At E3 2015, Insomniac Games, the studio behind games including Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive, showed off its first VR effort, the action adventure game Edge of Nowhere.
While many VR game experiences put the player in the first-person vantage point, Edge of Nowhere opts for a third-person perspective in which the camera follows the player avatar.
It gave me an unusual feeling – I felt a bit like an omnipresent puppet master, moving a detailed action figure over collapsing bridges and under hulking monsters.
“Our expertise is making a lot of third-person style games, so we wanted to put that in the VR medium,” says Brian Allgeier, creative director on the game. Oculus, which is fully-funding the game, was showing Edge of Nowhere in its E3 demo room.
“One of the biggest issues we ran into was we can’t rotate the player’s head, we can’t rotate the camera,” he says. Indeed, the right stick does not rotate your vantage point – it’s fixed. “If you let players control the camera, that causes discomfort. So we had to relearn how to build environments and build spaces that accommodate a trailing camera that works well for the hero.
“We tried a number experiences early on for a couple of months where we’d prototype with white box environments,” he adds. “We’d create setups that would have the hero round a 90-degree corner but the camera would clip through the wall, which would be very unsettling.”
“All the levels have to be laid out in what we call a ‘north-facing’ camera,” says Allgeier. He says it’s a good idea to give clear visual cues to players so they know when the camera is about to move. As an example Allgeier explained how in Edge of Nowhere, when you move the stick to move the hero, the hero starts to move, and then the camera starts to move. “The brain then prepares for the motion that’s about to occur, so it’s not as shocking to players,” he says.
Edge of Nowhere, so far, seems like a pretty good argument for “traditional”-styled games that are in VR that use a gamepad. A lot of the VR demos I’ve seen so far are about full-room experiences that hint at the Holodeck. But the sit-down, gamepad-based experience has actually improved quite a bit since developers first started playing with VR dev kits.
In other words, it’s totally feasible to create a game that has the familiar feel of a TV- and gamepad-based third-person action adventure game, but specifically for VR.
Along with supposed design limitations, such as a fixed camera, designers have opportunity in VR. “When developing [non-VR] 'screen' games, we were conscious about not blind-siding people, and making sure that something very tall or towering wasn’t too big, where you couldn’t look up at it, because it’s kind of awkward to move the right stick around while you try to do other things.
“So with this game, we realized we could put a big, lumbering giant in there. We could have enemies chase you, because you can just turn your head and glance back at them, using your head to look around. It’s like we’re adding a third appendage to gaming here.”