’s all emo­tion. “Be­yond Eyes,” for in­stance, fid­dles with our depth per­cep­tion — no high­priced gog­gles needed. Which raises the ques­tion: Are gog­gles needed?

Fun? Yes. A ne­ces­sity? At least not right now.

Still, there’s good news: Un­like past E3s, this year I didn’t want to vomit af­ter play­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity ti­tle. Progress.

Sony does have a lovely VR demo in which the player sport­ing the Mor­pheus be­comes a gi­ant mon­ster, de­stroy­ing build­ings just by lean­ing for­ward, left or right. Oth­ers can play too; those not wear­ing the head­set join in via an old-timey con­troller and a tele­vi­sion and try to throw ob­jects at the mon­ster. It’s a party game, and it works great in a quick 5-minute play ses­sion.

Bet­ter still: Uber En­ter­tain­ment’s “Way­ward Sky,” billed as a “look and click” game in which Mor­pheus wear­ers di­rect a char­ac­ter around a world with a move of the head.

Play­ful Corp. has a game in de­vel­op­ment for the Rift dubbed “Lucky’s Tale,” and this is the VR game I’d most like to spend more time with. It’s a “Su­per Mario Bros.”-inspired game where a lit­tle fox hops around a glo­ri­ously bright world in which forests look like they’re con­structed of candy.

In­som­niac Games has a tense Rift ti­tle in “Edge of Nowhere.” In this one, an ad­ven­turer ex­plores an icy tun­dra while supernatural el­e­ments beckon.

Here’s what’s ex­cit­ing about them, and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the VR. The afore­men­tioned games are all rel­a­tively ac­ces­si­ble.

They uti­lize one or two but­tons, not a dozen-plus, and the world is ex­plored with a turn of the head. Not bad for a de­vice that, at min- imum, will re­quire a high­end PC (Ocu­lus says to ex­pect to spend about $1,500 for a PC and head­set, if you don’t al­ready have a top-ofthe-line com­puter), or a $400 PlayS­ta­tion 4. Then there’s the as-yet-to-be-de­ter­mined costs of the head­set.

Yet for all the horse­power needed, VR games are di­al­ing things down. At E3, where guests are wooed by scant­ily clad women in “Ghost­busters” out­fits and the con­ven­tion f loor was aptly summed up at a Sun­day evening news con­fer­ence by Bethesda ex­ec­u­tive Pete Hines as “blood, guts and stuff blow­ing up,” lit­tle Lucky the fox was a charmer.

“Lucky’s Tale,” says Play­ful Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Paul Bet­tner, “takes a step back into sim­plic­ity.”

Lessons in terms of what kind of games work in VR are still be­ing learned. Stand­ing up while play­ing a VR game is a no-go, and it usu­ally takes at least one other per­son to a get a Rift or a Mor­pheus head­set on or off. When VR is as light and sim­ple as a pair of glasses, I’ll be con­vinced. As Bet­tner said, “In VR, com­fort is the most im­por­tant thing.”

Thus, fast-mov­ing ac­tion games in a VR space are dicey. Nate Mitchell, an ex­ec­u­tive at Ocu­lus, said the com­pany learned that early.

“The main thing that needs to be avoided right now is hard-core lo­co­mo­tion, es­pe­cially driven by the user in a highly ag­gres­sive way,” he says. “Let’s say you’re play­ing ‘Call of Duty’ in a Rift. It is go­ing to be an un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Things are f ly­ing by you in­cred­i­bly quickly. You brain is not de­signed to process it. We don’t move nat­u­rally like that through the world, so it tends to be jar­ring.”

The VR games I en­joyed were ones with gen­er­ally slow-mov­ing char­ac­ters or ob­jects. When I walked away from VR demos, it wasn’t with a sen­sa­tion that 360-de­gree im­mer­sion will change my life — in fact, I pre­fer to know I can keep an eye on my cat or check email while I’m play­ing a game or watch­ing a movie at home — but I was in­stead taken with how the best VR demos were es­sen­tially pick-up-and-play games.

“Ev­ery­one thinks of it as this new com­pli­cated high­tech thing that’s com­ing,” says Sony’s VR guru, Richard Marks. “To make it is quite high-tech and com­pli­cated, but to de­velop for it isn’t so high-tech. To ex­pe­ri­ence it, it isn’t at all.”

There’s no mas­sive learn­ing curve when games are largely mo­tion-con­trolled. Video game con­trollers are start­ing to seem rel­a­tively out­dated in a touch­screen-based uni­verse, and if five or 10 years from now VR be­comes cheap, light and a com­fort­able fit around my glasses, count me in.

Christina House For The Times

SIANNA HASEN­BERG tries out Sony’s Pro­ject Mor­pheus at E3. Vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets aren’t light.

Christina House For The Times

E3 had more to of­fer than vir­tual re­al­ity demos. Here, Alanna Cer­ve­nak plays Nintendo’s “Sky­fox.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.