Back in the mid-90s, as diminutive fluffy hat-wearer / super-car-lover Jamiroquai slid around in that weird white room dodging sofas, he never said “future’s, neowneow, made of, neowneow, virtual reality.” If he had, then by now he’d likely have made so much money licensing out the song, a team of construction workers would be breaking ground on an emergency Scrooge McDuck-style vault in his garden.
Yes, while virtual reality is still in its infancy, it’s looks set to be big. By the time this year draws to a close, Ubisoft will have launched three VR games on each of the three major VR platforms (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.) Today we’re announcing the release dates. Drum roll, please.
When are the games coming?
Fly through the skies of Paris in the spectacular Eagle Flight, available on Oculus Rift beginning October 18th, PlayStation VR beginning November 8th, and HTC Vive beginning December 20th.
Co-operate with your crew and take command of the U.S.S. Aegis in Star Trek: Bridge Crew, available on all three platforms beginning November 29th.
Get your social deduction head on for a medieval game night in Werewolves Within, available on all three platforms beginning December 6th.
Plus, hold on to your lunch because VR will be introduced to the already-stomach-churning world of Trackmania Turbo with a free patch adding PlayStation VR support to the PS4 version beginning November 8th.
The VR man
To find out what it is about VR that’s captured the imagination of our dev teams, we spoke with David Votypka, senior creative director at Red Storm Entertainment. Votypka is a veteran of the VR scene, having seen its popularity rise and fall since the ’90s. Now, as one of the brains behind Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, he’s perfectly placed to explain Ubisoft’s drive to create VR experiences and to peek into the future of this exciting platform.
While many publishers are taking a wait-and-see approach to VR, this isn’t the case for Ubisoft. Are we cray cray? “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” explains Votypka. “Ubisoft also takes great pride in the deep and engaging worlds that our 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.”
But there are many factors to take into consideration when developing for VR. Votypka explains, “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 (User Interface) 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.”
All of Ubisoft’s upcoming VR games have strong multiplayer and social elements. “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.”
The future of VR
“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.”