At last week's Game Developers Conference, people were lined up to try Sony's new virtual reality tech and from all the hubbub, it appeared VR's become the new (old) brass ring in game development the way the Kinect and the PSMove were a few years ago. It's fairly amazing, the current level of enthusiasm for a tech that's been around for some time now and because of this I can't help but wonder; isn't VR just a resurrected retro gimmick?
Don't the current generation of VR peripherals provide the same layer of clunky disconnect their forbears did in years past? Even assuming we had super-futuristic, totally incredible VR tech, how would throwing it into the mix improve games beyond the making them more “real”? In light of these questions, I've created a list of possible ways in which VR could make MMOs more real. You decide if that would be for better or worse.
Adding VR to MMOs dictates they be made in the first person. This increases immersiveness by taking out the middle man, so to speak, and letting you interact with the game world directly. It's weird though, having a character you never actually see. We'd still need playable characters, but if we never lay eyes on our own digital selves would customization then become obsolete? And would we still enjoy acquiring new armor and weapons?
We'd be able to tell where attacks or enemies are coming from and we'd use our sense of hearing more to explore dangerous environments. Sound would become more muffled underwater, more crisp in a snowy environment and would affect communication between party members depending on distance. We'd have to get used to literally whispering to one another and listening to the inevitable feebs who insist on shouting everything they say.
We'd physically experience our characters' unique physical attributes and limitations. Playing huge, lumbering characters becomes much more physically challenging than playing small, agile ones. Skills allay this some; for example, heavy, hard-to-control characters become easier to use by giving them certain abilities.
Photo Courtesy of White Guys Wearing Oculus Rifts
Experience makes us literally more powerful. At lower levels we feel our weapons clanging off of enemies and our spells bouncing back on us. As we grow stronger and more experienced, we attain things like better vision, hearing or physical strength. We actually feel the thunderous power of an advanced area effect spell, or the satisfying squelch of a mithril-steel sword passing through warg hide.
Crafting begins as a physically-demanding struggle to gather resources and combine ingredients. Mining and chopping trees is exhausting and getting those stubborn herbs out of the ground gives you blisters. Amateur Tailors stab themselves with needles, Smiths smash their fingers, and Chefs burn themselves repeatedly. As you become better at what you do, the injuries and effort required to perform crafting actions diminishes. Tools become easier to use, mixtures easier to stir, materials easier to manipulate. Players sick of hurting themselves come to you to craft things for them.
When you're encumbered, you're really encumbered. Walking becomes more difficult and finding things in in your item-stuffed bag becomes a challenge in itself. You spend ages organizing things into different pockets and moving them back and forth.
Electrical impulses sedate your brain so when you're injured, you feel sluggish and unwell; when you're restored to health, they'd send a jolt like adrenaline through you and a shot of something that makes you feel happy and alert. Think 5 Hour Energy drink applied as a topical ointment.
When you die, you're blinded by a strong white light and you hear voices urging you to step into it. You're filled with a sense of peace and well-being. If you go into the light, you're forced to create a new character; if you don't, you experience a strange tingling sensation until your astral self finds its way back to your body.
You feel individual pieces of armor as they're going on and your visibility's affected by different kinds of helms. You're able to tell your armor needs repair as impacts become stronger and stronger during combat. Built in temperature controls make it so when you're near a forge or fiery lava pit you sweat like a pig, and if you're in an arctic environment, that sexy metal bikini armor doesn't seem like such a great idea after all.
Drinking and eating actually makes you feel euphoric (or angry if you're an angry drunk) and full. You feel it when people hug you, slap you, or pat you gently. If some creep walks up and puts his hand on your rear, you feel that; fortunately, he also feels it when you react by kicking him in the jewels. Would people be as prone to jerkdom if there were real-life consequences for it? I think not.