Virtual reality is a technology that evokes very cold, technical images. I’m talking wires and straps and plugs, nothing that sounds very relaxing, although as I read that sentence again is does sound overtly sexual… Regardless, I’m saying that VR just doesn’t often conjure up this idea of lounging and relaxing on a daily basis.
At the Game Developers Conference this past week there was still a fair amount of movement from VR developers and the gimmick seems to be wearing off a bit so for the most part I tried less bad stuff than usual.
I also tried some very good stuff! One of the games I was most intrigued to try was Vacation Simulator, the follow-on to Job Simulator, one of the most popular VR titles to have been released in the past couple years. The title is interesting for a few reasons that fall outside of its gameplay which I’ll get to in a second.
The title is made by Owlchemy Labs and it’s going to be the studio’s first big game release since the company was bought by Google about a year ago. I chitchatted with some of the team (who were easy to spot because they had some pretty sweet Hawaiian shirts) and they said that not much had changed since the acquisition and that Google hadn’t made them come out Mountain View or anything, the team is still posted down in Austin, Texas making things happen.
The demo I tried was a bit more of a sandbox-style game and by definition focused a lot more on environment exploration than its predecessor. Basic premise is that you’re on a beach chilling with little floating computers and you can go around messing with them or just hang out and do dumb, relaxing stuff like build a sand castle or catch butterflies or chill on the beach and collect shells. The game is delightful and feels very much like a continuation of what came before it with a touch more Animal Crossing injected into it now.
For such a long time there was the big content problem for VR, it’s not so much that it’s gone away now, but a lot of tech companies have seemed to realize that throwing a new set of goggles at consumers wasn’t really going to be enough to get the job done. Facebook has been pumping a ton of cash into new content, though at GDC, Oculus indicated that it was going to start directing more of those funds to courting AAA developers to start building titles that people are more likely to play on a daily basis. Google hasn’t been as vocal but they did buy Owlchemy so that’s something.
The point is that a lot of these experiences are starting to get so polished that the hardware feels like the limitation again, which is undoubtedly a good thing for VR but it’s a growing pain. Vacation Simulator was a joy in the brief demo I tried, but I couldn’t help feeling like it kind of went against the ethos of PC-tethered VR while I was playing through it. It feels like something I’d want it short bursts and for a lot of Rift owners like myself who don’t have a ton of free space to keep the headset setup in perpetuity, playing VR and getting the sensors set up is a whole thing.
It’s very possible that this game will be available on whatever Oculus Santa Cruz grows to become and I really hope it does, because I hope that simpler headsets mean that simpler experiences, that don’t have to be Skyrim or another shooter game, get even more popular, because in order to be successful the VR industry is going to have to grow a bit warmer and seem a bit more like a vacation from the real world.