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Virtual reality has been around for a little while now and plenty of people have gotten their hands on headsets and VR games. Everyone knows the main selling point of virtual reality is the almost full immersion into the experiences or games. But when you break it down what do the best games have that the rest don’t? An extremely interactive world.
That’s the key to excellent game design in virtual reality.
VR succeeds by essentially tricking your brain into believing you’re in a new environment by stimulating your visual senses. You just “buy it” so to speak. The sensation of just standing in the game world is extremely simulating and is furthered by believable graphics. The interactivity is what actually takes it over the top and convinces your mind that you’re truly living out this virtual experience.
For the most part, we’re wowed by how convincing these worlds can be by way of objects that respond the same way they do in real life. Some aspect of this is definitely a result of the novelty of virtual reality. Most games are still pretty primitive in nature, so detailed worlds that let you mess around with items in the environment are extra impressive.
To really highlight the difference between flatscreen games and virtual reality, we can look at climbing structures.
In Uncharted, for example, climbing can really feel like a filler activity since it requires virtually no mental engagement. Climbing input consists of pushing the thumbstick in a certain direction and holding it down (or spamming the jump button if you’re impatient) and occasionally jumping. There’s a couple of other climbing tasks, but every single one requires the same exact inputs.
In virtual reality, climbing becomes an activity you look forward to since it’s a major gameplay mechanic that can require complex thought (relative to video games). Not only are you mentally pathing your way up, but you then need to physically perform those actions to scale whatever obstacle you have in your way. The mental stimulation is much greater by physically performing your actions. You believe that you actually are climbing something. It’s almost a risk-free way to participate in activities that are otherwise too dangerous in real life. This of course serves to further “convince” your brain that you are in the game and actively moving through the world.
The bottom line is that physically performing actions is more stimulating than similar movements in conventional video games. This extends to doing dumb stuff like feeding your pet bug in Half-Life: Alyx just because it works and your mind believes that you’re legitimately shaking food into a jar with a Snark.
Conventional video games paved the way and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (hopefully). They made it able to do things you can’t do in real life.
Virtual reality just turned those fantasies into, well, reality.
The Best Asymmetric Virtual Reality Games Out Now
Virtual reality is fun, but playing with friends makes it better. The problem is that not everyone can afford a VR headset, so we put together a few games you and your friends can play with only a single VR system.
5. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Better talk fast because the clock is ticking and there’s a bomb in your hands! Available in VR and regular screen, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes puts one player in charge of manipulated bomb components to keep it from blowing up. Another player is supplied only with a guide. The thing is that every bomb is different and the reader has no idea what your bomb looks like. Speed is vital. Communication is key.
4. Fast and Low
Shoot and move in this SWAT simulator game. Despite its less-than-finished appearance, this game has solid bones with “realistic” gunplay, suspect interactions, damage, and room clearing. One player can hop in on PC while another gets ready to get rowdy in virtual reality. Take your time as you move room to room searching out hostels, but don’t be too trigger-happy because some are going to surrender. Take them alive if you can.
3. Reiko’s Fragments
Do you want to scare the living daylights out of your friends and family? The Reiko’s Fragments might be for you. Virtual reality is already pretty terrifying with even the smallest of scares, but now your friends can take control. One person takes the reins and puts on the headset; the rest can pull up their phones and get to scaring.
2. Takelings House Party
This is a true party game. Grab a few friends with phones to take up the mantle of “Takelings,” thieving humanoids hell-bent on making your home life miserable. The person in VR needs to take these things out by any means necessary. That includes hammers, nailguns, toasters, and waffle makers. It’s still in early access but is worth a buy if you like party games.
1. Smush TV
Have you ever wanted to face your fear of being crushed under tetrominoes while electronic music pumps in the background? Smush TV is just that where a player in VR does their best to climb to the top of a Tetris tower while avoiding getting smushed. The other flatscreen player is on a mission to drop these blocks on the other’s head.
