Preview: The Gallery: Call of the Starseed on HTC Vive

Virtual reality (VR) is at its best when it catches you off guard. The Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and HTC Vive head-mounted displays (HMDs) really prove their worth in the moments where you find yourself unexpectedly having a very human reaction to a slight detail. There are popular stories (and amusing videos) about players dropping motion controllers when setting objects down, or going to shake the hand of an NPC. The Gallery: Call of the Starseed from Cloudhead Games perhaps inadvertently has one of the strongest examples of this thanks to the HTC Vive’s Room Scale user-tracking.

The Gallery screenshot

It’s all to do with glass. This first-person adventure title uses the kit’s position-tracked controllers to allow players to reach out and grab objects just as they would in real life with stunningly convincing effects. You can wonder through dimly-lit caves using a torch to light your way, or holds notes up to your eyes to read them just as you would in real life. The title also takes great joy in letting you play with glass bottles, juggling them from one hand to the other or casually tossing them across areas. The glass smashes as expected, empowering you with a lack of consequences; no clean up needed and no one around to get angry.

But as you gleefully cause virtual havoc The Gallery: Call of the Starseed has its own fun with you. As you dart across the 15 feet by 15 feet area that the Room Scale tracking affords you, you find yourself noticeably conscious of that smashed glass and the need not to step on it. There’s no ramifications for doing so in-game; it’s just the very human warning of not stepping on the jagged pieces that’s flagging up in your mind. Get too distracted and you may even catch yourself quickly lurching your foot backwards to avoid it. Is there any better proof of the power of VR than that?

The Gallery: Call of the Starseed has plenty more to show you, however. Cloudhead Games’ project started life on the Oculus Rift using the Sixense STEM motion controllers, but has since shifted focus – for now – to HTC Vive, and it’s clear to see why. Intuitive controls and smart solutions to some of VR’s most pressing issues make this a great fit for the HMD, and one of its most promising titles.

Here players are cast as Alex, joining him on the search for his missing twin sister, Elsie. Cloudhead Games are keen not to spoil too many story elements at this stage, but Alex’s quest will take him to both realistic and fantastical environments. For its PAX Prime 2015 demo the developer is staying in decidedly grounded territory, showcasing the dark beach area that fans may have seen before. Players scour the area, solving puzzles and interacting with items as previously mentioned, which provides a certain joy and fascination at this early stage in VR that admittedly may well become a standard and unremarkable expectation as the tech progresses.

The Gallery screenshot

Another highlight comes from playing with fireworks. Again, it’s something that requires caution and care in the real world, but is liberatingly risk-free in the virtual one. You can pick them up, head over to a fire to light them and then take aim and watch the show. Creating a personal firework display isn’t just a first for VR but likely videogames in general, and it’s a memorable moment that showcases just how far realistic interaction will be able to take experiences. Further examples are littered throughout, allowing you to follow a compass as just you would in real life and asking you to throw items at a box to knock it down, though this actually uncovered a glitch in the throwing physics that Cloudhead Games will no doubt be ironing out soon.

This is also a great showcase for Cloudhead Games’ ‘Blink’ locomotion system, a feature the team revealed a few weeks back and is obviously – and rightfully – very proud of. This essentially allows users to teleport across the environment by holding down the tracking pad on the left controller and using head-tracking to drag a marker around. Said marker also displays the boundaries of user-tracking, allowing you to best position yourself without risking walking into either a real or virtual wall, the latter of which proves to be a non-issue thanks to self-correction systems.

Getting the hang of the system is easy and, oddly enough, gives The Gallery: Call of the Starseed an atmosphere not dissimilar to one of its main inspirations, Myst. The constant, momentary fades between areas really invoke the switching between environments in the 1993 classic, and it certainly helps that the dreary, almost dream-like beach environment is tonally consistent with it too.

In The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, the HTC Vive has a perfect companion piece. There are plenty of tech demos that prove what the kit can do, but here’s one of the first showcases of what it will do. This is a full consumer product that realises the potential of those early demos and promises to let you finally have fun with VR not in a controlled environment with developers guiding you through but, eventually, actually within your own home. When that day comes, The Gallery: Call of the Starseed could well be one of the best reasons to own the HTC Vive.