There are a lot of challenges involved in developing #VR games. The main draw of the technology—navigating a virtual world with your own body, seeing it with your own eyes—can also be a fatal limitation. How do you deliver a vast open world, difficult exploration, and safe (IRL) combat when the player is confined to their own room?
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It's always Sunny in Arizona
These are the issues that Vertigo Games, developer of VR horror game #ArizonaSunshine, are currently working through, with less than a month to go before the release on Dec 6. Arizona Sunshine has the player assume the role of a lone survivor during a zombie apocalypse, navigating through a dangerous wasteland trying to track the source of a radio signal that offers hope of other survivors.
Check out the trailer for the apocalypse:
The team at Vertigo Games are working hard to make the game as immersive as possible and still accessible to players. Some compromises have had to be made along the way. Initially, subtitles would appear in front of the player to convey the story or overheard dialogue. At first, this was simply a way to transmit information to the playtesters before voice acting had been recorded. However, subtitles are slated to remain an option, for the benefit of the hearing impaired.
There's also the issue of free movement in the virtual game world when you're more limited in your physical surroundings. You can walk normally around the environment as long as you stay within the bounds of your play area. For longer distances, you'll have to press a button on your controller, target a place on your map, and then teleport to your chosen location.
That's a neat, if counter-intuitive, solution for moving long distances in VR, but what's to stop players from ruining the challenge by teleporting away from zombies whenever they're in trouble?
To counter that, the devs at Vertigo implemented a stamina bar, which depletes when you fast travel and takes time to recover.
Arizona Sunshine's survivor isn't going to have an easy time of it. It's an immersive, gritty survival horror game, which doesn't hold your hand in combat. There's no way to track the ammo on your gun except your own common sense. Forget your bullet count, and you might wind up on the wrong side of a zombie attack with nothing but the sickening click of an empty chamber between you and the monster.
Luckily, the game does start out with 'training wheels', a linear opening section to help players get used to VR, and making the right moves to reload their weapon. A 'gun belt', located by the distance between headset and controller when you stand with your arms by your side, needs to be manipulated with your arms to reload your gun.
Shooting in VR with a controller is very different from the using FPS experience of clicking a mouse when there's a target in the crosshairs. Guns in VR are three-dimensional objects and need to be handled with skill. You need to line up the front and back sights of the weapon in order to shoot straight, which takes some practice. Try it and you'll be glad of the introductory segment where you can hone your skills before being thrown into the deep end.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
That deep end is dark and scary. Think about it. You're in an immersive world with zombies, trying to keep your mind and body on exploring, keeping your ears strained for the sound of zombies, trying to keep a steady aim with no assisted targeting, and still remembering how many bullets you have chambered. Accuracy is paramount, since you really need headshots to take down the walking dead for good, lest their dismembered body parts keep crawling after you.
That's not even counting the sections of the game that take place in the dark, where you need to use a flashlight at the same time.
It's Too Dangerous to go Alone
The difficulty can be tweaked to make lining up those crucial headshots easier, but for a more intense experience, why not switch to hard mode and bring in a friend for backup? The entire campaign can be played in co-op, but having this 'help' can bring its own problems.
Two players can work together, with one player using the flashlight in the tunnels while the other takes care of gunplay, but it leaves you vulnerable if someone gets lost or doesn't co-operate. On the another hand, you don't want to be competing for ammo, or teleporting out when your friend needs your help against zombies.
Another hurdle of VR development now presents itself: How to animate the second player and get their movements right when you look at them. Their movements can be tracked, but it has the potential for weirdness, especially if the other player messes around with their headset and controller. Kudos to Vertigo for taking it on though, as it's going to add a huge dimension of potential fun to the game.
Countdown to Apocalypse
If you're keen to take on the zombie apocalypse in sunny Arizona, you'll have to wait until December 6 for its release on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The price tag is $39.99, in line with other games considering it's one of the most complete FPS VR experiences out there. Pre-orders are live, and you'll be able to hear first impressions of the game as reports come in from the closed beta.
Are you brave enough to take on zombies in VR?