The Exigent Duality
VR Headset Game Concept - 14:15 CDT, 6/19/22 (Sniper)
I mentioned in this post that I bought a PlayStation VR unit, and I've been exploring various games for it. Last night I started "Skyrim VR", and I have a lot to say about it.

To get the negative out of the way, I don't think lengthy RPGs as a genre work well with virtual reality headsets. Motion sickness isn't even the primary issue: it's just not comfortable to have a box strapped to your face, with rubber around your eyes, a cord draped around your neck, being totally unaware of the real-life room around you, being basically unable to interact with family members in any kind of meaningful way, fumbling to figure out where you'd set your drink, needing to consume that drink via a straw-- which takes further pre-planning-- and so forth.

But now, to the positive: in VR, the cart sequence at the beginning of the game was absolutely mind blowing. For the millions who have played some iteration of "Skyrim" or another, you will recall that your character is sitting on a wooden bench, alongside some also-sitting NPCs, all being driven to your executions. During this ride, the characters are chatting: one is a brave heroic type resigned to his fate; another is a cowardly thief; yet another is a mute-yet-referred-to hero, with a gag in his mouth.

Now picture this familiar opening, but with stereoscopic 3D: you are in the freaking cart, looking around with your actual head, just like you'd do in real life, taking in the interactions of those around you. A father shepherds his child into the house as the cart passes, the curious child begging him to be allowed to watch. I felt embarrassed to look at those curious onlookers, just like I'd be in real life.

VR takes a scene like this from ho-hum and mostly forgettable to unbelievable levels of immersion.

Unfortunately, as soon as the actual gameplay starts, the title essentially falls apart, for the reasons I state above. When you are forced to suddenly dive into the "meat and potatoes" of a deep, complex, largely menu-driven RPG, where you're staring at reams of text, mentally processing character stats and making equipment decisions, the whole VR headset thing becomes a real drag: you'd rather just play on the TV at that point.

This leads me to a game idea: why not distill the essence of what makes the opening cart ride so memorable, and make an entire title out of just that? Perhaps it could take place in a small city, at night, with a super atmospheric chip music soundtrack, and you'd spend your time sitting in bars, listening to banter for hints, or on subways people watching for clues? Then you'd take what you've learned, and use the incoming PSVR2's 3D controllers to go down decrepit rat-filled alleys, lifting trash can lids based on some clue, or shifting paintings to the side in bug-filled motels, looking for a hinted-at hidden safe?

It could be like that old "Sherlock Holmes" game on 3DO, but all in real-time versus pre-recorded FMV.

The only area where the "Skyrim" cart ride falls down is in the circa-2009 character models and textures. But that won't be an issue with a PlayStation 5 driving the proceedings: the world could use cutting-edge graphics technology, but its scope could be kept to a small, water-tight game world primarily for budget purposes, but also for performance reasons.

As "Astro Bot Rescue Mission" and, conversely, "Minecraft" and "Skyrim" have all clearly taught me, bolting VR onto an existing game concept has limited appeal: it's novel for a few minutes, but gets old quick. Where VR headsets really shine is in experiences designed just for them. The kind of game I describe above would be boring on a TV-- but in VR, all of the emotion of being in the game world could make it a life-long, unforgettable experience, if it was done right.