With development nearly three months underway, it is time to reflect a bit. Why build a VR game? What kind of game will it be, and why?
Why build a VR game?
There’s multiple reasons I’m building my own Virtual Reality game, as ambitious as it may sound. First, it’s a way for me to learn Unity and its endless possibilities. Unless you’re part of a large team, and have the resources to build your own custom engine, using a program like Unity or the Unreal Engine is imperative. It is to building a game as Word is to writing a document; it takes a lot of work out of your hands.
Second, it is my contribution to making Virtual Reality a success. With the introduction of VR devices like the Oculus Rift, Gear VR, Playstation VR and the HTC Vive, VR has found its way to the consumer market. The success of a new medium like this depends on the amount, quality and diversity of available content. Therein however, lies a chicken-and-egg problem: content creators are hesitant to turn to a medium that has not been adopted by the greater public yet; the potential audience is simply too small. Hardware creators take large risks when developing hardware that still needs content to become successful. And most users will not see the benefit of investing in this new medium until it is of sufficient quality and enough content is available. Thus, turning VR into a successful medium, requires ambitious hardware developers, content creators willing to jump into it, and early adopters that are excited by the potential of the new medium.
Legend of the Shadow Crystals (working title) is going to be a dungeon crawler adventure game, revolving around magic and casting spells. A lot of VR action games are variations on one of two concepts: wave shooters and first-person castle defense games. In wave shooters a player in a static position is attacked by groups of enemies at a time, and has to use his weapons to defeat them. In castle defense games, it is not the player but rather a castle that is attacked, and it is up to the player to defeat the enemies before the castle is sacked.
It is no surprise that many of these games popped up: with tracked controllers, we can let players experience shooting laser guns and bow and arrow quite like it would be in real life. On the other hand, locomotion is still an issue: moving a player avatar in VR while the player himself it standing still can cause motion sickness. Teleporting is a viable alternative, but it is a mechanic quite different from what is standard in non-VR games, and this has to be taken into account when designing the game. Wave shooters and castle defenders incorporate the awesome new possibilities without having to worry about locomotion.
While these games serve well to showcase the possibilities of VR, their replay value is limited. One would rather envision a game that takes advantage of the possibilities of VR to create a compelling and immersive world for the player to explore.
Virtual Reality allows users to experience things that are impossible to experience in real life, and one thing that speaks to the imagination of almost anyone is magic. Magic is a recurring topic in popular culture, and movies like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and various cartoons give most people some idea of what it would be like to wield arcane powers. What would be more awesome than being able to wield magic powers in a Virtual Reality game, and feel like the heroes of these movies.
Of course, there is a problem here: magic is not real, and so the laws that govern it are up to the imagination of whoever creates a universe wherein magic plays a role. Wielding magic usually seems to require some verbal component, some gesturing with the hands, and sometimes wielders seem to draw some form of power from within themselves.
The question is then, how to translate this to a Virtual Reality game? To do justice to the possibilities of VR, we can not just let the user press a bunch of buttons to cast spells, but rather would have to let the user use motions and his voice to do so. This requires voice and speech recognition, as well as recognizing different motions made by the user and differentiating between them, both difficult problems that are the topic of many a PhD research. Rather than focus all my effort on trying to implement this, for now this will be on the backburner, hopefully to be tackled later on.