Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Virtual Reality (VR) games. Specifically how they’re going to develop in the always innovating game industry. With the release of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR, we’ve seen a fairly robust catalog of VR games start to come together. Many of them are simple — like playing with objects and physics or watching yourself get attacked by sharks — they’re still quite compelling to most people who play them. So, while they’re carving out their niche in the market, VR games will have to evolve to stay interesting.
There is one key area for VR games to expand upon: non-player character interactions.
The VR games we have now are great, but they are a bit limited in what they allow the player to do. Jessica kind of nailed this point in her previous post about VR games. In most of them, you are confined to one spot and can only look around and grab things like balls or assault rifles (in other words: a Duke Nukem game *hehe*). While many VR games are still fun despite this, it highlights a weak point in the way they are designed: there are only so many ways the player can interact with the environment.
One of the best elements they could introduce would be dynamic character interactions.
Games like Mass Effect, Fallout, and basically anything by Telltale (even Poker Night at the Inventory!) have demonstrated that you can build a very compelling and fun game around character interactions and dialogue.
Actually sitting next to Brock Samson would be so cool… and terrifying.
Imagine, if you will, Commander Shepard’s conversations with the crew between missions in Mass Effect, or how the Brock Samson and Claptrap mock the player in Poker Night at the Inventory 2. While these interactions are engaging and fun, they tend to be cinematic, so players might feel like they are watching the interactions happen, rather than doing it themselves. Now, imagine how those game experiences would feel when you take a literal first-person perspective, and can physically interact with the characters. It’s a small change, but enough to significantly impact the way players experience a game.
How might players react to saluting Captain Anderson, or looking Wrex in the eye while trying to defuse his anger, or sitting at a poker table hanging out with Brock Samson and Claptrap? How might they play the game differently?
Hmm… OK some moments may not carry over to VR well…
Putting players in more direct control of their interactions with NPCs could add a layer of immersion to games, and would probably help generate ideas for new types of game based around that one mechanic. For example, what about a game like LA Noire, except you could physically investigate a crime scene and would have to interrogate suspects face-to-face? Or a bar-tending simulator where you have to converse with patrons while serving them drinks? These may seem a bit out there, but if games like Papers, Please can be successful, than so can simple VR games about talking to people.
As someone who thoroughly enjoys character development and building relationships with NPCs in games, I’m excited by the potential VR has to create incredibly immersive and engaging games built around character interactions.
(cough cough Pokemon Snap cough) … Okay I’m done.