A reader explores the limitations of current VR technology and explains why it’s usually always third person games that are the best.
Years back, when Red Dwarf was funny and not a grim reminder of the sinister passage of time, there was an episode where the crew died in an explosion then suddenly woke up to find that they’d been playing a VR video game for the last four years (with a score of 4% if I remember).
Not only was it a great pull of the rug moment it was also, to us children at the time, an insight to what might possibly be a future reality. I hadn’t even played a fully 3D game when it aired on the BBC (don’t think there even was one at that time) so to think of merely sitting down and being literally implanted into a different reality sounded amazing.
Fast forward to what VR is now. It still entails standing around in a room flailing your arms around trying to, and failing to, grab a gun from its holster or the bow from your back. Tracking issues continually forcing you to die a thousand unnecessary deaths. For years we’ve seen countless attempts at pushing VR into the mainstream. All have failed.
To me it’s simple: who wants to come home after a long day and spend the evening standing around getting a sweat on, pretending to hack enemies with an imaginary sword and accidentally breaking family heirlooms? Obviously some do (not the heirlooms, hopefully) but part of the joy of gaming is just sitting on your settee and playing something whilst relaxing. After a hearty meal or with a cup of Earl Grey or Wye Valley HPA it’s nice to just pick up and play.
There are some games that do work though. I’ve sung the praises of two VR games for far too long, but to me they serve as a template as to what the current tech excels at. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Moss are where VR gets it right. You are part of the world but also in control, and almost parenting your avatar. There’s an unparalleled connection to them even though both Quill and Astro are rudimentary characters.
When Quill comes up for a high five or Astro gleefully waves at you as he splats into your visor underwater it feels like an emotional bond between the player and the plucky little protagonist. All of it benefits from the fact that you can generally sit down and in a sedate manner explore the world. You still have a 3D world enveloping you but there’s no real headbutting the patio door or face planting the carpet, fumbling around trying to pick up an interactive cup and saucer so you can put it into a cupboard.
There’s always a question asked about what would Nintendo do with VR. What would they do with two of the most iconic franchises in gaming? Surely no one would want to play as Mario where you don’t actually see him. Where you have to pretend to physically pick up a power-ups or jump so you could bounce on a Goomba. A first person Mario? I’d much rather it be like Astro Bot: a good old platformer.
Same with Zelda. Imagine a Link’s Awakening style outing that plays like Moss. Multi-tiered dungeons set up like dioramas. To me that sounds fantastic. To point out again, a first person Zelda with you having to stand and manually pick up rupees sounds pretty awful. The current tech simply does not mitigate motion sickness in reasonably fast paced games. It can only be played in short bursts. Playing Skyrim was pretty vomit inducing and I’d not want to play a Breath Of The Wild-sized game where 20 minute sessions were all I could stomach.
Until we can be induced into a controlled dream like state, via some microchip in your brain – where you don’t have to wear a VHS recorder-sized object on your face – then I don’t see anything other than third person games being the way forward for VR, if companies want to push it into mainstream culture. As ever though I’m happy to be proved wrong.
By reader Wonk
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