Sony, HTC and Oculus are making their early bids to be the games giants of the fully- immersive Virtual Reality market, what the boosters promise will be a revolution ushering in a new era in gaming.
You'll see lots of people trying out new things. It's the new frontier of gaming, nobody knows what works and what doesn't work, we all get to try it
Headsets are already appearing on sale from the big industrial players; the Oculus Rift is available now while Sony’s new PlayStationVR lags until October.
Independent games developers are also breaking into the new dimension.
London’s latest indie-centric EGX Rezzed three-day event saw video game developers from the booming UK indie scene, and from further afield, present their creative takes on VR.
Experts say independent producers are well-placed to capitalise on the new trend in virtual reality.
“There’s huge interest in VR just across the industry and as usual, the independent developers are doing the most interesting stuff. There are some really kind of cool little projects, doing really interesting kind of quirky things with the platform and that’s as VR headsets become more popular, you’ll see probably more indie games than you will see from the big publishers,” says games expert John Hicks.
For example there is Italian-based games developer Tiny Bull Studios, which was showcasing its latest VR title, called ‘Blind’.
Gamers play as a young girl who wakes up in a strange house with no memory of how she got there and without the use of her sight.
Instead, they must explore their surroundings using sound. Sending out sound waves briefly reveals the landscape, before it fades back into nothingness.
Rather than crafting a huge, immersive VR landscape, Tiny Bull CEO and founder Matteo Lana says his team tried to put an interesting twist on virtual reality, by focusing intensely on a single feature.
“You’re blind, of course, which is weird in VR. But you have some sort of ability, sort of like ‘Daredevil’, so you can use echo location, you can use sound to navigate the world around you. The challenge is to have the players use their other senses. So, we’re relying on haptic feedback and, of course, on audio.”
There is a multitude of advantages for game makers in the virtual world just waiting to be explored, says Richard Bang, Games Designer, Programmer and Artist at British games studio Freekstorm.
“It gives you the opportunity to allow the players to become much more immersed in the environment. When they’re playing the game, they can forget that the real world exists, there’s no borders at the edge of the screen, the whole game is all around them.”
Freekstorm’s VR contender is ‘Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game’.
The single-player 3D adventure puzzle game has three individual characters, each with their own special power, that you need to coordinate to outwit the evil Doctor who has lost his mind and rules over an intergalactic reality TV show.
Gamers explore extensive 3D environments, using a dynamic camera view which allows them to play from various perspectives.
“The advantage that the indies have is we can try anything,” says Bang, and it is not just about creative freedom. It is also about money in what is now a multi-billion euro industry. “We’re not tied to big triple-A budgets, we don’t have to play it safe, so you’ll see lots of people trying out new things. It’s the new frontier of gaming, nobody knows what works and what doesn’t work, we all get to try it and we see what works,” he says.
Germany’s Application Systems Heidelberg is presenting something completely different. ‘Carpe Lucem’, where gamers solve tricky puzzles by making flowers bloom using the power of light rays.
With the addition of VR hand controllers, players can guide and adjust light rays with their hands.
The relaxed environment is intended for players to gently become completely immersed in the virtual world. Out now, it is HTC and Oculus Rift-compatible.
“We wanted to create a calm entry experience to VR, we did’t want to make people sick, so it’s a very meditative and slow-paced, no pressure kind of game,” says ASH’s Director Volker Ritzhaupt.
How long will that attitude last? About 10 seconds it seems as PlayStation was already letting punters play with unreleased more mainstream games and its new VR console. The Sony machine is poised and ready to strike.
This year’s EGX Rezzed London show was the biggest in its history with over 160 playable games on the show floor.