Welcome to another edition of VR vs. The weekly VRFocus column where the ‘other one’ from the site talks about most anything and everything to do with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) or some crazed combination of the three. Today we’re continuing a thread begun last week in the final part of my three-week feature into what may lie ahead in 2017. There I mooted the idea that of all the studios currently involved within VR, certainly from a gaming perspective there is one that is conspicuous by its absence. SEGA. Yes, yes, I know there are Hatsune Miku games but as I pointed out at the time Hatsune Miku and the vocaloid bunch ultimately aren’t SEGA property and aren’t a traditional franchise. They aren’t one recognised within their All-Stars series for instance – and whilst that isn’t a qualifying marker for this list, considering how big the Project Diva series is and how iconic a figure Miku is in Japanese culture. Certainly you’d have thought SEGA would make more of a deal out of things than they have were she theirs. So on that basis, scrub those PSVR games off your mental tally.
Updated total? Zero.
This is unusual for SEGA. Historically SEGA (at least in the third-party era) have rushed in to support whatever new technology comes along. Do you by any chance remember the EyeToy, Sony’s camera accessory for the PlayStation 2? Yes? No? There weren’t exactly a whole heap of games for it. But SEGA were there with the original SEGA Superstars to fly the flag. They supported the Kinect, they fell into bed with Wii U pretty quickly, etc, etc. For SEGA to not have had one of its more noted franchises in the West ready to rock and roll when VR came to retail, certainly the PSVR, was pretty unusual. (Again, discounting the leek-swinging singer lady.)
But that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of opportunities for SEGA to embrace VR and throw a bone to its more beloved franchises. It’s one of the sad truths about SEGA that their most iconic of series, with the exception of the fast spiky one, have never exactly been humongous successes financially. Still, why not use some of them and maybe give them a new lease of life outside of a new racing game? (No, really SEGA. It’s time for Transformed 2. Throw some money at SUMO Digital, will ya?) It’s also not like we don’t know SEGA aren’t messing around with VR either. Both SEGA Europe (SOE) and SEGA America (SOA) revealed their ownership of VR headsets (HTC Vive and PlayStation VR for SOE and Hololens for SOA) thanks to community videos. Never reveal you’ve got any kit you’ve not announced you’re working with as you’re either giving something away or starting unnecessary rumour. So yeah, way to keep that under wraps chaps. A+ work.
So let’s get things underway. As before, I must point out that I used to work for SEGA for several years and worked on a number of the franchises listed that I’ll be bringing up. It was some time ago now, but I’m reliably informed that if I don’t do this the world will apparently end.
We begin first with an honourable mention which will upset you by not being on the list proper.
Honourable Mention: Alien Isolation
It’s just not going to happen folks. Many have said the masterfully creepy atmosphere of “SEGA’s Good Alien Game” – though everyone forgets they also did an Alien game on the DS in that discussion – was a perfect match for a full and proper adaption into a VR experience. The scare factor would be immense, obviously. As it’s bad enough being stalked by a Xenomorph without actually looking down at your chest as its tail pushes through it to kill you.
As much as we’d all like it to, the economic factors involved just mean Alien Isolation is a non-starter for Creative Assembly to even get involved in really. Boo-urns.
However, speaking of Creative Assembly…
It’s one of gaming’s little quirks that one of console gaming’s most well known names is the publisher that is in actuality one of PC gaming’s powerhouses. Between Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series and Creative Assembly’s Total War franchise SEGA have an commanding grip of the PC chart, one would go far to say dominance at some points in the year. If you have lived in a hole for the past couple of decades, Total War is a series of real-time strategy games that sees keen players take on the role of General in various eras of time. Replaying notable battles and playing tactical hardball with history. Whether it’s the Medieval period, the time of Rome, the rise of Napoleon or the era of the samurai there’s plenty to do. Heck, you can even throw history right out the window now and enjoy some Warhammer in your Total War.
Total War has always been about getting stuck in to battles. The planning, the preparation, the implementation and the execution. The buck stops with you, and as the series has developed the control system has allowed you to get ever deeper into the action. You can even follow individual soldiers. It’s such a well developed system that there’s even been a BBC game show (essentially) based on playing the series. One that’s recently had something of a comeback.
So with this in mind how would VR make Total War better? Control.
Now, considering what I’ve just written you might be wondering what I’ve been talking about since I’ve just been praising the system. But you can always improve and everyone and anyone who has played Total War has always had periods where the game just won’t place units right or you can’t get the camera in jussssst the right position. Now imagine you are in the map as opposed to looking at a 2D surface. Imagine you were, with your motion controllers able to to manipulate your units and your surroundings just so. How much easier and dynamic and engaging an experience that would bee if you brought a touch of Minority Report to proceedings.
