VR’s Best Environments Are Making Themselves Known:
We’ve had about two years of mainstream virtual reality now, and it feels as if we’re finally transitioning from interest in products to interest in games. For the better part of the last two years, most of our focus in this budding tech industry has been on the actual devices that facilitate VR. We’ve been fascinated by reports and demonstrations of the top headsets (like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift), as well as by the competitiveness of headsets in different price ranges, from Samsung Gear VR to PlayStation VR. Watching the market for devices taking shape has been a whirlwind, and a very interesting one.
Now that the devices are largely known commodities however we’re starting to see more focus on games. Already there is significant variety in VR gaming experiences – but it may be fair to say that the category has begun to reveal its best environments, or at least the types of environments developers most like to focus on. These are a few that have begun to stand out.
Back in November of 2015 an article reviewed a program called Earthlight VR by calling it the closest you can get to outer space without leaving Earth. It wasn’t a bad description, and that program came out more than two years ago. Since then VR has already gotten more sophisticated – or at least developers have caught up to the technology. We’re now finding that several of the best and most immersive games take place in outer space environments. Not all of these offer a realistic take on space, as Earthlight VR did – but the idea of setting games beyond the boundaries of Earth is clearly one that VR developers are intrigued by. Some of these games are about exploration, some involve solving mysteries, and some are about combat with extraterrestrial beings. There’s no sign that the development of these types of games will be slowing down anytime soon.
Steampunk has always made for an interesting concept for video game settings, because it can be as imaginative as any developer wants it to be. Already there are numerous titles, including Steampunk Skyship, SteamDolls VR, and Rooms: The Unsolvable Puzzle, all of which are fairly impressive visually. But this is also an interesting setting to keep an eye on because of its potential as a sort of background theme for simpler VR games as well. We know that puzzle style games are popular in VR (and AR), and with all kinds of cogs and gears and metal contraptions, steampunk lends itself well to this category. We’ve also seen steampunk used in casino gaming, a genre that will be transporting its more vivid experiences to VR sooner rather than later. The game “Steam Power” has become one of this category’s best titles, transporting gamers to “an adventure at the height of the Industrial Revolution.” Games like these are built to en
hance a setting category that has already produced interesting VR titles.
Small, Dark Rooms
If you aren’t familiar with VR (or with modern gaming in general) this might sound strange, or even pointlessly limiting. If the idea of VR is to bring about sensational virtual environments, why would we limit any of them to “small, dark rooms.” Well, one reason is that movement is an imperfect concept in VR. Navigating a larger map and performing physical motions can be awkward or even unsettling. Thus, a lot of early VR experiences have focused on making very detailed, thoroughly engaging, but small rooms full of action or mysteries. Even a game like London Heist: The Getaway, which was an action-packed shooter, began with escaping from a small, mysterious, lifelike room that eases you into a VR setting. Experiences are getting bigger – in fact, the follow-up to The Getaway has been called London Heist on steroids – but there’s still value in little mysterious settings, as much as in bigger and more diverse environments.