*Disclaimer: This is an MRTV community article. The opinions, representations and statements made within the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of MRTV.*
I’ve got a new favourite game. Some people call it the ‘killer app’ on Gear VR, but search the Oculus Store and you will not find it. It is the most refined, visually impressive and immersive mobile VR experience I have played. It offers both an exhilarating single-player campaign, and fast-paced online multiplayer. It even has ‘room-scale’ positional tracking support; every step in VR is a step in the real world.
It’s a remarkable achievement, and no-one was paid to make it.
But before I continue, I need to backtrack. Its important to say how I got to this point. I have been driven away from Oculus Store – by the store itself. It is its own worst- enemy. I felt bad every time I opened it. I’d scroll and scroll, but there was not one game on there that got my interest. Every time I’d convince myself to ‘just try it’ – it always became very obvious, very quickly – there is no heart in these ‘experiences.’
The vast majority of the VR games available are not even superficially fun to play, let alone immersive.
At time of writing, there are thirty-six games in the ‘Top Selling’ category of the store. Seven of those titles were released in 2018. Eight in 2017, and the remaining games from launch of the platform. That is not a ringing endorsement for a thriving ecosystem. Does that even count as one that is still breathing?
The Oculus Go retail box boasts ‘1000+ apps, games and movies’ – ignoring the fact that this statement makes no sense at all (hundreds of thousands of films exist) – this does expose the fallacy at the heart of the Oculus Mobile storefronts. It’s quantity over quality – you are given the impression of great choice when in fact many of the titles on offer are the same experience, repackaged in a different wrapper. And much of it is poorly made. A wave-shooter is a wave-shooter, whether you are placed on a beach or in a cockpit of a spaceship.
Mobile VR gaming seems hopelessly under-funded and neglected. The entire game section looks like it’s a showcase for the best of home-brew, small development studios, or one man teams doing their best. But is it good enough? And what sort of impression is that creating for new-comers to VR?
Mobile VR – “Could do better”
By this stage, things might have been very different. The Oculus store on Gear VR could have seen VR editions of classic PC games rise to the top of it’s best selling list, while ground-up mobile VR gaming still sought to establish it’s own identity in game development and design. So many well-made titles could be optimized for performance, given a texture pack upgrade, and still offer an entirely new way to play for both first-time players and veterans of PC gaming. A huge number of man-hours had been pumped into these games originally, and it shows – as they remain fun and addictive to this day. An incredible back-catalogue of games; repackaged, reimagined and revitalised for mobile VR platforms.
A Gaming Goldmine
Games with rich, detailed worlds and exquisite gameplay already exist, they just need to be given a little attention and polish. Many PC games have had communities grow up around them, volunteers around the world working together to improve, extend and expand on the original game. For example, as of mid-November 2018, the entry for Half-Life (1998) on moddb.com lists thousands of maps, mods, addons and total-conversions – with more being released daily. There are clearly people out there that still see tremendous value in this game.
What other really incredible PC titles could be remade in VR? Games that would be a hundred times more fun than anything in the Oculus Go and Gear VR Store. What would it really take? Is this all an impossible dream?
Rediscovering a classic
Getting back to my new favourite game. As you would expect, I was now desperately seeking something more. The Oculus store was not delivering what I wanted. I turned to Google. I turned to Reddit. But the homebrew VR scene does not appear to have a central nexus of it’s own. Rather each platform (Daydream, Gear VR, Oculus Go) exist in their own siloed worlds. As I conducted search after search, scanned over endless topic titles – I saw a name. A name I had forgotten. And then I remembered, this game when it was ported to mobile handsets – it seemed like a technical marvel at the time. And now it was available in mobile VR.
The /r/quakegearvr subreddit sprang up in August 2015. The first mobile version of Quake VR arrived almost synchronistically with the PCVR version. Google Cardboard / Daydream support was released a few months later. Development is still active andlast month saw the addition of 3DoF controls (free movement of weapon) and support for ‘positional tracking.’
What do we know?
Quake for Gear VR with HD textures can run at a solid 60fps on a mobile SoC. And this port was made by a single person in their free time – what could a game studio with paid employees achieve? With the source code for Quake 1, 2, and 3 now available to anyone for free, and for use in any way they see fit; the doors are open for mobile VR development using these game engines. Custom Quake Engine FTE adds Vulkan api support to all three games, bringing with it significant performance improvements.
The best of the best in VR
And what other PC games would translate well as VR experiences?
Thief: The Dark Project (1998) seems like an excellent candidate. A game where you often need to move slowly and be very aware of your surroundings. You want to be completely immersed in the game-world. You need to be able to hear every sound, carefully peer around every corner. Being immersed will save your life.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (1998) is a tactical first-person shooter, that similarly requires careful planning and attention to detail. A VR edition would only amplify the existing depth of this game. VR versions of Interstate ‘76 (1997) or Need for Speed: High Stakes (1998) would immediately destroy every other racing game on mobile VR platforms. Or how about Sega’s Virtua Cop (1997) and House of the Dead (1998)?
What’s wrong with this vision?
Why are we not being given the opportunity to re-experience some of the greatest PC games ever made in VR. Is it technical. Is it that some games can’t run on mobile hardware no matter how much you prune and tweak? Is it that some games risk generating simulation sickness and would require a complete redesign to account for this?
With a first-person shooter, as in the case of Quake for Gear VR, all I had to do was slow down the player walking speed. But you want to move more slowly anyway; you want to be part of that world, experiencing it from this new and fantastic perspective. It can be a form of tourism, revisiting places you may have been to before (on a monitor) – but now from an entirely all-encompassing viewpoint.
Whatever the reasoning, the reality for me is that we live in a mobile VR gaming drought – and there is very little on offer that is able to quench my thirst. I can appreciate the appeal of designing from the ground-up, brand new and exciting VR projects – but that all takes time to produce results. Mobile VR hardware is getting more capable, and game development tools are maturing to offer greater performance and improved graphics – but why not look to the past for some inspiration and release ground-breaking PC games into VR for people to enjoy and explore like never before?