About one year ago, the official consumer launch of virtual reality (VR) hit the shelves.
Over the course of the past year, most early adopters of VR have found it hard to pinpoint one definitive experience that justifies the barrier to entry: a must-play, system-selling game. Why is that?
There are many new design challenges the VR platform presents. While not quite as history-defining, in many ways it’s reminiscent of the transition from pixels to polygons. Developers have to think differently about games, and the technology of VR forces this change in the industry.
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is a game that thinks differently.
Resident Evil VII shows traditional control methods can work in virtual reality.
One of the earliest challenges faced by VR developers was how to treat player movement. When players can move around in 3D space and their movements can be translated 1-to-1 in game, how can that allow players to explore vast environments beyond the physical limitations of walking around a living room? How can this be solved in a way that won’t make people sick? One answer is the “cockpit” solution, where players are placed directly into some sort of traditional gamepad-controlled vehicle. While this works for aerial and tank combat games like Eve: Valkyrie and Battlezone, this solution puts design constraints on other developers.
Capcom found an answer that feels similar to the cockpit solution, while putting players in control of a human character.
Resident Evil VII (RE7) is played like any other non-VR game—left stick move, right stick camera. Given VR’s nature of having unrestricted camera movement, RE7 complements this by letting players change the direction Ethan (the main character) faces by 30 or 45 degree increments. This means players never have to turn their head 180 degrees in a seated position to backtrack down a hallway. Every moment of action is right in front of the player. It pulls it off without feeling cumbersome, and does so without making players feel motion sick. Capcom’s success at answering the question of movement and control is critical in the infant stages of the VR industry.
Resident Evil VII brings the production value and substantiality that most of the year one VR market lacks.
In a sea of early access shooting galleries, RE7 feels like a breath of fresh, Louisiana air. It’s meaty, polished, and easy to play for long sessions without feeling the need to stop due to fatigue. RE7 really shows what VR is capable of, given the budget. It’s easy to say “throw money at a project and it’ll be better”, but production value and polish aren’t a one-way street. It’s a business risk to dump millions of dollars into more animators, programmers, artists, more QA, etc., on a game with a selling point in VR. Capcom desperately needed this game to be good, especially coming off the heels of the profoundly disappointing Street Fighter V.
Bottom line: if virtual reality is going to be a multi-billion dollar industry, there needs to be consumer confidence.
There needs to be assurance that these kind of large, big budget experiences will continue to exist in VR. There needs to be justification that the cost of VR headsets can be rationalized to players lying beyond a niche market. Large publishers need confidence that VR can be a lucrative venture, something worth putting serious marketing dollars behind.
The industry desperately needs these success stories. Capcom has laid out the blueprint for AAA VR, hopefully others can follow suit.