Heck, can you imagine a Hololens version of Total War? With you waging battles from your sofa over your coffee table, and manoeuvring your archers onto the high ground of the TV unit? That’d be amazing.
Samba de Amigo
Break out the Bellini boys and girls!
When I first saw the HTC Vive controllers my first thought, partly because of how they were being held and moved at the time, was that they kind of looked like maracas. And there’s only one game that invites you, without a hint of suggestiveness, to get your maracas out. Samba de Amigo first burst onto the scene on SEGA’s much loved Dreamcast and was actually developed by Sonic Team if you didn’t realise it. It also came out as an arcade experience before next surfacing on the Nintendo Wii. The game plays with you in amongst a vibrantly coloured carnival, armed with your maracas you control Amigo, one of SEGA’s two monkey mascots (the other being Super Monkey Ball‘s AiAi, strangely the two have never been seen as rivals in the Superstars/All-Stars titles. Which has always puzzled me.) You move and dance along to a selection of upbeat tracks, shaking your controllers in time to the beat and occasionally having to strike a pose. It’s a simple enough title, and well and truly puts the party into party game.
VR needs more games like that I think. More games that are just full on fun and colours. It’s why Balloon Chair Death Match got people excited, it was a simple premise and it looked fun. Job Simulator is the same. Bright colours and positively oozes fun. Yes, we can all enjoy a nice serious game with high stakes, but dammit we all just want to be silly sometimes. Samba allows you to do exactly that.
Now, what I’m essentially asking you is to imagine this in VR: Please watch the video below as in this instance it is important to what I’m writing about. A warning before you do however; if you are wearing headphones please turn them down. There’s some loud audio distortion on the video from the outset.
Just look at this man. Look how bloody happy he is. He doesn’t care he’s in the middle of an arcade, he doesn’t care he has a crowd. He’s just going for it: a master at work. Nevermind your beloved Salt Bae (a reference I realise will date this article terribly), in your heart of hearts you wish that were you. You wish you were as cool as the Samba Bae.
Now, I’m waving any potential wire-based issues here. Forget ’em. Let’s lay it out. You put on the headset and you step into a party; a “Carnaval de VR”. Everyone around you is interacting with you. The movement is infectious. You are the centre of a mass celebration with bouncing creatures and an equally bouncing musical beat. You have motion tracking controls. You wave them about in time to the music. It’s escapement, elation, exercise and fun. Now we bring things up to date with the new technology and throw in a dash of evolution to the game as well. Unlike before you can use the sensors or PlayStation camera to fully track your movements. All of a sudden Samba can have a touch of Dance Central in it, evolving it into a bit more of a full body game with one stroke. You have greater accuracy than ever before on the controllers, the game can actually see you for the first time and you get one of the most smile inducing experiences on VR. As an added bonus it gets to be a game franchise fully realised on VR, something people are clamoring for.
Yo SEGA. You’ve got my number. Call my people (me) and let’s make this happen. I’m totally open to being Producer on this thing. SAMBA! Du du de-du du-du du de-du…
There’s a very good chance you don’t remember Condemned: Criminal Origins. There’s an even better chance you’ve never played it or Condemned 2: Bloodshot. Which is a pity really. Condemned is a first-person experience which puts you in the shoes of Ethan Thomas, a police officer investigating a murder which slowly takes him down a path to discovering secret societies, mysterious entities, encountering nightmarish visions and the city falling into the grip of madness. Both games are a twisted mix of dark menacing settings, genuine scares that mess withyou and play on psychology and improvised combat, usually involving whatever Ethan can get his hands on. It’s frantic, up in-your-face stuff and perfect for VR with the combat emphasis on melee.
It’s not just that though. The first Condemned game especially has you dealing, within your role as a police investigator, a number of different crime scenes. These are technical, and involve you hunting for clues, such as finger prints and making deductions. What Condemned is, is what I suggested it could be back at E3 2016. It could be the Batman VR game you’ve always wanted but combined with all the best twisted bits of Resident Evil VII too.
We’ll just ignore the bit about shouting people to death from number 2. (Check out my good friend John’s Let’s Play of Condemned 2 to see what I mean.)
That’s all for this week. On next week’s selection of titles we’re embracing freedom in a couple of ways and I use the term “wave shooter”. Which will probably annoy people. Until then…