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.
Taking Full Advantage of VR Capabilities
VR is not just a headset, nor is it just sound or controllers. The best VR games are those that make use of multiple features the technology has to offer rather than focusing just on the visual appeal. When a game is developed with a VR platform in mind, it’s more likely that they’ll make use of the entirety of the medium’s potential, rather than just focusing on the most exciting bits.
Minecraft is a popular VR port, but because it wasn’t made for VR, it misses out on some of what makes the medium so appealing.
Minecraft is a natural choice for VR—its first-person perspective, the fun of creation, and widespread appeal make it perfectly suited to a VR translation. And while the virtual reality version of the game has garnered positive reviews, one thing is clear—being up close to the action is fun, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the equation. It’s a good port of a much-beloved game, but its integration is primarily based on being closer to the world rather than making use of VR’s numerous other applications. Hearing a creeper sneak up on you with three-dimensional sound is no doubt impressive, but you can get much of the same gameplay from the mobile or desktop versions. It’s not bad, but it leaves the player wondering whether the port was truly necessary.
For comparison, take a VR-specific like Luna. Luna uses haptic feedback in the Oculus and Vive controllers to give the player information about what objects are interactive and which are not in order to limit the frustration of players struggling to figure out what they’re supposed to do. Likewise, the game incorporates visual depth into these interactions—sometimes players need to reach further for objects, making full use of virtual reality’s three dimensions. These kinds of innovations showcase the uniqueness of VR and demonstrate, even to skeptics, that it’s more than just a fad.
Discovering New Angles
VR has a lot of design potential, but many early adopters are taking the gimmick route over inspired design, especially when it comes to ports. Take Super Stardust Ultra VR—while it’s a great arcade game and the VR port is solid, it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the game other than a cockpit mode. It capitalizes on VR platforms without looking beyond the thrill factor, and while it isn’t a bad game, it pales in comparison to what could have been, had it been developed with VR in mind.
Then there are games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Available as VR or in standard form, the game does something unusual with virtual reality—rather than leaning on the thrills of up-close action, as you might expect from a game about bomb defusing, it instead relies on the isolation of a headset for its unique party game playstyle. Wearing the headset, one player attempts to defuse a bomb based on the instructions of one or more people combing through a hectic manual. It’s chaotic and fun, and takes VR design in a creative and exciting new direction.
Character interaction is the bread and butter of Loading Human, using VR to capture the impact of up-close conversation and emotion.
Likewise, Loading Human focuses not on explosions or up-close action, but rather on the ways that virtual reality can be effective for storytelling. It’s an emotions-driven narrative rather than an action-driven one, putting you in the shoes of a man who must make hard choices about the people he loves. Interacting with the environment as if you’re really there, communicating face-to-face with the game’s three-dimensional characters, and exploring the past and future of a man’s memories all combine to create a moving experience that’s second to none. Loading Human simply wouldn’t work as well if it wasn’t in virtual reality; your proximity to the characters and environments are its strength, something you just can’t have when you’re using a controller for a screen across the room.
VR Thrives on Innovation
Targeting game design for VR is vital to the medium’s success. A VR port with few additional features, if any, makes players question whether virtual reality is really worth the trouble (or the financial investment). A game that embraces the platform’s particular capabilities—whether it’s the isolation, the action, the three-dimensional spaces, or another fantastic angle we haven’t thought of yet—is one that proves the medium’s importance, not just in gaming, but in technology as a whole.
It’s not that ports can’t be good—Minecraft and Super Stardust Ultra VR are both beloved by many for their visual effects and additional features. But VR games developed specifically for VR platforms is what’s going to push the medium forward towards true innovation and make it a staple, rather than a trend, in the video game industry.
Loading Human combines the fun of classic adventures with the thrilling new possibilities of virtual reality. Order your copy of Chapter One today!