Multiplayer Virtual Reality (VR) is as progressive as it is problematic; many challenges face VR tech for the future though breakthroughs are reaching the surface of gaming allowing multiplayer growth in VR.
There is already so much that has to go into making the VR experience work for a single person, and even more has to go into making multiplayer components work, because now there are multiple people interacting in similar VR environments. Not only do they need to interact with the environment, but they need to interact with one another, and the entire experience needs to feel immersive and three-dimensional, and that’s no easy task to achieve.
As many advances as are being made in the world of VR, there are also new problems arising. As the technology improves, tech companies want to do more and more with the technology and consumers are demanding more and more.
There is a feeling of accomplishment when a new achievement is attained, but then there is always the question of “Okay, now what do we do next and how do we implement it?”. There is always room to improve, to iterate and to go farther with the technology, and Multiplayer VR is the next logical step for the tech.
While Multiplayer presents problems to solved by those working in this industry, breakthroughs are evident and gamer expectations are going forward.
The Successes Do Come and They Wow Players
VR has served up a feast of visual delights to headset couch potatoes seeking that extra bit of entertainment. Delivery has come through thousands of apps for the main contenders such as Gear VR, Vive and PS4. Gaming in VR has taken off and players get to wander dungeons as in the Herobound series, travel through space with amazing spatial adventures like End Space, and shoot up zombies in frenetic videogames like Drop Dead.
So, really going by the state of online gaming over the last 10 years, the next step was obvious.
Time to go boldly Multiplayer.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew brings the popular and ever growing multiplayer online gaming world to VR. It is literally a trekkie dream: command a starship, chat with your crew (other VR players) and seek out new life forms and new civilisations aboard your own starship.
Here is a trailer:
Once you are plugged into the videogame, you will find yourself aboard the starship USS Aegis and you get to choose your role. Perhaps you do not wish to command and prefer a supporting role. You choose from one of 4 roles: Become the Captain, take charge of weapons as Tactical Officer, steer the starship through star systems known and unknown as Helmsman or control the power of the Aegis as Systems Engineer.
All space hell will break loose as you brave dangerous systems. It’s a real visceral experience when a rogue ship fires at you and the videogame makes you experience the blast against the shields with the impressive sound effects we expect these days from gaming. The wow factor hits the trekkie in you as the Aegis goes to warp and the stars become streaks of light as you travel. Hit the warp button and go thrusters on full towards your destination on the wonderfully realistic starship bridge – believing you travel on a starship is easy. Dropping out of warp is real fun as you watch the screen reveal a new system or a mission area to visit.
As a player, you must be on the ball and ready to take a command and react quick. The helmsman and tactical guys for example need to be on point if the ship is to steer well in a battle and fire accurately. Trekkies will love the technology: sub-systems, warp control, warp core power.
Ubisoft have blown the boundaries away on VR gaming here by capturing the visual excitement of trek gameplay and the wonder of VR in a videogame that will keep you hooked, trekkie or not. Maybe it is no surprise that Ubisoft have taken the helm on the project, their previous Star Trek videogames of old were very popular such as Legacy.
It’s as trek as it gets. The tech goes solar. You really can do all those smart trek-techie combat tricks you hear in the series and movies such as dropping shields at the right time or teleporting survivors to the starship before a ship explodes – and so much more.
Did I mention you can command the original Enterprise from the 60s series? Well now I have.
Want to gain more insight into the roles in the videogame and some gameplay action? Here is a great video from Ubisoft:
The Obvious Limitations
So, Star Trek gaming in multiplayer mode to one side, how does VR cope with the growth of multiplayer as accomplished on the PC, Mac and now Android and iOS tablets.
VR is a relatively new technology in the way that it has only recently been introduced to the public in a way that is mass marketable. There are still lots of kinks to work out and lots of advances to come to make the process of experiencing VR smoother and more immersive. That means that any new addition to the tech, such as multiplayer, needs to be introduced gradually.
No one expects 16-player ‘death matches’ in a virtual world by the end of the year, and it is important to keep the expectations of consumers and tech developers in check. Baby steps are needed to perfect the technology and ensure it is feasible to add in new elements.
Even with one player present, VR can lag a bit. There can be some delay between input and visualization, and that’s dangerous to immersion. Once you add more players to the mix, the lag can increase and the level of immersion can take a hit. The illusion of being in a virtual environment can begin to fade, and it’s important to counteract that and do whatever is necessary to keep the players involved in the videogame.
The problem with adding a bunch of players into a VR title at this point is that not everyone will have the apparatus necessary to play in multiplayer session, so it’s not realty necessary to expand the player count that far at this time in the VR lifecycle.
Dealing with the Space issue
Anytime you have multiple people in a shared space and they can’t see each other physically, you run into problems when they have to start moving around. That’s exactly what VR does, as this people will be wearing sight restricting headsets, and they have to interact with each other virtually without bumping into each other physically. That means that once again, keeping the player count low is ideal for local multiplayer. It also means that in order to make multiplayer work, there needs to be some way to deal with the problem of space between players.
When the multiplayer is over the internet, there isn’t as much of a problem, but there are some niggling issues to work out. If you put players together in a virtual world, and they are hearing one another over their headsets instead of physically listening to them in the same room, then there is a light disconnect that occurs by having distorted audio. The audio received over a speaker will never be as clear as audio located within the same physical space, and that can hurt the immersion somewhat.
Create a Responsive Framework
VR only works if the people using it are enjoying it and are immersed. If there is something missing from their experience or it is off in any way, it can ruin the entire experience, and VR might not be as successful as its proponent’s hope. That means that developers need to be listening to their play testers and to consumers.
There will be problems with the technology and the experience that the designers and developers may not realize. Even through extensive testing they may miss some issues. It is only once the product goes to market and the consumers use it that these issues will be noted and hopefully sorted out. Leading VR hire company VRE commented “As a burgeoning technology, VR has a long way to go and a lot of missteps to take, but if developers are listening to their customers, then they can fix problems quickly and keep the market from stagnating.”
It’s easier than ever for them to connect with their customers, too, since they can interact with them directly through social media and get a quick response as soon as they release the product. If they aren’t paying attention to what their customers think about their products, however, then they aren’t likely to succeed.
The idea of multiplayer VR is an exciting one, and it is in its earliest stages of development right now. There a some really good multiplayer VR titles out already. Hopefully, we’ll get to see a mass market release for a few different variations on the multiplayer experience in the near future, and we can’t wait to see how developers implement it. We want it to be a success just as much as those making the products, but only time will tell if it can be pulled off.