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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Blood Bowl II

A videogame adaptation of a highly praised Games Workshop production, the original Blood Bowl videogame surprised many with its accurate recreation of the turn-based ruleset and persistent team levelling system, as well as the addition of a somewhat misguided real-time gameplay mode. The newly released Blood Bowl II does away with the latter and concentrates on what videogame adaptations of board games do best: make the original ruleset available to all in a variety of gameplay modes.

So Blood Bowl offers a deep campaign, customisable leagues and competitions and a deep online progression system for multiplayer. These are all fine additions for standard gameplay – perhaps that which would be expected of a sequel – but how does this fit into virtual reality (VR)? Stats and text may be difficult to read in VR at present (though many recent titles have proved that this is now more of a design issue than a failing of consumer hardware), but Blood Bowl II is more readily interpreted by the on-screen action and dice rolls, both of which would fit perfectly in VR.

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Though it may attempt to offer an image of American Football, Blood Bowl II is actually a deeply layered strategy videogame. Played from a third-person perspective with an almost isometric view of the grid-based playing field (by default) each player (two humans, or an AI opponent managing each of the two teams) takes it in turns to command the movement and actions of their whole team. Each teammate on the field has a series of statistics that determines the amount of squares they can move on the field, as well as their strength in combat, ability to throw/catch the ball etc. Players must use a combination of aggression and tactics to ensure they maintain possession of the ball and push for a touchdown throughout each match’s 16 turns (8 per half).

Given the default viewpoint of Blood Bowl II it would be very easy to see how the videogame could be adapted to VR, especially given the success of the likes of AirMech VR from Carbon Games. The player acting as the team’s manager has an overview of a limited area of the field, however simply turning their head to look around would allow instant recognition of where each member of their team – and the opponents – is currently situated. Furthermore, when ‘blocking’ an opposing team member (attacking to either steal the ball, clear a route, or just for the hell of it) the default setting offers a cutscene of the action, however turning this off instead allows the action to be played out in the standard view. Watching your hard-trained team members going head-to-head against a beast four times their size and emerging victorious – or finding themselves on the wrong end of the fist – would be infinitely more spectacular when the player is immersed absolutely in the experience, able to manually zoom in at the commendable graphical detail simply by moving their head.

So what wouldn’t work? Very little in fact. The occasional splash of text (tutorial prompts) and menu options would need to be touched-up, but most of Blood Bowl II‘s important statistics are delivered via player cards or symbols representing skills that would easily transfer to even a more limited head-mounted display (HMD), such as the second iteration of the Oculus Rift development kit (aka DK2).

Blood Bowl II is a very enjoyable strategy videogame experience on a traditional 2D monitor, however in VR it would become far more engrossing. The customisability of each team member means that a player with manual zoom would be able to instantly recognise their created blitzers, gutter runners and goblins on the pitch, celebrating their successes and commiserating their failures. Each and every team member would become something infinitely more personal, much like the original scale miniatures upon which Blood Bowl II is based.