An overview of VR gaming

1. So what is VR gaming?

Virtual reality (VR) gaming is the application of a 3D artificial environment to computer games, which is then viewed by the players through a VR Headset or Head Mounted Display.

Virtual reality environments are presented to the user in such a way that they block out the real-world environment, immersing the player in the virtual visuals and sound, creating suspension of disbelief and allowing the user experience the VR environment as if real, and they were really inside the virtual world.

These immersive examples include VR headsets but can also include VR rooms augmented with wearable computers and sensory components, such as synthetic scents and haptics devices for tactile feedback, although at the moment this is not common, and HMDs are the mass market device.

VR gaming has been dreamed about almost as long as video games — and especially 3D games — have existed. VR gaming control may sometimes involve a standard keyboard and mouse, but much more commonly game controllers of various kinds are used, that are usually sold as part of the headset experience as the input device. or motion capture methods. More complex VR rooms may include treadmill floors or similar methods to further the user’s sense of freedom of movement and feelings of immersion within the virtual environment. In other VR gaming setups, the user may be confined to a limited area surrounding a computer but have free range of real-world motion within the area.

As technology progresses, virtual reality gaming hardware has matured to the point that VR headsets now offer a great experience with little lag or latency induced nausea, two areas that had presented problems historically. However, there may be a small set of players who are still prone to experiencing this unfortunately. Some VR headsets on the market include HTC Vive, Occulus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, Samsung VR, and PlayStation VR. These products come with motion sensing controllers and a tracker to work in concert with the headset. VR headsets now offer room-scale VR capabilities although there are others are designed to be used in a seated or stationary position, most often the player is given the option of how they want to play. In addition to entertainment, VR games can be used for various types of training, education and for design visualization.

VR gaming is distinct from augmented reality gaming, which involves the integration of digital content with the user’s real-world environment.

At the moment there is a very large variety of different genres of games being explored in VR, and this is ever increasing as creativity in this space flourishes.

There are action-adventure role playing games, shooting games, music games, flight simulators, driving simulators, strategy games, puzzle games, pet games, and Sports games to name just a few. Sometimes a game is played by one player for single-player enjoyment, perhaps to test their skills against a computer or go on a story driven adventure as they become immersed in a fantastical fictional world. Other games fall into the category of e-Sports, which are multiplayer games, played by many people, perhaps as teams against each other, much like real life competitive sporting competitions, excerpt that the games take place as the players are immersed in the virtual reality of the game. Throughout the year various E sports tournaments are help among individuals or teams from all around the world, often with large cash prices for the winners.

Even though the VR gaming industry is only now starting to enter the mainstream, there are already a large variety of VR gaming titles, indeed gamers are the main lucrative market that is driving VR adoption and headset sales. The following will present an overview of 4 VR gaming titles, that represent only a minute selection of what is already available out there for gamers, and we would encourage you to explore the space further to see if there is something much more interesting to you.

2. EVE Valkyrie

Space and virtual reality are an exciting mix. After all, who hasn’t dreamt about flying through space blasting laser-cannons? Which is exactly what EVE Valkyrie bringing to life – from the comfort of your living room sofa.

EVE Valkyrie is available for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift and created by the developers behind the popular massive multiplayer sci-fi sandbox EVE Online.

There are a few hurdles to get over when first getting started. First up, the game doesn’t support the VR controllers of the Vive or Rift, so you need an Xbox 360 controller or other PC compatible gamepad. This may be a shame for many as it’s an extra cost to play the game with a VR system that is already an expense. Also, you also can’t see or interact with non-VR controllers as easily in the VR universe as you can with the official controllers.

The play area in Valykrie is seated only, as this is essentially a pilot-simulator game in sapce, which is unusual and refreshing for a VR title, because if feels more authentic, and it makes you feel more like a real pilot in the cockpit of a spacecraft.

First stop is a short tutorial and a number of single-player missions which are essentially just a warmup – because, EVE Valkyrie is intended mainly a multiplayer game. The tutorial makes it easy to get used to the controls of your ship and how it handles in terms of accelerating, braking, rolling and shooting the weapons. There are many different spaceships too, that you can pilot, with different abilities that you’ll need to learn for each, then tactically choose for your style of play and perhaps the mission at hand.

The single-player missions ease you into the world of Valkyrie – but don’t really offer much in the way of re-playability and variety.

After completing the single-player practice missions, it’s time for the multiplayer. It’s here you’ll face-off against real experienced players who’ve been at this for a while – no surprise, given the game’s launch in 2016.

Each multiplayer level begins with firing you out of a magnetic launch tube from your base ship and shooting you right into the heat of the battle. The experience of being fired out into space at high-speed is exhilarating in VR.

With VR games there always the worry of potential motion sickness, especially in fast paced games with constant turning and twirling to avoid being blown up, however the game designers handled this well and not many people think there is any problem here.

Many of EVE Valkyrie’s levels are made up of space stations and spacecraft graveyards that you’ll need to navigate to reach your objective. You might find yourself flying through a space junkyard one minute or circling around asteroids the next.

