Is Tetris’ E3 Virtual Reality revamp a sign of things to come or a step too soon?

As the gaming world braces itself for a Virtual Reality boom, with Tetris’ E3 revamp being one of the highlights of the California conference, it begs the question will this just be another nostalgic trend or is retro VR here to stay? Ben Bennett, founder of Virtual Reality experts Luminous Group analyses the current state of VR and whether the retro recreations are a sign of things to come.

Companies are banking on Virtual Reality being the next big thing in gaming and for anyone trying a high-end gaming VR headset like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive for the first time, it is truly an amazing experience being completely immersed in a magical new environment.
However, even with all this ‘wow factor’, sales of headsets have been sluggish. As an avid gamer and even with all this technology at my disposable I still tend to play regular games over VR. There are a few challenges developers still need to overcome before VR gaming will truly take off.

Length of play physically possible – while VR games look visually stunning and game play is intense. Trying to jump around killing onslaughts of aliens, which require you to move duck and take cover is physically exhausting. After about 30 minutes the experience becomes just too draining. These become short fast paced experiences, but they lack the depth and breadth of traditional games.

Effectively updating the old and controller integration– one of the key target markets for VR seems to be the group who grew up as the first gamers; Generation X. We dreamed about VR and, through playing on our ZX spectrums with games like Knight Lore or Elite, in our minds and imaginations we were already there.
This has led to a host of VR games and experiences being retro or 80s inspired. Games like Duck Hunt, with a sinister retro 80s take on it, and other classic VR arcades give users a gaming infused trip down memory lane.

The main issue with these games is the user interaction and specifically using VR controllers. Elite Dangerous VR, the reboot of the original star fighter exploration game, was hailed as one of the first break through VR titles and it is visually stunning. However, problems soon started to arise with the controls. The HTC Vive controller is basic, Elite Dangerous isn’t. It requires lots and lots of controls to be used with an external joystick. Watching YouTube tutorials on how to play the game is essential.

Next problem, how do you watch the tutorial videos in VR? User experience is everything in VR; it has the ability to delight but if things don’t work intuitively it can quickly become very frustrating.

Movement and motion sickness– using a controller to move forwards and backs induces extreme nausea and discomfit rendering the game almost unplayable. Motion is still one of the issues developers are trying to figure out. How do you move through a virtual world naturally without actually moving? Teleport has become the standard solution, but this really limits game play. There are a whole plethora of new devices coming to market which are going to try and overcome this. I believe this element is really key to making VR a preferred choice for game play.

Rather than trying to recreate retro gameplay, a better alternative that would work better is recreating retro feelings. Movies would lend themselves to this better than games, who wouldn’t want to experience TRON in VR or classic 80s movies like the last star fighter?

The potential for VR is huge and it is the perfect medium to reboot classics but simply taking old games and mechanics and putting it in VR doesn’t work. They need to be completely redesigned from the ground up creating something that feels familiar but is new and exciting.

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