Virtual reality is still in its infancy, but by the time 2016 draws to a close, Ubisoft will have launched Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within, and Star Trek: Bridge Crew for the three major VR platforms (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR). The potential of these new headsets has clearly captured the imagination of our dev teams, but why?
To find out, we spoke with David Votypka, senior creative director at Red Storm Entertainment. As a veteran of the VR scene, he saw its popularity rise and fall since the ’90s, and now that he’s one of the brains behind Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, he’s perfectly placed to help us understand Ubisoft’s drive to create experiences for VR, and to peek into the future of this exciting platform.
Why does Ubisoft believe so strongly in VR?
David Votypka: First of all, Ubisoft has always believed in being a leader on promising new technology platforms, as new technology empowers Ubisoft teams to create new types of games and gameplay – and this is most definitely true of the VR platform.
Ubisoft also takes great pride in the deep and engaging worlds that Ubisoft teams create, and VR is an opportunity to bring players into these worlds even more deeply, and thereby generate an unprecedented level of connection and engagement with our games and worlds.
Additionally, Ubisoft strongly values the accessibility that VR brings to players. Utilizing natural body movements, such as turning one’s head or reaching out to interact with the world with one’s hands, is so naturally intuitive that it allows players to get past usability challenges sooner, and therefore engage with the game more quickly and easily.
What are the different ways of approaching VR? Are some techniques or practices better than others?
DV: There are many factors and good and bad practices to consider, but two of the primary ones are to design for VR from the ground up, and to design for player presence.
One of the fundamental aspects of VR is that it brings a player’s physical senses into a digital environment, which can result in a strong sense of presence. Therefore all design decisions not only need to account for this, but should work to maximize the fact that the player can have a strong conviction that they themselves are in the environment. Because of this, it becomes even more important that the world reacts logically to the player’s actions, and that the story/setting, gameplay, and controls all work to reinforce and strengthen their sense of presence and suspension of disbelief that VR can affect so strongly.
A third factor is UI and HUD. Because VR allows players to feel like they are actually in the game world, we should strive to minimize, or preferably avoid, anything that counteracts their sense of “being there”. Diegetic UI (interface that is included in the game world) becomes even more important and valuable in VR than in traditional games.
Because non-VR games were not designed with the idea that the player feels that they have physically entered the world, it’s unlikely that these games can just be ported to VR and deliver a proper experience.
Ubisoft seems to be particularly interested in multiplayer games and social VR. Why?
DV: As human beings, players want to be in contact with their friends to share enjoyable activities and play together. The social dynamics that occur when friends get around a table to play a game together are so much deeper than the type of social play that generally occurs in traditional online video games. That’s a challenge that Ubisoft believes in tackling because social play has very strong value for our players.
VR is now beginning to truly empower us as developers to create gaming experiences that allow people to feel like they are in the same environment together, even if they are thousands of miles apart. The social dynamics we’ve seen in games like Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew truly reflect many of the natural dynamics that occur when players are in the same physical space together. And this is just the beginning with year one of VR hardware. The future potential of what seems possible to do in social interaction and social gaming in VR is truly monumental.
What does the future hold for VR games?
DV: For VR gaming specifically, the future will deliver new types of games, mechanics, and things to experience that either weren’t effective or weren’t possible without VR. Our early VR games at Ubisoft are already demonstrating this: flying in Eagle Flight, where you feel like a bird in flight; being in a medieval village with others in Werewolves Within, where you experience many of the same social dynamics you would in the real world; and being able to be on the bridge, as a Starfleet officer, physically operating a starship with your friends in Star Trek: Bridge Crew.
These games show how unique mechanics and sensations can be created via the VR hardware. In a nutshell, VR allows us to become people, go places, and do things we otherwise could not do. And with this in mind, the opportunities for new and unique experiences across many game genres is both exciting and vast.
Looking for more info on Ubisoft’s VR lineup? Check out our previous coverage: