As virtual reality becomes more and more available, many developers are looking for new frontiers to expand the experiences offered by the tech.
For Netherlands-based Vertigo Games, that next frontier is what they call “location-based virtual reality.” It’s essentially high-quality VR experiences where players aren’t tethered to a PC or even to the confines of room-scale. It’s similar to the full-body VR experience called “The Void,” which has popped up in various cities over the past year.
Vertigo Games designs, and now publishes, games that are meant to be played within larger confines, allowing players to roam about with headsets and backpacks which have all of the necessary tech to give play a full VR game.
At a Vertigo Games demo hosted at the Game Developers Conference on Thursday, they showed off three new titles, two of which were examples of this “location-based virtual reality.”
The first was a pirate-themed escape room simulator called “The Corsair’s Curse.” In the slice of the game demoed, two players must work together to solve a series of puzzles in order to break out of their prison. After donning a costume of your choice, the two players are placed within the hull of a virtual pirate ship. However, one player is extremely giant, while the other player is extremely small, and in the hull of a model pirate ship.
As the tiny player, the sense of scale was pretty neat as my co-op demo partner lifted up the model’s ceiling to reveal me. Though we didn’t complete the puzzles in the limited time provided by the demo, it was still a relatively engaging experience that required us to communicate a lot with each other in interesting ways, though the microphone/headset components seemed a tad buggy.
The second game in the demo was an update of Vertigo’s lead title “Arizona Sunshine,” a zombie apocalypse shooter, called “Arizona Sunshine LB VR Edition. Me and another person coordinated our way through hordes of encroaching zombies as we slowly deployed a missile, the purpose of which was never made clear. It was simple and mindlessly entertaining. Once I fully understood the expanded limits of the virtual space in which we played, I did grow impressed at how that space, and our ability to weave around each other, was used. Though I wish it offered more variation in its gameplay and engaging puzzles, it would definitely stand out as an enjoyable experience with friends at a VR arcade.
The final game I played was another update of one of Vertigo Games’ previous titles called “Skyworld: Kingdom Brawl.” Played on the Vive Focus, HTC’s new standalone headset, the game was not part of the new “location-based virtual reality,” but it was enjoyable. Essentially, “Skyworld: Kingdom Brawl” is a clone of the mobile multiplayer hit “Clash Royale” played in VR. You have a selection of four cards representing forces to deploy as you target an opponent’s two towers and base castle. Each of the forces has a mana cost that gradually refills over time. It seemed a little trickier to direct where to deploy the forces than in “Clash Royale,” though the terrain was more varied and interesting than the mobile game.
Though their games are all on the usual suspects of VR marketplaces like Steam and the Oculus Store, Marketing Director Kimara Rouwit made it clear that Vertigo Games considers itself mostly a business-to-business entity. They largely work with emerging VR arcades on equipment and experiences that would match their clientele the best, and offer their own custom launcher and scaleable advice for what arcades could offer.
“We’re in a luxury position,’” Rouwit said. “We have so many quality titles and a lot of these arcades find us. Ease, that’s what we try to offer.”
The decision to expand the offerings of the games they developed to “location-based virtual reality” was informed by the continued change in the VR landscape. Many VR arcades have popped up all over the world, but so has the home availability of the headsets. The barrier to entry has lowered with products like PlayStation VR and the Oculus Go.
“As people get more access to headsets, the booth businesses will go away,” Vertigo Games’ Managing Director Richard Stitselaar said about the current set up of many VR arcades, in which booths are set up to offer basic VR experiences.
He said that VR arcades could offer this “location-based VR” by merging two booths and having the same number of people paying to play.
To further future-proof their business, Stitselaar said Vertigo Games needed to consider larger experiences that people would be less likely to find in homes, and more likely to bring game players out to arcades. The scalability of their arcade packages can include a number of experiential add-ons like fans and haptic feedback.
Stitselaar said that the studio is testing with technology like a vibrating floor to enhance immersion.
“As a studio we want to keep pushing the technological boundaries of what is possible,” Stitselaar said. “Every new step, there is a new opportunity.”
Vertigo Games sees themselves as among VR’s pioneers and they are proud of their history with the technology. Stitselaar said that they were one of the original backers behind the Oculus Kickstarter and have been dedicated to seeing VR gain a greater following.
They said they have in-house relationships with many of the largest tech makers, which puts them in the unique position of being a publisher of games as well. Though they have only been publishing for a limited time, they say it has helped to further cement their place in the VR space.
“We see ourselves as a boutique publisher,” Rouwit said. “We are very curated. It’s all about quality first.”
That attitude and history have uniquely placed Vertigo Games in the industry. As the public’s awareness and curiosity about VR grows, so does the entrepreneurial interest in opening arcades and crafting greater experiences. Though Stitselaar did admit that the continuing evolution of virtual reality devices can make it challenging to develop and publish for arcades, they feel the enthusiasm in the emerging businesses has greatly helped spread awareness and use of the technology.
He said that they always put themselves in the shoes of players because, in the end, that’s what they are.
“I think it’s about passion,” Stitselaar said. “These are the games we want to play as well.”
All of these new games will be available in the next few weeks on Steam, the Oculus Store and other platforms.