Epic Games’ Bullet Train made its debut at Oculus Connect 2, Hollywood, one year ago and received significant acclaim. Several months later, at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), San Francisco, VRFocus learned that the small team behind the virtual reality (VR) technical demonstration were still polishing the experience and recently got hands-on with the latest available build. So what’s new? And where is this virtual train heading?
For the uninitiated, Bullet Train is a technical demonstration developed in-house at Epic Games to showcase the strengths of Oculus VR’s still forthcoming motion-controllers for the Oculus Rift, Oculus Touch. While the input device is now expected to launch very soon – with further details promised for Oculus Connect 3, San Jose, next month – Epic Games has been reluctant to discuss any future plans for Bullet Train despite work continuing on the project.
The technical demonstration here is basically designed to make you feel like a badass. The player is invincible throughout, able to grab weapons and drain them of ammo in seconds before disposing of them and taking charge of another. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, grenades; even plucking bullets out of the air and throwing them back at your enemies. Using the orientation tracking of the Oculus Touch controller the player can also teleport between predetermined locations via a beam which connects with identifying bubbles upon button press (simultaneously activating a time slowdown). It could be said that this mechanic was designed to get the upper hand on your opponents, but given the aforementioned invincibility it is a somewhat obvious countermeasure for potential simulation sickness through locomotion in VR (which was in fact Epic Games’ intention).
The most significant changes to Bullet Train since its debut are so subtle many wouldn’t even notice them. Grenades now have pins that can be pulled (though oddly, it’s not a requirement), enemies have differing damage values for the weapons used and the hit location and the teleportation beam now extends slowly towards the selected target opposed to instantly attaching on button-press. The opening tutorial section now has a singular bad guy to take out as well as interactive elements such as litter and the handholds dangling from the ceiling of the train carriage. The further development on Bullet Train hasn’t exactly been pushing towards a full-blown videogame experience, but rather refining what was already there.
Several VR technical demonstrations have been offered by Epic Games, the first resembling a videogame being 2014’s Couch Knights. From that point on the company has been pushing the medium both through the development of Unreal Engine 4 and their own works, but there’s still no sign of a consumer title just yet. So what does this all mean?
The truth is that it’s very unusual for a studio to continue working on a technical demonstration after fulfilling its purpose with its debut outing, but in fairness Epic Games has been anything but conventional with their approach to VR thus far. Given the company’s huge enthusiasm for the technology – with demonstrations ranging from the first iteration of the Oculus Rift development kit through to Google Daydream – it’s likely that we’ll see a genuine consumer title coming from Epic Games in the future, but in what form that takes – and for which format its released – remains the biggest question of all.