The advent of virtual reality (VR) headsets will open the doors for many new ideas in software design, from creation packages and training exercises to consumer entertainment. The latter is a field that has been blown wide open by the accessibility of digital distribution and the low price point of hardware, and many independent studios have moved into a position where they can take advantage of this new opportunity. A small Brighton based collective that goes by the name ‘The Private Eye Team’ is certainly making waves in this field, with the forthcoming Private Eye promising to establish many of the standards upon which future VR mechanics will be based.
The experience is two-fold. Playing as Detective Sam Sunderland, the player’s introduction to the world of Private Eye will be largely passive. The scene is set as you ride along narrow country lanes with a police officer at the wheel and a prisoner in custody on the backseat. A small amount of interaction is all the tutorial you will need: you are asked to look for a packet of cigarettes in the glove box and looking in it’s direction will highlight the interactive item. It’s that simple. You have a whole world in front, beside and around you. So much to take in and yet so much which you are free to ignore, just as in real life. The only difference here is that your success is dependant on mechanics which are taught to you in a very natural way; there is no box out, no pop-up and no voiceover commanding you.
The characterisation in Private Eye plays on established stereotypes. The gruff police officer may act like a pig in a suit, but he’s a good guy at heart. The suspect in custody on the backseat is a downtrodden husk, knowing he’s been caught and having already given in to your prowess as a storied lawman. There’s more than meets the eye in every character, but it’s all so Humphrey Bogart that the pleasure comes from knowing that they’ll surprise you rather than the surprise itself.
The second aspect of Private Eye is within the gameplay itself. The story sequences are treated as an aside – limited in their interaction yet still utterly immersive – whereas the pace of the core gameplay is dictated by the player. The build VRFocus was given access to was a very early prototype and yet still proved to be compelling. The player, in the guise of Sunderland, is given a list of tasks to complete from the comfort of their apartment. Using an Xbox 360 controller, the left trigger raises your left arm featuring a checklist of objectives and the right trigger raises your binoculars in your right hand. With these simple tools the player must use the latter to survey the area for clues relating to the former. This begins fairly simply, with objectives such as finding a lost cat or locating someone’s apartment across the street, however before long it builds to more dramatic objectives, such as spying on someone in order to learn their password for a specific website.
The Private Eye Team suggest that this early prototype is merely an example of the hidden object style gameplay that will be present in the final version of Private Eye, but does not represent the mechanics which support the activities. The team are keen to make Private Eye a much more fluid experience, removing the checklist and other static barriers that are presented in this small slice of interactivity, and at this point VRFocus has no reason to doubt their ability to do just that.