A few weeks ago, I was having lunch at a VR event when another attendee asked me a question. He wasn’t sure, he said, what kinds of apps and games really only felt in VR, rather than existing media on some other kind of screen. This is something that most VR enthusiasts have probably wondered about at some point, and given the media’s niche, it’s an open question. But if anything can give us any idea of where things might go, it’s the Game Developers Conference, which has slowly grown into one of the biggest shows of the year for virtual reality. I recently returned from GDC, and after spending hours with various headsets and motion controllers, I have five genres you could have fun with later this year – if you don’t already enjoy them.
To come up: Sparc
Released at the moment: Ripcoil, and no doubt Holoball, Danger ball, and Proton pulse
by Tron aesthetics have crept into many virtual reality experiences, but they are particularly strong in Sparc, an upcoming future VR sport title from EVE online CCP developer. Sparc (formerly known as Project arena) is a two player game similar to Pong, in which two trendy alien avatars fight around rings of light in an attempt to pass each other’s shields and score a hit. contrary to Pong, however, you grab, dodge, and physically throw. It’s like playing frisbee in cyberspace.
It’s hard to tell if Sparc will have enough complexity to keep it entertaining, but the simplicity of its formula is exactly what makes it appealing to developers. You can offer something that people could only get in VR with a simple map, some art resources, and some basic AI that players can train against. Ripcoil, an Oculus Touch launch title, is similar to Sparc – but with the addition of a glide mechanism that feels almost eerily real. And if you take it a step further you will find a lot of virtual tennis or Brick breakerstyle games with a Tron-like a neon sci-fi vibe.
To come up: Arktika.1, Killing Floor: Incursion
Released at the moment: Arizona Sun, Raw data, island 359, robotic recall
First-person shooter games became one of VR’s early big hopes, once developers realized that browsing rooms with a controller tended to disgust gamers. Since then, they have been looking for a replacement that is truly suitable for virtual reality. At first it meant a parcel wave throwers that either stuck players in one spot or let them move between a few spots. But it is difficult to add complex narrative rhythms, environments or enemy behaviors to it.
Increasingly, this is fixed with teleportation. Players move through a level by pointing (or looking) at a space on a map, pressing a button, and immediately moving there. Arktika.1 – produced by 4A Games, the developers of Metro 2033 – uses this mechanic in what looks like one of the most storytelling VR shooters yet. Its cards are full of cover points marked either blue (safe, but harder to draw) or yellow (riskier, but with a clearer line of sight). Behind them, players shoot at bandits, scavengers, and otherworldly creatures in a grim post-apocalyptic setting.
Another title coming out this year, Killing Floor: Incursion, is less dark and more popular. Its teleportation system helps players escape virtual zombies while fighting them with axes, knives, shotguns, pistols, and sometimes their own severed limbs. You can also play with a partner, which adds another layer of strategy.
First person spelling
To come up: Mage’s tale
Released at the moment: The unsaid, the path of the left hand, the sorcerer’s waltz, the wands
Casting spells in most video games involves pressing keys or occasionally drawing shapes with a mouse or controller. Motion controllers make this process much more satisfying, because all of a sudden you’re directly waving a wand or drawing glyphs in the air. Last year saw the release of two spell-based dueling games called The unsaid and chopsticks, and a Dark Souls-as an indie game called Left path.
But the newly announced Mage’s tale, developped by Wasteland 2 and Bard’s tale studio Inxile Entertainment, is one of the best versions of the concept that I have tried. In order to go through a series of dungeons, you will have to fight goblins with your magic, search for crevices and solve puzzles to obtain new ingredients, and use them to concoct new combinations of spells.
To come up: Blade & Soul: tabletop arena, brass tactics
Released at the moment: Dragon Front, Airmech: Command
I’ll be honest: I think the immersive table genre is a bit silly. In the abstract, I like the idea of reinventing things like card and strategy games as physical environments in virtual reality. Brass tactics is an interesting competitive strategy title with a nice faux-medieval flair. Based on a Korean MMO of the same name, Blade and soul is similar to mobile game Clash Royale; players cast animated spells and creatures on a board in an attempt to destroy their opponent’s fortress within a set amount of time.
But in Brass tactics’ In this case, the VR environment makes it harder to keep track of, as you have to keep swinging around the table to manage the units. (It also made me a little sick.) Blade and soul, the game is just not interesting enough to make me want to be completely immersed in it, rather than playing it on a tablet in bed. Yet this view is clearly not universal, and I’m willing to give the genre time to mature before making a final judgment.
To come up: Ghost Painting
Released at the moment: Kingspray Graffiti
It’s not quite a game genre – it’s more akin to a Quill or Tilt Brush style of paint application. But graffiti simulators offer something that neither of these tools offer: a structured and real setting. You are not doing art in an abstract sense, you are imitating a slightly transgressive style of painting in a mock alley, rooftop, or cistern. These simulators tend to put sharing and collaboration front and center, encouraging the sharing of images of your work or (in Kingspray case) painting on party walls.
Ghost Painting, a new experience of Robot recall (and Unreal and Weaponry of war) creator Epic Games, offers stencils to make painting even easier for people who might initially find it intimidating. Who knew that one of the funniest VR experiences you could have would be skeuomorphic MS Paint?