No, Shooting Guns in VR Does Not Translate to Shooting Firearms in Real Life
Guns and virtual reality go together like peanut butter and jelly. The shooter genre is one of the biggest in the VR space right alongside melee hack and slashers. Naturally, some people are bringing up the idea that video games may cause violence once again or rather may teach people how to be violent. There’s a mild connection there with VR being a highly interactive medium where you physically act out an action, but the truth is that there’s just not much you can learn especially with complex things like firearms.
It’s important to note that VR can only teach people to use firearms only as effectively as any other learning medium like books or videos. There are no special movements or techniques taught in VR that aren’t found elsewhere. In fact, I’d wager that most people who consume media on the regular probably already know how to load a magazine into a firearm and pull a trigger. These actions are already intuitive though and would be fairly easy to figure without instruction anyway.
Virtual reality can’t simulate the weight of a firearm nor dealing with concussive force from a gunshot. Virtual makes firearms simple. Reload. Click. Shoot. Easy. It removes all of the individual actions necessary for operating a weapon. It doesn’t teach you how to clear a malfunction or even load rounds into a magazine. Or control recoil and correct trigger pulling technique. The list is long. Although, manipulating firearms isn’t a particularly difficult process in the first place. Virtual reality doesn’t cover any of the things that make for a proficient shooter.
I’d even argue that virtual reality might actually teach terrible habits for people that might get into hobbyist shooting later on. The first is reinforcing poor trigger control. With real firearms, you need to be particular in the way you pull a trigger. Incorrect technique can throw shots off target by a lot. Virtual reality controls have more stability and little trigger resistance. They don’t require a consistent form.
Recoil control is something else that’ll suffer when using VR. With real firearms, recoil is typically controlled by tightly bracing it to your body or locking your wrists. Virtual reality is a different story. Most recoil control is done just by pulling the controllers down, yet another way to throw off your shots in real life.
Virtual reality isn’t effectively teaching anyone to use firearms. In fact it’s probably doing just the opposite. This is just a recycled argument of “video games cause violence.”
What Virtual Reality Needs to Become Mainstream
Virtual reality sure has a lot going for at the moment. It’s looking like everything might be coming together, slowly, but together nonetheless. Since Facebook’s purchase of Oculus, VR has become much more mobile and most importantly, affordable. With that being said, there are still some things that need to be addressed before VR starts running with the big dogs as mainstream consoles and gaming mediums.
Big Name Developers
Right now virtual reality has some absurdly high-quality titles available. The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, Half-Life: Alyx, and Beat Saber come to mind. The problem is that there are also a ton of really terrible games that are obviously VR cash grabs.
Independent devs have been the lifeblood of VR and their efforts have kept enthusiasts’ love for VR flowing. The only problem is that these studios don’t have the same resources as big Triple-A developers with gigantic publishers behind them.
Huge marketing campaigns are what is going to help virtual reality gain publicity and otherwise uninterested investors.
Affordability has always been an issue for VR, but it’s an issue that has constantly been getting better. Decent headsets can be found for less than the cost of current generation consoles. The problem is that there’s only one big producer of affordable, high-value headsets: Facebook. The Quest 2 is super cheap, but Facebook is more than making up for that cost by way of selling users’ information for ads.
Other producers of VR headsets need to develop systems that can match Oculus in price and omit features that make users sacrifice privacy. Doing this removes another hurdle from the average person buying into virtual reality.
Polish and Length
Last year we got arguably the best virtual reality game to date, Half-Life: Alyx. It had a lot going for it with an engaging story, perfected gameplay, and clean visuals. But maybe the thing that made it truly incredible was how polished it was. Bugs were few and far between, it was detailed, and the gameplay performed flawlessly.
Virtual reality needs games that are finished when they come out. No one wants to play bug-ridden games; they don’t want games that feel half-baked.
VR also doesn’t need any more $40 games that only last 3-4 hours. It’s too much cash for something that just isn’t worth the money. Virtual reality needs to fully transition from a mix of full games and “experiences” to full-length and completed games with fewer VR experiences. People want to dive into games for hours, especially good ones, but there are just not enough options out there.
Where to Go From Here?
Virtual reality’s potential is limitless. It’s already made so many great strides and is well on its way to being the best way to experience video games. It’s just going through some growing pains right now.