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Virtual Reality is the "next gen console"
by Alex Nichiporchik on 06/06/13 05:45:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I backed up the Omni Kickstarter in a heartbeat. Been following their progress, along wth everything surrounding the Oculus Rift. Being a natural skeptic, it was hard to not get excited about the Rift. Tried my best and didn't. 

GDC Rift Stand

Then came GDC and 2 hours of waiting in line to play around with the hyped up headset (the Rift). I put it on, the booth guy tells me to fix it at the right height -- so I see depth, and then asks me to "look back". That was the conversion moment -- I look back, see the cockpit of my Mech, look forward and panic for not seeing my hands. Instant immersion. Just like that. You have nothing around the monitors to distract you. You are in the game. 

Moreover, you get these discussions about how the HUD in a VR game should not be at the bottom of the screen, how the "mouse" should lock in certain times, but in others should be independent of where you are looking. It's a really different way of thinking about game design. A completely fresh perspective on how users are going to interact with your game. 

Users are excited. Developers are excited. Publishers and console manufacturers should be freaking out and rushing into this era of innovation. 

Imagine Sony coming out at E3 and announcing full support for the Oculus Rift + Omni on PS4, with bundles that include all hardware? Add Killzone 4 as the pioneering title for the technology on the platform. Sounds a bit more interesting than alt-tabbing with your voice, to me at least. 

Even better, subsidize the hardware - take a loss on the hardware like you used to, just to get that early adopter base and make the money back on software sales and eventual manufacturing cost cuts. 

This is unlikely to happen. What'd usually happen in large companies is the "let's build our own" approach. It shouldn't be hard if a few people were able to create it, in a garage, and put it on Kickstarter - right? Won't get too much into that. 

As I'm writing this and trying to compare with Microsoft and Sony, inevitably  Valve come to mind. 


Random mind wandering


Empty stage. A valve in the center. The valve turns, fills the stage with steam. 


A figure emerges. It's Gabe. 


Keeps it short - "Today we announce the Steambox"


Shows box. It's small. Works with Xbox 360 controllers. It's beautiful.


"We're launching it with Half-Life 3, with Plug & Play support for Oculus Rift +Omni"


"It's going to cost $500, with bundles of $750 and $1,100 for Box+Rift, and Box+Rift+Omni"


"It's out tomorrow"


Steam fills stage again, Gabe disappears


/Random mind wandering


Irrelevant to how this plays out, the success of the VR Initiative (let's use that for Rift+Omni) depends on a combination of both software and hardware manufacturers support. So if a major publisher backs up a VR-enabled game (Battlefield 4 (EA), Killzone 4 (Sony), Half-Life 3 (Valve), whatever) and either has stake in the hardware or partners up with the hardware supplier, it'd be a revolution in the industry. 


The games will change


So far I talked about mostly first person games. They are the obvious suspects. It's natural. It's pretty easy, especially for shooters. I did think of Mirror's Edge 2 which could turn out either awesome, or horribly wrong with people reacting very poorly to the rolling animations (I get sea sick just thinking about it, after the GDC demo when I realized my fear of heights translates well into games). 



But think about it. A game like Amnesia or Slender, in VR. I had my heart rate elevated just by playing Slender. If I had to actually walk around that forest... and turn around, and then SPRINT THE HELL AWAY, imagine what that'd do to my experience. How having actual physical exhaustion factor into your fear experience. Imagine what kind of feeling of accomplishment this would bring when you win a game. What kind of emotions you'd experience when you are catching your breath (literally) and the screen starts flickering (Slender's near!). This makes my mind twitch a bit. It's exciting. It's revolutionary. 


The feeling of accomplishment 


So far you get your feeling of accomplishment for killing someone or completing an objective -- in an FPS that is. You usually ignore the fact you just sprinted 900 feet. Imagine what that does to you when you actually need to have that physical real life sprint, how it makes your blood flow, your heart rate is up, you are excited, you are on edge. Anyone who's played Paintball Big Games  or AirSoft matches will understand this. So now, when you've achieved that point capture, kill or whatever - it gives you a much more satisfying feeling, because you had to work for it. 


I believe the feeling of accomplishment has been severely downgraded over the years in games. Most games just hand hold you and give you thrill rollercoaster rides, with mostly visual spectacles. Here it's physical. It gets in your head through other senses. It makes you work for whatever you're doing in the game. 


Some of the best "game" experiences I had were actually in AirSoft games. You plan an attack with a small squad, you quietly sneak behind enemy lines. It takes time, caution, planning. Then you burst out screaming and running, killing everyone, running really fast to avoid getting shot. Or when you're sniping and get discovered. You know that now you have to get up and run really fast to find cover, otherwise you're out. 


Getting those sensations translated into video games -- with clever implementation of sprint mechanics for example -- will be crucial. 


Please, let's not screw this one up, games industry. Pretty please?

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