Preview: The Crypt

As it stands, modern virtual reality (VR) is a wonderful hub of lively debate and activity from indie developers. There are pushes from the likes of Sony Computer Entertainment, Epic Games and CCP Games of course, but by-and-large most of what you’ll encounter comes from smaller studios or one-man-bands, even. Tim Aidley is one such indie developer, inspired to create an interesting experimental title for reasons he can no longer remember. It’s strange then, that The Crypt is an experience you’re not likely to forget in a hurry.

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Although lacking an official title until Aidley’s meeting with VRFocus, The Crypt had already received a welcoming amount of praise. Using three motion-control devices that any gamer worth their salt should be intimately familiar with – the Oculus Rift, PlayStation Move and Kinect – The Crypt reshuffles the deck by combining them into a singular experience. Though Aidley may not be the only designer to combine all three products into a combined videogame experience, he’s most certainly the most confident in his ability to do so. And it shows.

A trail of cables and a pouch in which to hold excess, The Crypt is not an easily mounted experience. For sure, this would not be suitable for a theme park attraction or for users unwilling to take responsibility for their own safety when effectively blinded to the real-world. It is, however, an incredibly immersive experience throughout it’s relatively short duration. In VRFocus‘ mind, this makes the elaborate set-up and the restrictions of heavy cabling wholly worth the effort. Those first few seconds in The Crypt are in themselves some of the most interesting moments in the indie VR scene thus far.

The videogame begins with the player standing on a cliff edge, unlit torch in hand and a fire before them. The vacant area at a wood’s edge is shrouded by a night’s sky, and upon moving to the fire – with their spatial position detected by the Kinect, without need for any motion-control device attached to their feet or legs – the player can reach out and light their torch. The torch, of course, is represented by the PlayStation Move controller. The physicality of such an object should not be underestimated as, while it falls short of the grand goal of haptics that many are trying to reach for currently, feeling weight in your hand as you see the article pressing upon it in the videogame enhances the experience dramatically. Such a simple design decision infers a heavy achievement in suspension-of-disbelief.

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Upon lighting their torch a wizard will begin speaking to the player. Exactly what his instructions are feel unimportant; a writ amongst the phasing of a cleverly designed tutorial. Once his speech has ended a portal opens, moving the player to the second phase of the experience: the crypt itself.

A small, dank room with nothing on offer but crude brickwork and a heavy wooden door. This is your first clue that the peaceful twilight and warm glow of a fire are long behind you. Opening the door you see little else but cold blackness. The only light is that of your torch, and in the dark so heavy even this is little comfort. Moving into the room you hear a scraping; stone-on-stone. You may look around but you’re unlikely to see anything. It’ll take a few more moments to realise that turning your back on the soulless accompaniments is not your best course of action. A treasure chest sits not too far from the entrance and the player’s objective becomes clear: approach, open, take what’s inside and retreat. Do this with haste, or ultimately forgo any chance of escape.

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The Crypt is not a AAA production. Crude in places, bug-ridden and uncomfortable even, and yet there’s something special about it. It in itself stands as a testament to what one man can achieve with an idea and a little bit of know-how. Aidley himself keenly admits that his talents are limited, borrowing liberally from Unity’s asset store and cutting corners in order to achieve the desired goal in what little spare time he has. Throughout all of that however, Aidley has still created a VR experience that immerses the player, deep and thick in atmosphere through technical creativity over accomplishment. The Crypt is not a AAA production, but it’s not hard to see how much an experience like this could become influential to those with the budgets and teams large enough to take the idea further.

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