Horror games seem a natural match for virtual reality, but jump scares are an easy way to lose players like me. I can appreciate a good creepy atmosphere, some spooky music, a general sense of unease, but a jump scare just makes me angry, especially with technology as immersive as VR.
If being so close to the action (thanks to the headset and surround sound) and having each threat feel a little more visceral is what some players want, it’s also a dealbreaker for others. With VR being such a new field, devs are still figuring out what they can and cannot (and should and should not) do with the tech to appeal to audiences. While we’re still early in virtual reality’s home use, it’s already becoming clear that there are some issues that should be sweepingly addressed in all VR games.
Sometimes an over-the-top chaotic experience can be a good thing—I’m an unabashed fan of the Wachowski’s Speed Racer film, despite its dizzying visuals and extreme color palette. But it can also be a distraction, as in the Transformers movies, where so much is happening at one moment that it’s hard to discern one character from the other.
Sometimes I don’t think modern gamers realize how lucky they are when it comes to color in games.
Leaving aside the grayscale adventures of the original Gameboy, even color consoles from back in the days of pixelated artwork had pretty strict limitations when it came to how many colors they could actually display on screen at any one time.
A few weeks ago, I played the retro game Flashback on the Sega Genesis for the first time.
It’s a complex game with a lot of story to it, where players live out a science fiction fantasy by taking a job as a mercenary as they try to reveal their character’s lost memories.
Of course, I missed all of this nuance—I was playing the game in a speedrunning race against friends (who were already familiar with it), and was bashing my way through cutscenes and expositional dialogue as fast as possible. Because of this, I got incredibly frustrated with the game: I found myself running in circles, having missed clues about what I needed to do, and every new assignment felt like a chore.
‘Where’s the bathroom?’
It’s a question I like to ask myself a lot in video games.
Obviously my character doesn’t actually need to use the restroom—it’s a matter of realism for me. When I enter a spaceship or a military base for the first time, I’m always curious to find out how carefully the designers have paid attention to the little things that otherwise might be overlooked.
E3 2016 proved what many VR game developers were already well aware of: that virtual reality is gaining momentum, and that the future of gaming will definitely feature VR headsets.
Between big name studios such as Rocksteady, Capcom, and Square Enix increasing their virtual reality efforts, previously announced games like Eagle Flight gaining traction, Microsoft’s announcement of VR integration with its future console endeavors, and even news that the upcoming Nintendo NX will feature VR compatibility, the VR landscape is becoming increasingly diverse as many major studios look to find a way to make their mark on the virtual reality games medium.
From simple bleeps and bloops to a full orchestral soundtrack, there’s no denying that music drives emotion and intensity within a video game.
Whether it’s the gradual increase in the music’s speed that heightens the tension within Tetris or the epic end-game battle music in any Final Fantasy title, it’s easy for a game to ramp up excitement and push players into a state of adrenaline.
But what of the opposite? How easy is it for games to create subtle moments of storytelling through their music? Less obvious uses of music are a requirement for virtual reality games in particular, so that the game’s immersion isn’t broken by swelling orchestral chords or out-of-place, up-tempo music.
So how can VR games get music right? What’s the perfect balance of game music in virtual reality, and how can developers achieve the best possible storytelling through a VR game’s soundtrack?
Writers, filmmakers, and game developers don’t just draw their inspiration from their own field—like most other people, they consume a variety of stories that can inspire them to try new things in their own work.
However, there are some limitations in where you can mix and match media. Books are a largely text-based medium, (usually) without the visual component of film, while film often lacks the internal narrative of books. Games can mix both, but also include an interactive aspect that most other media do not. And in virtual reality, where you physically embody a character or even yourself in a virtual space, that opens the possibility for even more.
There are two approaches to creating characters in games: make them just like you (but better), or make them entirely unlike you. I’m generally in the second camp; I’d rather have an adventure as someone other than myself. That includes protagonists whose stories are already masterfully crafted; your Nathan Drakes, your Lara Crofts, your Chells, all characters with backstories and personalities that may not resemble yours in any way.
All is quiet.
A second ago, red hot flames surrounded me. Flashing lights and warning sirens distracted me as I shuffled my way out and through the door. Everything was a roar of chaos, noise, and explosive color.
Now, for just a second before I push back into the maelstrom, everything is static. All noise is gone, save only for my own heavy breathing. The reds and oranges of the fire are replaced with cool blues and grays as I stumble across the only part of the spaceship that’s not ablaze.
Under different circumstances, the view of stars and planets that can be seen through the tear in the ship’s hull would be calming and awe-inspiring. But thanks to the destruction that I’ve just passed through, now the absence of noise and warm colors only serve to make my experience all the more suspenseful.