View Full Version : Exploring Virtual Reality

11-10-2016, 11:16 AM

Few would contest that 2016 is looking to become the year when VR truly breaks through as a consumer product. Yet, as always when a new medium launches it is not without growing pains. Relatively high buy-in prices, top of the line hardware requirements and a potential need for some serious space by your computer to fully enjoy the experience are just a few of the things keeping VR away from the mainstream audience. At least for now.

This article is not a review, nor will it give you an answer to ‘should I buy a VR headset’ and ‘which one is best for me’.

It’s a tale about what the VR experience can mean to someone and just how damn cool it is.


Modern day VR: Following the trend of successful reboots

Stay with me, the title makes sense. Virtual Reality cannot be considered a new phenomenon by far. Prophesized in the 1935 short story ‘Pygmalion’s Spectacles’, further explored in countless sci-fi novels and bastardized with fumbling gadgets like the Sensorama and Virtual Boy we understand that people have dreamed about entering alternate realities for the greater part of a century.
Yet up until 2012 the medium was considered all but dead; a pipe dream of futuristic technology held back by unobtainable levels of hardware quality, tracking difficulties and limited usability.


The Oculus Rift changed all that when they launched an immensely popular Kickstarter campaign back in 2011. Fortunately the campaign resulted in more than just enthusiasm and soon enough close to 10,000 backers had gathered over $2 million.
With that one event, Oculus VR convinced us gamers that maybe there was a glimpse of hope for this enthralling way of consuming entertainment.
Ever since that moment we VR-dreamers have seen several well respected pioneers enter the stage - such as Samsung, Sony and HTC/Valve – and the product grew from a ‘what if’ to full on ‘it’s happening (http://i.imgur.com/7drHiqr.gif)’

First Impressions

Stepping into the world of VR can be a little disorienting at first. You might think it’s just a new way to look at a screen – which is a fair assumption – but the whole idea of being able to truly move within the digital space is surprisingly mindboggling. Most will find themselves smiling uncontrollably through the first tech demo (or three, if you’re like me) just because you are suddenly in control.

Before I picked up my headset I kept looking into technical specs, reading reviews, researching things like the screen-door effect, tracking speeds and update frequencies. Yes, you will need a beefy computer. It is true that without 90+ hertz and an equally high framerate you might feel sick. Some things will be blurry. We are not used to ‘seeing’ pixels on a modern monitor and it is not a perfect experience.

Yet after a minute wearing one of the currently available commercial VR devices I realized these are pretty much non-factors. Because in its current form, it’s immersive, it’s fun and – to the most literal sense of the word – it’s truly amazing.

For a person such as myself this unlocks something… new. You see I don’t have the most vivid of imaginations. I dream about being late to airplanes or winning the lottery just to figure out the taxes I have to pay.

With VR I can suddenly partake in other people’s imaginations on a whole new level and the suspension of disbelief comes easily. As if the sole obstacle I had overcome in order to fully embrace a fictional setting was to, in the slightest of ways, affect it – to have consequence.

This technology is not perfect yet, VR has some ways to go. However, today I fully believe it is the next step for entertainment.

Daydreams no more

On the topic of dreams and immersion; many of us who have played games such as Dungeons and Dragons – or any pen and paper game for that matter – Resistance/Avalon and similar social games have most likely found ourselves daydreaming about taking it to the ‘next level’. Imagination only takes one so far, after all.

Yet once our beloved game of choice finally gets interpreted as a video game, or even a movie, there’s just something that is… lacking. You are so used to your character being you that seeing it digitally translated on a monitor and displayed in third person perspective leads to a very unsatisfying disconnection.

With Virtual Reality you are finally able to experience said dreams realized and digitalized from a first person point of view.
Close your eyes, put on the headset - take a deep breath - open your eyes and find yourself in a whole new world.


Cue a mysterious night in Gallowston

Dawn – a time for hope and new beginnings. Yet in the game of Werewolves Within it more often than not signals the end of someone’s story.
As your vision adjusts to the light you find yourself sitting by a roundtable in the small village of Gallowston, surrounded by confused villagers just like yourself. Some of them are out to kill you, others want you alive… or so they think. Little do they know you are one of the hidden werewolves and your objective is to wipe out the entire village through subterfuge and the occasional nightly murder.

This is Ubisoft’s Werewolves Within, based on a party game that is often referred to as Mafia, Werewolves or Town of Salem. A game usually played with a simple set of character cards, a storytelling game master and your wits alone – now translated into a virtual loop of villages being dissolved from within by malicious creatures of the dark.