In Game objectives include working with a team to deploy drones to capture a control point or battling your way towards an enemy carrier ship to destroy it. This type of gameplay frequently reminds players of Star Wars, as blasting weak points eventually gives you access to the inside of the ship, which you’ll need to fly inside and destroy a core to take down the entire vessel.

EVE Valykrie great fun to play. There’s something fantastic about blasting around in space in a virtual spacecraft, firing cannons, shooting missiles, and engaging the warp drive.

The game is a wonderful showcase of the future of virtual reality and its potential. However, some people may consider it to be let down by the lack of single-player story driven content, content and the lack of variety of the main missions.

Still, there’s a lot of content in EVE Valkyrie if you are interested in multiplayer and want to have this innovative and memorable experience; Several years after its release its probably selling for very cheap, it might be a great addition to anyone’s collection of space combat games.

3. Lone Echo

The outer space universe is full of limitless and imaginative possibilities which is why it’s such a popular theme for so many writers, artists and for game developers. And that’s now becoming also true for virtual reality world creators, although immersive zero-g environments could pose a new set of challenges when trying to overcome motion sickness. There are plenty of titles out there that have tried to simulate weightlessness with varying degrees of success, but with the recent launch of Lone Echo by Ready at Dawn those issues seem to have been addressed, with a full sci fi experience that truly allows players to enjoy a narrative-driven, environment while in comfort of your home.

As an exclusive title for the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers, Lone Echo perfectly showcases how a beautiful cinematic-quality experience can be achieved in VR, from the amazing storyline to the graphics and art, music and through to the gameplay, all of it’s been crafted together to create a video-game world of stunning artistry and proportions.

To make a successful space-based title Ready at Dawn had to overcome the biggest obstacle, and that’s VR movement. You you move through the weightless environment, handles are everywhere to grasp, and these can be grabbed and used to pull yourself across any surfaces, enabling you essentially swing around with ease. It becomes second nature to move around the compartments of the space station, moving from one room to the next.

As you progress through, two further options are unlocked. When playing as a robot you’re equipped with two little thrusters on each wrist, which can be used for shorts bursts, and then they quickly recharge. These offer fine movement control in Lone Echo meaning you don’t need to grab anything to move. Then as you progress outside the station, into the cosmos you’re then equipped with a backpack that can thrust you forward at greater speed for those bigger distances, and this also includes an immediate brake. Throughout the VR experience, you’re given opportunities to decide what you’d like to do next, from the early training sections that teach you about your various abilities to wandering around the station – both inside and out – looking for these little satellites that help unlock further information.  There are main story-line objectives that need to complete to move forward with the story, but there’s a continual feeling of ease to everything you do – even in sections that require a bit of haste – so you can explore and take in the stunning artistic experience, that will form in your gaming memories for the rest of your life.

While artistic beauty doesn’t always make for an amazing gaming experience, some of the best VR titles have a simple yet charming and tasteful aesthetic, everyone is inclined to appreciate how impressive Lone Echo looks. So much artistic love and talent has gone into every step of your journey that it’s no wonder people love this title. From the craftsmanship and design in the inside the space station to the first time you get to leave and see Saturn in all its beauty, you’ll be inclined to remember lone echo for its imagery and aesthetics perhaps more than any other aspect of the game.

Ever since its first unveiling at Oculus Connect, Lone Echo has been one of those massively talked about titles that you wonder if it could ever really live up to the hype. It’s a must see VR experience for any fan of narrative driven sci-fi experiences.

4. Cloudlands 2

Some people love golf so much they’ll watch it on TV, play golf video games, get a golf club membership, or perhaps even turn their garden into a mini golf course! However, for others, more casual golfing experiences have become popular in the video game market such as Hot Shots/Everybody’s Golf and Mario Golf.

Cloudlands 2 is a fun, casual VR golf game that has options for playing both regular and mini golf. While the courses have a minimalistic and clean look, there are no human characters in the game. It’s you alone on the golf course in most modes, though you can see other player’s Oculus avatars in online multiplayer.

Cloudlands 2 features a good variety of courses, encompassing a mixture of both regular golf holes as well as mini-golf holes. The basic golf swing mechanic works well in VR, using the motion controls. Some of the golf courses are very large, so the game allows for gamers to put a lot of power their swings, but this doesn’t always translate well to putting on the regular sized fields.

There are different options to customize the power of your golf clubs, but since courses mix regular golf and mini golf, switching power settings back and forth can get frustrating and could have been better thought through in the game design. As this this experience is just for a bit of fun and not intended to be a realistic golfing experience, the variety of clubs available in Cloudlands 2 is minimal.

While the club sticks to your main hand, your other hand is entirely invisible and has no real effect on the game. Although this works great, the inclusions of a virtual golf bag or accessories might have added some variety and more personality to the game. Movement around the course is handled with a standard VR teleport forward to move system, but with the nice extra touch that you always have the option of teleporting directly to the ball.

There is however one part of the game which feels magical and gives this game most of its intrigue and replayabilty. That is the option to Build your own VR golf course, without having to dig around in the mud outside your house.

