Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Room-scale VR cripples games

Bethesda very recently announced at E3 that they will be adding VR support to Fallout 4.

Yay! My dreams of being able to play one of my favorite games in VR is becoming true?!?

Well, no. Not really.

You see, they are adding support for the HTC Vive. Using "room-scale VR". Which means a crippled game experience, with your typical "room-scale VR" limitations, in other words, you are limited to just standing around, pretty much confined to a laughably small space, shooting around. The only way to move larger distance is to point someplace with one of the controllers and pressing a button, which will immediately teleport you to that place. Oh, the joy.

Oh, and try to have a 2-3 hour gameplay session while standing up. Ouch. My feet hurt just from thinking about it.

AFAIK they have not announced whether they will add generic sit-down VR support with traditional controls (ie. just your regular old way of playing the game, just with VR headset and head-tracking support), but I have the feeling that they will not. (I hope they do, but I have my doubts.) I have the feeling that they will only provide the crippled "room-scale VR" support, and that's it.

This is, in fact, a perfect example of why I find VR to be so utterly disappointing. It cripples games. It cripples game mechanics and gameplay. It limits and restricts what can be done; it ties the playable character to a small confined space, without the freedom to move around larger distances, other than the kludge of "teleporting", which just sucks all the fun out of it.

Just think about it in terms of intense fights in traditional in first-person shooters: Hordes of enemies are attacking you, oftentimes charging at you head-on, and you need to keep moving if you want to survive! You have to dodge, you have to run backwards, you have to zig-zag, you have to circle around them when they keep shooting at you, and keep shooting at the charging enemies. You have to jump over ledges, you have to collect ammo laying around, sometimes you'll have to grapple with an enemy who grabs you, and oftentimes you have to run away from heavy enemy fire, and use the scene geometry tactically to your advantage.

Most of that goes down the drain with room-scale VR. You can't run backwards, you can't really zig-zag, you can't make fast dodging maneuvers, you can't run away, you can't run to an ammo cache 3 meters away from you to collect more ammo, you can't circle around enemies, you can't use the room layout and scene geometry for tactical advantage. The only thing you can do is to pretty much stand still and shoot around, at enemies whose attack patterns will have been dumbed down because of these limitations. Depending on the game, you might be able to teleport around even during an intense fight, making it really "realistic", with you teleporting around by magic. (Maybe in some games that will be an in-game feature: You are literally able to teleport around via magic or via some advanced technology. But still, you will be limited to pretty much standing still while shooting, with no possibility of maneuvering.)

The teleporting mechanic also sucks the fun out of just your plain old walking around exploring the surroundings. Not to talk how much it cripples any possibility of more involved (and fun) movement, such as climbing, jumping over chasms, swinging from poles, and outright parkour (think of games like Mirror's Edge and Assassin's Creed.) Good luck trying to sneak around, parkour your way stealthily to where the enemy is located, assassinating them, and then running away with alerted enemies at your heels. Yeah, say goodbye to all that. Say hello to standing still and shooting around.

The scary thing about all this is that it seems that everybody seems to think that the Vive is the future, the way to go, and that the sit-down gameplay is no good. Bethesda is but just one example of this. Unless room-scale VR flops completely, this will only get worse.

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