Right now it is one of very few VR games that are aiming to offer a social experience while pushing some very interesting technology. Most prominent are the voice recognition features that change character animations depending on your tone. This could of course have been developed previously, as the technology is not inherently tied to VR, but the minute movements of characters and increased immersion from being inside the game drastically increase the value of a feature like this.

I had the privilege to borrow some time from Justin Achilli, Senior Game Designer at Red Storm Entertainment, and have him answer a few questions regarding their work on Werewolves.

What’s the biggest ‘victory’ VR gave you for Werewolves Within compared to traditional screens/methods?
The sense of presence – of sharing a virtual world with other actual players – is Werewolves Within’s biggest victory. Seeing the other players’ natural movements, locking eyes with them, communicating with them verbally and non-verbally really make you feel like you’re sharing the campfire or the town square with the other residents of Gallowston.

Do you have any personal secret strategy or tip to win your WW matches?
If you’re a Villager, ask, “Who wants to be the Ringleader?” Anybody who tells you they want to be Ringleader is suspicious! The Ringleader’s vote counts double, so anybody wanting to claim a double-vote right away is up to something. Something no good at all.

Also fun anecdotes are appreciated!
Once you get a few games under your belt, you start playing not only to figure out the other players, but, as Werewolves, to figure out how the other players are trying to figure you out so that you can figure out how to misdirect them without them figuring out that you’re misdirecting them.
If you know what I mean.

The other day we were playing and one of the engineers and one of the testers were each claiming to be the Gossip and each was accusing the other of possibly being the Deviant. Of course, no one wanted to risk eliminating the Deviant, so we all voted for someone else who was slightly less suspicious than these two Deviant-Gossips. As it turns out, they were both Werewolves, we eliminated a hapless Villager, and there wasn’t even a Gossip in the match. So let that be a lesson to you to never trust an engineer and always, always check which roles are possibly in your match. Still kicking myself over that one, three days later.

Are you looking to expand the game further?
We have a few new roles to debut and an avatar that hasn’t been playable in the demo builds, so keep your eyes open for those!

How do you see the future of VR for social games like WW?
I think social VR will really help make VR believers out of people once they experience it. The format is much more personal and immediate than in environments that don’t have the same immersion and presence. It’s a great way to make new friends and it’s a great way to spend time with existing friends, and is very similar to spending time together in physical proximity.

With that in mind, I think there’s tremendous opportunity for social VR to recreate and even improve games that thrive on mutual presence. Games like Werewolves Within that rely on communication, social cues, and information disparity are great examples. But so are other “around the table” games, like board or card games, or even table top RPGs. Social VR games like Star Trek: Bridge Crew take this concept to the next level, allowing you to experience what it’s like to be in a fantastical environment – and to share it with others.


Did any particular VR feature surprise you during development?
The emotes were always planned as a sort of light, fun, secondary system, but they have really bloomed. Not only do they do a great job of helping to increase the sense of presence, as it turns out, they’re very useful in the game when it comes to bluffing, planting seeds of suspicion for other players, or subtly indicating who needs to be eliminated. They add a level of expression, subtlety, and even humour that would be absent without them. A nod of appreciation goes to the character and animation teams, without whom the emotes could easily have felt clumsy and artificial.

Avoid doing the same mistakes as I – some tips for you

Let me leave you with some final words of wisdom, if one can call a small list of tips and tricks just that. For you that are somewhat interested in joining us VR pioneers, or simply plan to visit a friend, event or store which allows you to demo a VR device:

Don’t underestimate the tech demos. Some of them are incredibly well produced and contain large amounts of potential fun.
Use a VR Buddy System. You’ll move a lot and lose track of the world around you. With cables and expensive tech involved you should probably have someone watching you when you first give it a try.
Take breaks! Even if you do not get motion sick, don’t stay in longer than an hour or so at a time. There’s a high chance you do feel a bit sick after you take the headset off, or just suddenly get hit by a not-that-great sensation.
Do the things you wouldn’t normally be able to do in a video game, like…
Look around corners, under, over and behind obstacles
Kneel or even jump to change elevation for a new perspective
Turn and twist things with your controller(s)

So what’s next? A new VR headset just launched and another one was announced; several highly anticipated titles are on the brink of being released and every day more people learn about the magic that is Virtual Reality. If the trend doesn’t speak for itself, I’ll do my best to put it in words.

Virtual Reality has serious backing, pioneering developers are constantly dreaming up new ways of digital interactions and fresh angles to stories yet untold. This time it’s here to stay and finally see justice be done.

John ‘TotalyMoo’ Rickne
Community Developer

11-12-2016, 12:53 PM
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