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Preview: Pixel Rift

The virtual reality (VR) development community is becoming famous for it’s original ideas and unique concepts. It’s long been argued that the only way to create experiences suitable for VR is to start from scratch with VR as your primer. Ana Ribeiro, developer of the forthcoming Pixel Rift, has done just that.

A student at the National Film & Television School (NFTS), Ribeiro appears to have struck gold with Pixel Rift. This is a videogame that will appeal to a core audience thanks to it’s constant homage to consoles past. It’s a journey that promising to be interesting in it’s own right, but more so thanks to the premise of playing retro-styled videogames within a modern videogame shell. What’s more, it’s perfectly suited to VR.

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Not once during VRFocus‘ time with the videogame did it break any of the golden rules of VR. The player always retains control of their view, motion is kept to a minimum and interactivity is based on the direction in which you look as much as it is on button presses. There are some issues with object size and clipping, but Ribeiro is readily aware of this and is already hard at work on a solution. Pixel Rift, then, is likely to be a perfectly enjoyable trip to another world.

That said, the world the player inhabits in Pixel Rift isn’t too distant from our own. It’s a journey through time more so than space as the player takes on the role of a girl who grows up through progression in the videogame. Beginning as a baby, each new level is a different age as the player moves to pre-teen, teenager and eventually an adult. However, Pixel Rift features a story-within-a-story, as a second character will accompany you throughout your journey: Dot.

Dot is the heroine of a fictional series of videogames in the universe that Pixel Rift presents, intentionally misdirecting in that it’s also called ‘Pixel Rift’. As the player moves from baby to pre-teen, so too does the videogame technology in this world mature. Beginning in the 1970s with the Odyssey 2 console and the very first ‘Pixel Rift’ videogame, the player will encounter sequels on virtual renditions of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Game Boy and more. Dot is on a mission to rescue her father and must travel between each of the videogames in the ‘Pixel Rift’ series in order to do so. However, there’s more to it than simply completing a level or beating the boss as occasionally your imagination can get the better of you; allowing Dot to break out of her pixellated prison.

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VRFocus was treated to 2 different time periods from the videogame (suggested to feature 6 in total). The introduction was made with the level Ribeiro intends to make into a playable demo: a school classroom complete with teacher, other students and a ‘Game Girl’. This handheld device features grainy green-and-black visuals as it plays host to ‘Pixel Rift’; a 2D platform videogame. The player has to progress through the single-level in ‘Pixel Rift’ while avoiding being noticed by the teacher. At your disposal are distraction techniques including firing spitwads through a straw and potentially activating one of the many Easter eggs Ribeiro has invested in the environment. It’s a simple enough premise to grasp, but one that sets the expectation for videogame-within-a-videogame perfectly.

A second level available to play was actually the very beginning of the videogame. Playing as a baby, your introduction to the final edition of Pixel Rift will be knocking over toy robots and Rubix Cubes. The foundations of a storyline are set here as your father returns from work with an Odyssey 2 console and hooks it up to the TV. This is your first experience of videogames and, as Pixel Rift tells the tale, it’s an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

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Full of original ideas and bursting with hidden Easter eggs, Ribeiro has gone to great lengths to ensure that Pixel Rift isn’t an ordinary videogame. Despite the occasionally poor implementation of the visuals and animation (which Ribeiro assures is far from final) there’s an amazing amount of detail packed into every scene. The interesting plot and hugely welcoming nostalgic foundations for the gameplay are convincing enough, but Pixel Rift has something else. It has a spark of inventiveness that few other videogames have; even less so those developed by just one person. If ever there were a VR experience to keep an eye on this is it, as Pixel Rift has the potential to become a real gem for both the core gamer and the VR community.