The Biggest Problem With VR Gaming
Virtual Reality has only recently come into the field of “functional tech”. Gyroscopic iphones, the Oculus Rift, and now -the greatest achievement – the Playstation VR headset has allowed for players to finally delve into what seemed like a cyberpunk fantasy of virtual reality. But after the release of the tech the gaming community has responded with resounding bemusement as opposed to enthusiasm. Now that we finally have the tech, it seems we don’t know what to do with it.
The current applications for this technology is pretty minimal. You can watch movies and stream television in a virtual theater. There’s some VR experiences being marketed as games, but they really amount to 2 hour virtual tours, in which you peer around the virtual world as a scuba diver or a rock climber, but these experiences can hardly be considered games, as there are no gamifying qualities to them.
There’s a few genuine games for the VR headsets, but even they lack the qualities gamers expect in a console experiences: No plot, few addictive qualities, and poor mechanics. After the novelty of a virtual world wears off, you find that the worlds themselves are less immersive than games outside of the headset. They lack the rich lore of Elder Scrolls or the impeccable voice acting in Uncharted. While Batman expertly flips and kicks criminals in their kneecaps, I struggle to aim a grappling hook in his VR game. I felt like the Batman in the Arkham games, while in VR I just feel like a dude wearing an awkward headset.
A big problem is the genre of games we’re trying to make. While gamers aren’t often skilled fighters themselves, pretending to be in VR only breaks the immersion. But it makes perfect sense in horror settings. That might explain the relative success in the Outlast and Resident Evil games on VR. The game mechanics make sense with the world, because in horror games you’re meant to feel vulnerable and incapable of easily fending off the monsters.
There’s also a lack of unity between the controllers themselves and the mechanics. The twin sticks in Playstation VR don’t feel like guns, nor do they work well as boxing gloves. Ironically, Nintendo has made better progress in the area of adaptive controls. The XBOX and Playstation controllers aren’t intended to immerse players into the action. Only the trigger buttons feel like their usual allocated action – pulling a virtual trigger – while the rest feel nothing like their actions. For instance, pressing X doesn’t feel like jumping. But Nintendo have tried to make controllers suit their games, and vice-a-versa. The Switch Joy-Con controllers are being used to milk cows and punch opponents, and the size of them allows players to actually ball up a fist to mimic these actions. There is the option to sell a fake guitar, gun, steering wheel, or whatever your game requires. But buying a unique controller with every game purchase is not only expensive, but who even has that much storage space?
Meanwhile, the Omni is a VR console being created by the team Virtuix. You are tethered to a treadmill, which allows you to physically run and move and even jump in the virtual world. But the theoretical cost is too high to expect a large audience to pay for, and I fear Virtuix are nearly bankrupt themselves. Plus, again, the storage thing. Who’s going to have a treadmill just sitting in their living room next to the couch?
What I’m trying to say is that Microsoft and Sony are continuing to promote games that work better on regular consoles for their VR systems. They have created this game-changing tech yet they are using it as if they were a natural progression from their living room consoles. Navigation in particular screws with the scheme. In a virtual world where your avatars jumping, running, and quick turn-and-aim actions lead in to a player’s induced vomit, they need to find different gaming genres to suit the headsets. They need to treat this as a jumping off for whole new genres of games, with new control schemes and mechanics. VR should be treated as the new home for horror, racing, or flight games, rather than being marketed as the next step in action adventure or shooter games. But that’s just my two cents.
What kind of applications do you want in VR gaming? Do you think they can adapt more mechanics into their controls? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me at @chadmwilson