Virtual reality (VR) has a lot going for it right now. Fantastic hardware, almost limitless indie support and opportunities that stretch far beyond videogames. One thing that is arguably lacking however, is AAA titles. Many publishers have said that they’re interested in the new medium but few have been willing to publicly takes steps in showing their work. That will soon change, with both SEGA and Techland having revealed their early prototype efforts on big releases.
Following the hugely enticing Alien: Isolation VR technical demo came a version of Dying Light adapted for use with the second iteration of the Oculus Rift development kit (aka DK2). Despite ideas that the videogame was ill suited to VR due to the nature of it’s free-running and visceral combat. The experience presented however, was much more digestible than such preconceptions would suggest. The old adage ‘never trust a book by it’s cover’ is perhaps more appropriate here than anywhere else in VR.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine however, as is evidenced by the full release of the videogame. There are some significant issues to reconcile should Techland wish to release a VR version of Dying Light in any form – which VRFocus very much hopes they will do – and below you can find details on some of the biggest hurdles the development team will need to overcome in order to avoid the dreaded simulator sickness.
The very beginning of the videogame features a parachute drop from a military aircraft into the city of Harran. Though the entire sequence is conducted in first-person the player has no control whatsoever, including that of the viewing angle. Techland would need to uncouple the head-look from the scripted action in order to make this a comfortable experience in VR. Though this might comprise the intentionally limited viewing angle of the opening sequence it would undoubtedly induce simulator sickness for most who viewed it in it’s current form.
Dying Light features some pretty standard headbob when moving which is easily removed (as was already seen in the concept VR build Techland offered VRFocus previously) however, in combat the situation is far worse. Swinging a lead pipe, for example, will in sequence undergo left and right swings and occasionally a vertical swing. Horizontal isn’t too much of an issue, but the vertical forces the players head up past the original viewpoint and then suddenly down again. This would have to be removed entirely.
Along with the headbob, the issue of player acceleration had largely been tackled in the VR concept build of Dying Light. The problem here is not the motion of the player, but the dramatic increase in speed. Research into the matter has determined that most users are typically welcoming to a sudden change in speed (stationary to running, for example) but not the gradual increase between these points. Eliminating this rate of increase may harm the realistic feel of the videogame, but would undoubtedly aid immersion in the fictitious world.
Much like the ventilation shafts the player would often crawl into when playing Alien: Isolation, Dying Light wrestles head-control from the player when opening a door that leads to a scripted sequence. This is an issue that would easily be overcome, however there’s a second instance of this forced-look which may not be so readily countered…
Whenever the player speaks to an AI character, be it as part of the story progression or even just a single line of dialogue, head-look is entirely disabled. the player has no option but to look directly at the person they’re speaking to. This, of course, was a design decision taken to ensure the player doesn’t miss an important story element or moment of action, but in VR this would cause discomfort in most players. A work around to allow free head movement with a prompt to look in the desired direction moments before the action occurs would be the best route to counter the issues faced with this difficult combination of issues.
An odd aspect of Dying Light, the seizures that you encounter as a result of being infected are clearly scripted yet stand apart from most of the other forced mechanics, such as NPC interaction and moving through loading screen doors, simply due to their presentation. The drastic change in colour and filter, the stalling of movement and the ringing in the ears would all adapt wonderfully to a VR interpretation of this unique world, though once again the forced head movement would most certainly be an issue. Removing this may dampen the effect somewhat, but the heightened immersion VR offers could well counter that potential weakness.