With the number of active HTC Vive users at around 100,000, momentum has started to push a new era of competitive living room experiences that we at OSSIC like to call: VeSports.
The HTC Vive allows room scale play areas which offers an impressive immersion tool for diving into a virtual environment. Coupled with advanced haptic and sensory technology, players will be given the opportunity to delve deeper into their digital content than ever before. Yet, as our immersion grows in intensity, will our play-styles follow suit?
In this new immersive virtual environment, players are re-imagining their game spaces and game play styles as old locomotion mechanics are replaced by virtual movement tracking which relies heavily on our own physical responses. As these physical responses correlate with in game objectives, could we finally see the era where the merging of digital sports and physical athletics occurs?
As VR players learn to hone their physical reactions and begin to delve deeper into VR titles that offer intense PvP engagements, we at OSSIC believe a competitive scene will take root to expand upon those physical reaction based stimuli and create avenues to showcase them. In time, we believe these developing Virtual Reality tools will help create a community of developers and players that launches competitive digital play past the living room and onto the global eSports stage as an emergent VeSport scene.
Currently, the 'best' Virtual reality games are able to implement very visceral movement schemes. Movement that seems to feel natural to the user and allows for organic responses to translate into the virtual environment. This is enough immersion within Virtual Reality to evoke a realistic physical and emotional reaction from the user, so how can we translate physical responses into a metric that is measurable in competition? Some developers are starting to answer that question in their Virtual Reality experiences as the community moves away from the exploratory virtual experiences and begin to 'gamify' their Virtual design methods.
Some important games have started to explore concepts in the above mentioned competitive Virtual eSport scene. Holopoint takes advantage of the Vive room-scale, and controllers to coerce the user into a virtual space that mimics a Japanese dojo to do battle with digital waves of enemies, and is one of the more successful titles at making you forget which reality you are truly in.
Holopoint is a Samurai inspired archer game developed by Alzan studios. Compounding on the very fun archery mechanics we've seen since the Valve Lab days Holopoint has become THE best archery experience on the Vive.
Holopoint excels at putting the player directly in the path of multiple enemy types, with the goal being to destroy the enemies before they destroy you. Through the first few levels, floating blue cubes hover around the dojo-style level and require you to quickly dispatch them with virtual arrows before their energy projectiles end your digital existence and you have to restart the current wave-set.
This game play requires rapid360 degree perception checks, and quick firing techniques from the Vive controllers which are constantly rumbling with the strain of the taught virtual bow string. Loosing arrows in rapid succession gives the user the feeling that they are in the skin of a talented archer, and with that small confidence boost trick shots start coming naturally as the cubes meet their end over and over as the waves progress.
Seemingly with their last ounce of energy, the cubes will shoot a projectile when destroyed, in an attempt to end you from beyond the grave. The projectiles are honed towards the users head-tracked HMD, which creates this mini-game of twirling your head back as you nock another arrow, only to loose it in the direction of the next closest enemy cube. With all methods of the game-play in congruence there exists a strange virtual dance: swinging head, rotating hips, and bending knees all come into play to give the user the illusion of full spatial mobility. From the outside looking in, it seems strange and the mobility appears somewhat limited, but to the VR user the experience seems like you are flying around a dojo, performing Legolas style bow-kills like you were at Helms Deep.
And then Holopoint becomes even more interesting: The squares were only the warm up, a stationary enemy to get your sense of 360 degree space and room scale honed to a razors edge. The real enemy was simply waiting in the shadows, waiting for your shoulder to feel that first physical ache from using muscles you've most likely never had to use before. A pack of blue samurai, fully articulated, and animated, descend upon the dojo. Intermixed with the previous cube menace, these katana wielding melee warriors won't wait for you to dispatch them with a well placed arrow, instead they charge you, pacing towards your virtual avatar with their swords raised. If you are to survive, you must now hone your skills to the point of instinct... the perfect recipe for a competitive Virtual experience.
In the OSSIC office, I have personally put over 20 hours into Holopoint alone, and found that throughout the experience the stand out moments consisted of a pesky enemy and his surprise attacks on my flank; a samurai's katana slashing down from the side or from behind me became a frightening stimulus that actually had my heart racing and created the only time I've had to remove an HMD due to a virtual experience becoming 'too much'. Holopoint nailed down the exact experience they were aiming for; in fact I would say that having the repercussion of a digital loss being so visceral that the user has to confirm that he is in fact still alive in reality created an internal drive for me to to never let that samurai get into my blind spot again.I was hooked, and I needed to beat the office high score; I felt like Neo in the matrix, learning advanced archery as the simulation ran over and over.
As I hopped back into a new round, a flood of emotions hit me like a train. Nostalgia, determination, anxiety and excitement, all surged through me as I thought about the application of such realism in digital competition: we have games like StarCraft, Counter Strike, Overwatch, Call of Duty, that all fill entire stadiums with heart pounding action. Is there a space for the same conviction within virtual reality? Can arena sports translate into Virtual counterparts in a way that allows players to feel that heart pounding, high intensity, will to win? What about the potential of supplying an audience with the same level of entertainment that eSports has supplied to the world? At OSSIC we are working bringing sensory information into game design, creating a new pathway for players to rely on audio as much as they rely on visuals to perform at a competitive level. With 3Daudio and other sensory potential in the AR and VR space, we believe that competitive VeSports can take root and drive an entirely new era of digital interaction.
Holopoint offers us a glimpse into that potential. A heart pounding addition to any HTC Vive set up, this game is a standout in terms of immersion and physical interaction. After one or two sessions you are going to want to hone in your bow skills out of a pure drive to survive in this particular digital dojo, and isn't that how the best archaic games have become staples of eSport entertainment ? In a potential future with digital gladiators fighting in virtual worlds, OSSIC is ready to help bridge the gap between players senses and their will to win in a constantly evolving virtual environment. Audio will continue to play a big roll in how we perceive the worlds around us, both the real and virtual so giving players the tools to perform to the best of their ability will be a necessary step before VeSPorts hit the mainstream.
We hope to experience more of these heart stopping Virtual experiences and foster a growing community that might see this new entertainment platform as the future of the integration between physical competition and digital sport.