We’ve now had nearly a year’s worth of virtual reality news. So far in 2016 we’ve seen countless app and game exhibitions, as well as the public release of some of the major headset consoles we’ve been hearing about for some time now. The competition is on as those consoles’ creators and game developers race to establish their own success and superiority in VR. But what is it, exactly, that seems to be working so far? That’s difficult to say with any clarity, because there are already a lot of VR games out there, and it’s a little too soon to definitively say which ones are selling the best or resonating the most with players. But based on early indications, reviews, and the general quality of some of the games, we’ll highlight a few of the components that seem to put these titles in a position to succeed.
It may seem as if this one goes without saying, but the reality is that even with modern capabilities in game design, VR poses new challenges for developers. A lot of the cheaper, or more hastily designed, games have a somewhat crude look to them. It’s still visually engaging, simply because it’s in virtual reality, but the graphics on occasion look as if they’re pulled from consoles one or two generations back. For instance, you can certainly find Nintendo GameCube games with sharper visuals than at least a handful of mainstream VR games. For this reason, the ones that go the extra mile with the visuals appear to have an early edge, at least when it comes to generating excitement and representing themselves through demos and trailers. Some of the best examples are the early VR releases from Crytek, the same studio behind games like Far Cry, Crysis, and Ryse: Son Of Rome. The Climb, an Oculus rock climbing game with a wonderfully imagined world, made a splash early on as one of the more impressive VR games on the market. Robinson: The Journey, an adventure game incorporating frighteningly realistic dinosaurs, was viewed as one of the more beautiful VR games on display at E3 this summer. Games like these have been so eye-popping from a visual standpoint that they eclipse a lot of simpler, but still clever, VR concepts.
VR developers will find creative ways to incorporate physical motion, but right now it’s still a little tricky to find middle ground between visual and audio immersion and physical movement. This is why we’ve seen the shooting genre this year dominated by duck-and-cover situations and rail shooters, as opposed to those that require running, walking, or jumping. Perhaps more interestingly, this is why there have been a few different types of table games making the rounds as well—potentially opening the door for a genre that’s hardly made a ripple in other modern console markets. There have been VR board games, tabletop role-playing games, and even billiards. Best of all, there’s already a poker game that’s been released. Games like these require very little movement, but are still made incredibly engaging through visual immersion and, in some cases, direct competition. And they could just be getting started, when you consider how similar games have evolved on the internet. In addition to poker tournaments and the like, you can now find blackjack rooms with live dealers online, as well as similar experiences for roulette and certain types of poker among other classic table games. These games simulate real life casino tables in an incredible manner thanks to real time sights, sounds, dealers, and competition. The VR poker game isn’t as sophisticated yet, but it’s certainly set the table for a whole run of table games that thrive on immersion without motion.
Understandably, a lot of VR developers have been trying to bring about entirely new experiences for players. For instance, Oculus is supporting a game called Lucky’s Tale that’s been billed as VR’s answer to Super Mario 64. Rather than adapt the known platform by working out a partnership with Nintendo (granted, something easier said than done), developers have just crafted a similar but different game. But it also stands to reason that familiar games— like those embracing established franchises or spinning off of popular films—will be among the most popular upon release. VR represents a bold new medium that still has excited and experienced gamers a bit unsure, and ideas like continuations of the Fallout and Star Wars: Battlefront series can be reassuring with their familiarity. This is not at all a comprehensive list of everything that works on VR, but in the early days it seems that these are some of the elements that work best and help to get players most excited. It’ll be fascinating to see how developers continue to use these and other ideas moving forward.