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Alien: Isolation – The Challenges of Officially Adapting for VR

Alien: Isolation has finally arrived and with it comes a considerable amount of critical acclaim. Heralded as the ‘best’ videogame experience ever made based on the famous sci-fi movie franchise, the hype was indeed worthwhile. Moreover, the attention the videogame received due to it’s virtual reality (VR) demonstration has been incredibly important to the exposure of the title, and as such it’s more than likely that we’ll see a VR edition of the videogame at some point down the line to surpass the unofficial hack that VRFocus reported on earlier this week. It’s long been said however, that simply porting existing videogames to VR doesn’t work.AlienIsolation_1
There are a number of issues faced when developing for VR which simply aren’t evident in the development of traditional proscenium arch videogames. Simulator sickness is perhaps the most widely known, but also basic design such as size and shape, colour and sound, must be rethought afresh in order to convey the same experience well. Of course, The Creative Assembly have already covered these basis in the VR demo they made available at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) back in June of this year and subsequently at last month’s EGX in London, but what else would need to be changed? VRFocus has been through the videogame with a fine toothcomb to uncover the issues that may be facing The Creative Assembly and their potential high-profile VR release.

Menus

First and foremost, Alien: Isolation‘s menu system is not designed for VR. This may seem like an insignificant issue at first, but those who have played ‘traditional’ videogames modded for VR will know that your enjoyment of a title can begin and end with its menu system. In the case of Alien: Isolation, an entire overhaul of the frontend would be required as well as in-game menu system. There isn’t a HUD as such to speak of, however in-game text would of course need to be presented as part of the world in some way. And there’s another text-based problem…

Monitors

…the in-game monitors. On a flat 2D screen the 1970’s mechanical keyboard clunks and block text on the monitors add brilliantly to the atmosphere and perfectly replicate those of the film. In VR however, the text would appear almost illegible and the position of the camera (in the case of fire-person videogames, the player’s eyes) would be far too close for comfort.

Tracker

This is an issue that has been overcome – and in a commendable fashion – already. The tracker is available to the player at all times, called upon by a button press. In the VR version of Alien: Isolation this would cause considerable issues, so instead the tracker is viewable at all times simply by looking down. The player can still call upon it, raising it to the centre of their field-of-view, but it’s far more natural to simply look at the tracker. This is clearly a conscious design decision on behalf of the team at The Creative Assembly.

Dual Focus

A feature of Alien: Isolation designed to simulate real-world experience is the alternating focus. When looking at an object near-by, for example the aforementioned tracker, objects in the distance will become blurred and vice-versa. In VR however, the player can witness the whole scene at once and thus everything will remain in focus. The Creative Assembly would have to find a way to bring the focus switching to VR without disorientating the player. A wider field-of-view in a head-mounted display (HMD) will help with this as they player’s eyes will be drawn to the area in which they need to look, thus naturally limiting the ability to absorb the whole environment.

Cutscenes

Cutscenes were once thought to be a deadly enemy of VR. This is no longer the case, and instead it’s the transitions of which we should be wary. Alien: Isolation features black fades between gameplay and cutscene, but often the in-between locks head-movement. A simple solution is available here: slower fades and freedom of head movement until the cutscene begins to fade back in.

Forced Head-Movement

Unlike cutscenes, there is still no excuse for forcing the player’s head to move in VR. Sadly, Alien: Isolation does feature numerous moments wherein the player’s control of Amanda Ripley is ripped away from them: interacting with objects, climbing ladders, highlighting events and plot direction, end-of-level tripwires etc. All of these will need to be rethought for VR.