Last week, the world got its first taste of virtual reality with the release of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The reviews so far are generally mixed to positive, but given that it seems universally agreed upon that this is just the beginning of virtual reality technology, many have taken to eager speculation on the future of VR. Gamers are dreaming so big when it comes to virtual reality that those in the industry are having to temper the expectations of those awaiting the new technology. A few weeks ago, Oculus Story Studio’s Max Planck presented on the numerous limitations that the platform currently has, claiming that we are “years away” from the all-encompassing Holodeck-style VR that many are imagining.
Planck also brings up the (correct) concern that animators will have to learn how to make these worlds without using conventional techniques borrowed from film — cuts, camera tricks, and the kind of movie magic that has entertained us and has been ingrained into the heads of artists for nearly 100 years. The reality is that it will take many, many years, and a few innovative creators, to bring that level of detail to virtual reality, simply because no one knows how to yet.
This is evident in the kinds of games that are being released at launch with virtual reality hardware. The most well received games for VR platforms, at the moment, mostly seem to be oriented toward exploring digital environments, either to solve a puzzle or for the sake of exploration and fun. One of the best received games for a VR platform so far has been Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight, which is exactly what it sounds like — the player controls an eagle in a Soarin’ Over California-esque experience that allows the player to fly through a gorgeously rendered version of Paris.
There’s also Adrift, which is more or less a virtual reality version of Gravity. Other more established titles that focus on world interaction and atmosphere, such as Minecraft and Slender Man, seem to be on track to find success in virtual reality as well.
The trend in VR at the moment is toward simple concepts that demonstrate the unique things that VR can offer as a platform. This is, arguably, a very good thing, particularly for independent developers whose ambition is not to produce a great AAA FPS or action-oriented game. Instead of big-budget, action-packed adventure games, we should see more of titles that focus on immersive worlds, puzzle solving, and character development.
The trouble is that there’s little precedent to work from. We know, of course, to not expect much from a new console at launch, as the old gaming axiom goes, but virtual reality games may need a bit more time to grow as storytellers learn how to best take advantage of what is practically a brand-new medium. The technology is in its earliest stages, and at least for the moment, consumers should keep an open mind about the kind of content that we can expect.
Virtual reality could follow the path of moving pictures, which quickly evolved from a novelty carnival attraction into one of our most influential and lucrative world industries, or it could be the next Smell-O-Vision. There’s a lot of reason to be optimistic that this is a huge step forward in how we experience stories, but it will take some time and a few brilliant minds first.