Everyone compares VR games to 2D games, and that's not about to change, but is the comparison a fair one? I hope this blog post can shine some light on this issue.
Play Station, Xbox, and PC games have been around for more than 20 years now, and the result of two decades of development is incredible. From amazing story telling to jaw-dropping graphics, the games developed for 2D platforms fulfill all my childhood expectations of where I hoped gaming would go.
With all of it's growing pains, VR has yet taken gaming a step further. Sure, it's also had to take a few steps back, so let's talk about those first.
PC VR came onto the gaming scene around 2015 and required a powerful, and very expensive setup to play. One could say this was the first step backwards for VR - an expensive rig and headset... and sensors. Okay, so that was another step back, the sensors. Early VR headsets required lengthy sensor setup, which was messy, awkward, and also expensive.
The metaphorical steps backward kept coming - lack of games, lower graphics quality, motion sickness, awkward controllers, and the list goes on.
A lot of these issues contributed to the idea that VR was a fad, and would not last, or it would always be a gaming experience filled with hurdles and inconveniences.
Okay, so VR has had to take a few steps back when it comes to user experience and gaming. But let's talk about how it has taken gaming a step forward.
We've all dreamed about experiencing a video game like we're actually in the game, like we're there in that world. VR has done just that, something 2D games can and never will achieve. For all the steps back VR has had to take, this is the step forward that will ensure VR's survival in the gaming industry. Immersion is the defining characteristic that takes VR one step beyond 2D games, and it's an industry changing step.
Development of VR hardware is still in its infancy, and the corresponding games haven't yet realized their full potential. Less than two years ago we got a stand alone headset at an affordable price in the Oculus Quest. The Quest, although the most popular headset on the market today, was actually another step backwards for VR as it gave up the power of a PC for mobility and affordability. As a mobile headset, developers had to downgrade graphics, or start developing for a mobile chipset, which requires far more performance considerations and attention to detail in order to create a quality game.
The last point I'd like to make is the criticism of VR graphics. As an artist, I love looking at my work in VR because I can touch it and see it up close in real scale. But... and this is a big but... that closeness, that proximity means everything has to be that much more detailed, that much more precise.
An example of this is a Soda can. In Overwatch, one of my all-time, favorite, AAA games, a soda can model consists of about 50 triangles, and a very pixelated texture:
On a 2D screen this is perfectly adequate, and no one will judge them for making such a low res 3D asset, since no one can pick it up, pretend to drink from it, and then continue shooting the other team. This doesn't work in VR, however, as these kinds of assets become interactive simply because a player is physically present in the 3D world. Here's a soda can from HAX, the game we're currently developing:
While this soda can is also low res, it consists of 92 triangles, almost double that of an Overwatch can, and uses considerably more texture space. In a recent video review made about HAX, someone grabbed this soda can, pretended to take a drink, burped, and then tossed it away to continue fighting robots. This kind of immersion comes at a cost, and with a much smaller, mobile processor, and performance budget, that cost is high.
We all know the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover," well, in 2D gaming that's all you can judge it by. In VR you can throw it across the room.
VR has a long way to go, it'll get there. Perhaps don't judge it quite as harshly as you would a 2D game. After all, it's a step in the right direction.