Why the Best VR Games Are Designed with VR Platforms in Mind

vr game loading human virtual reality

VR is a unique medium, and its full potential has yet to be realized. We know it’s great for gaming, that it’s a powerful new exploration of film, and that it has numerous other practical and entertainment uses, but we aren’t yet sure how far we can take it. What we do know is that you can’t beat an experience developed specifically for VR with one that’s simply upgraded from a 2D platform.

That’s not to say a ported game can’t be great—many of them are, especially those that felt like a natural fit for virtual reality before the technology was feasible. But those games that are made with this technology in mind enjoy a clear advantage, as they can make full use of the potential of the platforms they’re intended for.

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Fast or Slow? The Importance of Video Game Pacing

Life is Strange Slow Pace

There’s a moment in Life is Strange that reminded me strongly of my own time as a teenager. Not the intense teen drama or the time traveling, but rather one of the spaces in between. The early morning haze, a best friend’s bed, the quiet strains of “Bright Eyes” in the air—maybe this sounds cheesy, but when I played through that scene, I had to let the whole song finish before moving on. Though I had the option to interrupt it at any time, I couldn’t bring myself to end that quiet moment prematurely—I loved it too much.

Fast-paced action may be exhilarating, but there’s something to be said for a more introspective, quiet gaming experience, too. A faster pace lets you experience the thrill of being an action movie star, while a slower pace is typically more about embodying a character or exploring a particular story. Different pacing affects the tone, with each style representing a unique take on video game storytelling.

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The Little Things: Why Small Details Make a Big Difference in VR

Loading Human Details in VR

At the start of the 2010 movie Inception, a movie about creating believable dream worlds that fool their occupants, Saito, a wealthy businessman, realizes he’s dreaming thanks to an out-of-place detail. He spots that the material his rug is made out of doesn’t match up with reality, thus breaking his immersion and revealing to him that he’s trapped within a dream.

Virtual reality can be very similar to the rules of dreams within Inception—it’s the tiny details that make or break immersion. The believability of a game world hinges on the tiny touches that developers put in to make their worlds feel lived-in. Continue reading

See You in the Movies: How VR is Changing the Meaning of Cinematic Games

Exercise restraint in VR game design!

If there’s one word that describes many of my favorite games, it’s cinematic. What that means, however, can be a little nebulous. When I call Final Fantasy X cinematic, am I talking about the long, beautiful cutscenes, or the epic battles? When critics refer to the Uncharted series as cinematic games, does that mean the Indiana Jones-inspired stories, or the action sequences?

When we call a video game cinematic, we’re saying it somehow reminds us of a film. As games become more immersive and distinguish themselves as a unique art form, the exact elements that constitute a game being cinematic evolve, especially in the light of virtual reality.

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The Big Bluff: Believable Peril in VR Video Games

Peril in VR Video Games

You can’t die in a video game, right?

As much as developers try to make games feel authentic and immersive, players are always aware that what they’re going through has no real-world consequences. The stakes in a video game won’t carry into real life, and it’s hard to forget that.

With VR, there’s an opportunity to give players a more immersive experience than ever before. Continue reading

Five Classic Video Game Characters We’d Love to See (or Be) in VR

Game characters we'd love to see in VR

Have you ever come across a video game character you loved so much, you wished they were real?

Imagine carrying out a genuine conversation with your favorite NPC, watching them react to you as if you’re actually in the same room together. Or, perhaps you’d rather take on their persona for yourself, inhabiting their body and gaining their powers and attributes, seeing through their eyes as you explore their home world. Continue reading

How Different Storytelling Arcs in Games Shape Player Responses

Loft in VR video game Loading Human

Most stories tend to fall into similar structures. One of the best-known is the inverted check mark, something my writing instructors really hammered into my brain. You start with exposition, move into rising action, peak at the climax, and fall slowly into resolution. This formula, despite its very formal structure, allows for a lot of freedom in its implementation, especially when you consider that not all media need adhere to it in the same way.

Take video games, for example. It’s not out of the ordinary to spend a hundred or more hours in the same game, which can make for a rather strangely-formatted inverted check mark. That’s why games often do things a bit differently. While the traditional storytelling arc might still appear, it often deviates from the way it tends to manifest in books or movies. As games take on new release structures—such as the episodic format—alternate models surface alongside them. The three-act structure and inverted check mark simply won’t work for every story. But how do these varying structures impact the way players feel? Is there really any distinction between each form, or are they all just the same thing wrapped up in different packages?

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What You Don’t See: Unsettling Games Create Atmosphere Through Misdirection and Subtlety

Virtual Reality Demands A New Gaming Iconography

You know the goosebumps you get when you’re home at night and you hear something, somewhere in the house rattling around? You could know for a fact that it’s your cat playing with a toy, or your roommate moving furniture, or your upstairs neighbor stomping around, but there’s still a part of you that can’t help asking, “What if it isn’t?”

That feeling isn’t blatant fear, not exactly. Moments like these are more unsettling or discomforting than anything else. They come not from what we know to be true, but what we don’t know, and when games aim to capture this feeling, the stories they tell are often more powerful than those that simply try to scare the pants off us.

The difference between fear and being unsettled is subtle. So what is it that goes into making unsettling games over outright horror?

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The Spark of Humanity: Believable NPCs in VR Games

Believable NPCs in VR Games

Let’s face it—video game characters can be a little weird.

Take the Phoenix Wright series, for example. Every single character in the game is designed to stand out as an unusual, entertaining, and quirky individual. The game is built this way both to make text-heavy gameplay more enjoyable and to help the player keep each character separate in their mind.

While this kind of flamboyant character design is fine for traditional gaming, virtual reality requires a little more nuanceTo help sell an immersive experience, characters have to be believable. What’s more, considering the in-your-face nature of the virtual reality experience, there’s a danger that over-the-top characters within games can startle or disturb the player more than is intended. Continue reading