Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts on VR aesthetics

The current working standard for first person games is Valve's VR implementation in Team Fortress 2: the player uses the mouse to move an on-screen reticule, and if the reticule leaves the middle "dead space" screen area then it rotates the player's torso. Head tracking does not change where you're aiming -- and outside of giving you peripheral vision, it is somewhat meaningless within the context of the game.

Is that the best VR implementation we can do? To render it meaningless?

Right now, the Oculus Rift exists mainly in this realm of performance art -- where most of the interesting stuff happens when watching other people use the Rift, and imagining what they see and what their experiences are. The vast majority of videos out there focus on the player instead of the game ("This is the future of gaming. It looks like a dog trying to escape from under a duvet."), and the best Rift games focus on the intersection between virtual and non-virtual, like players who physically kneel on the ground to play the guillotine sim Disunion. I think much of this dynamic is informed by the growing dominance of Let's Play (LP) culture... which is to say that the "best players" are now the ones who can "perform" the game in the most compelling way and reveal new aspects of the game that we didn't realize before, and that way's context usually exists outside of getting high scores / headshots. What it means to be "good at a game" is slowly shifting from sport to sport as theater.

Virtual head animation has never been more human and true. We are all now cinematographers who can directly share our fields of vision in extremely subtle ways; the act of looking is now the most expressive input in video games today. And right now, the "best VR standard" is rendering it meaningless?

Don't forget that the Rift isn't just a display -- it is also a controller. Let's do stuff with it.