Where exactly do you begin when thinking about creating a virtual reality (VR) game? In this week’s VR Moments we hear from Rebellion‘s Steve Bristow, Lead Designer on the studio’s VR re-imagining of Battlezone who recalls those early days and how an experience triggered his self-preservation instinct.
When we first received our PSVR dev kits, they came with a few demos that Sony had made to show off the tech. One of them was a passive simulation of being in a shark cage which has you descending through strata of different marine life until you get to a shipwreck where a Great White appears and starts attacking the cage. Now, in common with many people who were of an age to be strongly influenced by the film Jaws, I have an intense predisposition against being within arm’s length of a metric ton of razor-toothed killing machine and the primitive reaction that demo triggered in me was astonishing. Of course, I knew I was standing in an office surrounded by largely trustworthy omnivores but, at the same time, I was in my worst nightmare. The effort it took to override the screaming monkey in my brain was the most powerful emotional reaction I’ve experienced in a non-real situation. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant sensation but the realisation that we had this incredible power to make people really feel something was a moment of epiphany.
The next was a demo of a game called Korix. It’s a very simple, stripped back RTS/Tower defence game rendered with flat-shaded cubes and spheres. Neat, but if played on a flat screen, unremarkable. However it taught me two things; firstly, that the range of games that were going to work in VR was much greater than I’d previously thought. It wasn’t going to be confined to first person on-rails stuff, third-person, tabletop, turn-based, whatever you need to make your game work, can (with a bit of thought around viewpoints and interfaces) work in VR. Secondly, that toy-like quality and the magical sense of scale you can achieve are new and intrinsically fun tools for a designer to play with. The sense of immersion that we’ve spent out careers trying to achieve, the tricks and techniques we’ve developed or borrowed from cinema to draw players in and make them forget the world outside the game are just gestures towards what VR can actually deliver.