It’s something of a shame that the name ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ is already taken. Back in 1999 the BBC decided that computer-generated imagery had advanced enough to realistically recreate the prehistoric beasts in a six-part documentary. For the time this was a landmark event but, in 2015, the series is embarrassingly outdated and that name is now confined to a medium that doesn’t actually let you walk with dinosaurs. Of course, the BBC couldn’t have known that virtual reality (VR) would finally be making its move 16 years on, but anyone working with dinosaurs in VR has surely taken a moment to realise how much more appropriate the name would be for their project.
No one deserves the mantle more than Soul Pix, even if its upcoming VR adventure title, EDEN, doesn’t star any kind of dinosaur that you’ll have ever seen before. The developer’s mobile project, Arcophobia, may be a quirky proposition but this full experience for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) shows an enormous amount of potential, bringing players to an alien world with fantastic sights and wondrous wildlife to behold.
Much of what Soul Pix has shown for EDEN represents the very surface of what it hopes to achieve with the title. The concept art seen above promises that players will be able to ‘Survive. Explore. Evolve.’ but it’s really only the middle of these 3 features that can currently be seen.
This is a first-person experience in which players can switch between one of 3 characters. The first is a human that has seemingly crash-landed on an alien world which at first gives off a feeling of hostility with its miles of desert and towering, jagged cliffs. After a few first steps the player will find a robotic canine idly standing by and, later on, a flying drone will also join them. Switching between the trio is done with a simple button press although, right now, it’s only the drone that brings any real variation to the proceedings. Soul Pix plans to implement some intriguing character-specific bonuses for the full title such as mechanical skills for the human but, in this demo, switching between him and dog is simply a matter of altering the height.
So what makes a relatively empty 5 – 10 minute demo with the majority of features and story stripped of it so memorable? The ability to walk (or fly) with (alien) dinosaurs.
The experience closes out with the player stumbling upon a herd of alien beasts that do indeed resemble a pack of prehistoric creatures, however strange. These gigantic creatures gracefully move forward at a speed that allows the player to inspect every element of them with the drone. You can scale up their long, giraffe-like necks or house yourself under the peculiar flippers that dangle in front. You can soar alongside them at eye-level, hovering in front of their fascinating faces as you move alongside them, or weave between their thick, plodding legs as they dent the sand they walk on. It is, quite simply, a captivating experience and a true realisation of the VR dream. This was all seen on the Oculus Rift DK2, making the thought of seeing it running on the consumer hardware all the more enticing.
Suddenly, EDEN’s barren world doesn’t seem quite as hostile. No doubt the adventure these 3 characters have ahead of them will be filled with dangers but the striking beauty of this one moment makes this a planet that demands to be explored and appreciated in VR. VRFocus can’t wait to see what else Soul Pix is cooking up for players.
There’s still much to learn about EDEN. The ‘Survive’ and ‘Evolve’ aspects of the title are yet to be properly detailed and even some basic animations were yet to be implemented in the demo on display. But, even this early on, this is a title that should already be on any VR fan’s radar. Hopefully the year ahead will bring plenty more of this promising experience.