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The RPG Files: GDC 2015: Is VR the Future of Role-Playing Games?

Columns By Christopher Coke on March 06, 2015

GDC 2015: Is VR the Future of Role-Playing Games?

This week, game developers from around the world gathered in San Francisco, California for the 29th annual Game Developers Conference. Unlike most conferences focused on showcasing the latest games to their eager fans, GDC is for the game-makers, allowing it to reveal some of the most important insights into the future of games. This year, there can be no question: virtual reality is here and coming your way sooner than you think.


The bombshell news came by way of Valve when they announced their new Vive VR headset. The headset will feature a 1200x1080 resolution display that refreshes at 90Hz. This bests its biggest competitor, the Oculus Rift which boasts only a 960x1080 display and 75Hz refresh rate (both of which matter with the display mounted so close to your eye). The unit will feature full head tracking, as we’ve come to expect from head-mounted VR units, but pushes the envelope even further by tracking your hand movement and, using two VR base stations, allowing you to get up and walk around your environment. Wow!

Valve wasn’t the only company pushing virtual reality this year. Sony also came out of the gate swinging with its Project Morpheus headset for the PlayStation 4. The company made serious improvements to its headset since the last time we’ve seen it, bumping the screen size to 5.7 inches and full 1080p resolution, more accurate head tracking, and a solid, 120Hz refresh rate. It’s an industry leader, except for the fact that it is tied exclusively to the PlayStation 4.

The Vive will release to select developers this Spring with a full consumer release in the holiday. Project Morpheus will hit store shelves in the first half of 2016. Oculus is still targeting a 2015 consumer release. Pricing hasn’t be confirmed for any.

The Oculus Rift was also present but made fewer waves than this VR headset from MindMaze which uses encephalographic (EEG) imagery to open up the world of mind control. No really, go read about it.

Valve and HTC Partner on the Vive

There’s no question that we’re living in the future, but what’s left to be decided is whether any of these products will catch on. Game developers sure hope so, and it’s easy to see why. Virtual reality opens up doors to whole new realms of experience. Imagine stepping into the world of Skyrim and seeing it as if you were actually there. Imagine looking down at your virtual body and drawing a fireball between your two real-life cupped hands -- drawing a sword back, riding a dragon, paddling a boat, or leaping from a mountaintop. Virtual reality injects you into the game in a way no other technology has ever been able to do.

As a roleplayer, I crave that immersion, which is why I find games like Skyrim so appealing. The idea of entering into a new world, in the first person or even looking down from the clouds in an isometric CRPG, transforms the experience into the ultimate form of immersion. If that is the future of roleplaying games, I want to be in it.

With heavy hitters like Valve joining the fray, this is a more likely future than has ever been for virtual reality. Valve has enough power to push virtual reality into the mainstream. And I believe that they’ve got something that works; they believe in it. Just two years ago, Valve let two developers walk out the door with the prototype that would become Cast AR because they didn’t see the promise in it. Maybe they knew then what we know now: The Vive is the real future.

I can’t shake the feeling, though, that this may just be a technophile’s dream. As gamers, we instantly recognize the appeal of such devices, but as the technology wars have shown us, price matters. The Oculus Rift is rumored to cost between $200-400 and it’s safe to assume Sony and Valve will be in the ballpark -- more for the Vive if you also want the VR bases to walk around the room. These headsets will also require beefy computers to run, which easily ups the price into the hundreds or thousands of dollars if you’re upgrading or buying a new computer.

These are products that need to be seen to be believed. Would you spend that much money on, say, an earth shattering toaster? To take off, we need the toaster buyers. We need the mainstream. That’s a hard sell, unless big companies like Best Buy and Walmart decide to pick them up for demo stations. And then, dear god the pink eye.

I know I’m buying one, for roleplaying games, MMOs, and even just cool programs that let you float off into space or ride a rollercoaster around the living room. Will you?

Quick Hits

David Gaider is officially leaving Dragon Age: Inquisition in his portfolio. The series’ lead writer  is moving onto his next project within the studio, leaving Dragon Age behind after a ten-year tenure. He is passing the torch to author Patrick Weekes, who looks forward to “adding a lot of sexy unicorns,” which, we can all agree, the series needed.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Otherside Entertainment announced plans this week to add VR and AR to its upcoming RPG, Underworld Ascendant. Using the example of picking a lock, rather than have the tumbler appear on your screen, they hope to have it float in front of you allowing you to use your hand to spring it.

Wasteland 2 is coming to consoles.  Interestingly, it sounds like they plan to give them game a visual overhaul and improve it for consoles. Someone needs to tell inExile they have this backward.

Developer, FrozenByte, started the week off right by announcing that Trine 3 is in active development. They’re celebrating with some screenshots (which seem to show a possible third dimension to the otherwise 2D platformer) and an 85% off Steam Sale of the first two games in the series. Plus, the game’s wizard really loves boxes.

Finally, it seems that the wait is over for Final Fantasy X and X-2 on next gen consoles.The two-game collection will be releasing on May 15th for $49.99 in North America.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.