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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Real-Time Strategy

Usually with VRFocus’ ‘Make it a (Virtual) Reality’ series a specific videogame or movie franchise is picked for a virtual reality (VR) conversion. But thinking about the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, it quickly becomes apparently that the kind of improvements VR could bring apply to almost every title. The changes we’d like to see the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display (HMD) make to the likes of Command and Conquer, Total War, Company of Heroes and many, many more are virtually the same. With that in mind, this week’s piece will look at the genre as a whole.

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Every videogame fan dreams of the future of input. Movies such a Minority Report offer a glimpse into what could well be the future of intuitive controls, even if they aren’t used specifically for videogames. When one thinks of the genres that could benefit from improved schemes, the RTS field always springs to mind. It’s not that a keyboard and mouse are cumbersome – although a console gamepad certainly leans that way – it could just be much more efficient.

Using the Oculus Rift to peer down into vast landscapes as a sort of god-like being and use the device’s head-tracking as a sort of integrated control scheme could usher in a new control standard for RTS videogames. Granted, it would be hard to implement a hands-free scheme in all but the most simplistic of entries into the genre, but some sort of integrated system, perhaps using a gamepad, could make these titles much more intuitive. Looking at individual units to select them, then simply glancing over at the enemy and ordering an attack could be one of the most empowering uses of the device yet.

On top of faster controls, VR HMDs could let users make more details orders. Instead of looking at a section of ground and ordering units to move there, players can could lean down into the world itself and be far more specific, perhaps looking at windows in a building to send soldiers to certain floors, or placing them behind specific cover in fire fights. Positional-tracking offers players the chance to be far more specific than they have been before.

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That’s all without mentioning what a thrill it would be to see these battles come to life, with the player effectively having free-reign over a 3D camera. We’ve seen this concept already in Luckey’s Tale for the Oculus Rift, and applied here the RTS genre could reach previously impossible cinematic peaks.

Other titles such as Flagship are creating other kinds of immersive innovations for the genre. Playing as the commander of a space fleet, players use a virtual computer console to issue orders while they stand in the battle themselves. This is a brilliant idea for balancing immersion and presence with the control that the Oculus Rift should give players. And these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg for the genre. This is one type of videogame that arguably stands to gain the most from VR’s success.

Total War series developer The Creative Assembly has already worked with VR for a demo of Alien: Isolation. It’s now developing Total War: Attila for PC. Let’s hope the developers put two and two together and bring us a truly stunning VR experience in the future.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.