This part of the game is memorable and fascinating, and this is all done within the VR world, as if you are a giant piecing together your own little golf course. The maximum file size on these courses is very generous, allowing you to design your most imaginative and perhaps craziest golfing experience without worrying too much about limitations!

The option to build your own designs has led to a wide variety of community-created and shared courses available online for play, giving Cloudlands 2 a never-ending potential play time for those obsessed with VR golf. If you get into playing and sharing your creativity with friends and the community at large, Cloudlands 2 could keep you entertained for a very long time. If you are looking for a fun, casual golf game available with no limit of content, you’ll have a great time with Cloudlands 2.

5. Windlands 2

As one of the first full-length games for VR, Windlands pioneered a movement scheme that sends you soaring high into the air, using your grappling hooks to swing from bush to tree in the desolate world that was fractured and destroyed after a planet shaking conflict. The gameplay of Windlands was non combative and entirely movement based, with the idea being that you would explore a fascinating cartoon world by swinging though the scenery with grappling hooks as you attempt to reach the exit of each map.

This sequel to the amazing original game, introduces us to the history of the world and the reasons behind your quest. If you thought the addition of combat was going to change the amount jumping and swinging craziness seen in the first Windlands, dont worry, there is all of that and so much more this time around., The new world of Windlands 2 delivers giant bosses, laser-shooting droids, and shooting challenges to sharpen your new bow-handling ability. You’ll need those shooting skills, as bosses fire lasers, energy weapons, homing missiles, and can even summon more enemies to go after you.

Swinging and shooting at the same time, which becomes a necessity in some of the maps, isn’t as simple as some would have hoped, although it’s entirely possible, you just have to take a bit of time to get the hang of it. Unlike the first Windlands, there’s no central hub to return to after each map. The gameplay over emphasizes the importance of reaching locations, but it’s easy to understand why Windlands 2 relies on these as a default to help you navigate through the confusing mass of imaginative 3D architecture that populates the levels. It’s a necessary feature so you don’t have to go through the frustration of getting completely lost.

The story is just a basic tried and true method of giving some structure to the fun of the show, traversing the immersive puzzle world that is Windlands 2, and defeating enormous bosses in the process. Except for the addition of a bow, the basic controls are virtually unchanged from the first Windlands.

Multitasking arrow shots while flying through the air to your next landing point can be really satisfying, although hard depending on how comfortable you feel the movement scheme, what maybe a fun challenge to some may be a frustration to others.

In terms of challenge, there is an easy, medium, and hard mode, these only change how powerful an enemy’s shots are and how accurate they will be. This doesn’t change the difficulty of the game’s platforming movement aspect though, which seems to increase as you progress to account for your new skills.

There is also a multiplayer aspect, and bosses are much simpler to take down with a few more friends on hand though, letting you team up with a max of three other people. Beyond making bosses easier to take on, the added ability of having a few friends or strangers in-game inevitably leads to sharing the fun and can make the whole experience a lot more memorable. Multiplayer isn’t required to beat the game, but it’s a really a really fun aspect that was a good idea to include, nonetheless. Windlands 2 will probably take most people about 7 hours total to complete, playing only the story mode in single-player.

That said, you can spend a lot more time hunting hard-to-reach collectibles or playing the other multiplayer ancillary games like racing on one of the five available tracks, or alternatively playing a ‘collect’ mode where you race to get all of the map’s collectibles and make it to the finish line before your three other competitors.

The visual style, while deliberately basic and comic, offers a simple yet beautiful art style to an interesting world. Taking a look back to the first Windlands, it’s clear the studio has refined the overall aesthetic to be more varied in both textures and architecture, but it still retains the charm of the open vistas. Character design is inspired by Studio Ghibli films, and has plenty of charm.

Windlands 2 has some comfort options, although since it’s a smooth movement running and jumping game, it could be intense for newer VR users, or just those unlucky enough to be more prone to motion sickness. To mitigate this, the game features a few advanced options. The game features seated and standing options, smooth turn, or variable snap-turn.

In the end Windlands 2 derives most of its fun from the thrill of the fast-paced swinging movements, and beautiful architectural visuals. It has a very nice theme to it, and it a great addition to a budding genre of VR games that aims to make the most of out of the potential of the VR immersive medium.

6. Closing thoughts

The above explores far less than 1% of the VR gaming options available but provides some overview of just how much variety there is for players, even in the early days of mass market VR.

There are still plenty of challenges to overcome for VR game developers, but its so encouraging to see just how much creativity and talent is already showing itself in the VR community, and already, how many amazing and memorable experiences there are as options available for players eager to take advantage of what VR has to offer.

So how has progress in VR gaming influenced the progress of VR for education?

As the VR gaming hardware and software has progressed, it has allowed headset producers to find a business model in bringing VR hardware to mass market, which justifies them spending more money on research and development to improve the technology further. Progress in both the hardware and the software side of VR gaming has translated into progress in VR for education, bringing down the price of headsets through mass market gamers, and has allowed universities and schools to purchase these same headsets in large numbers for their students, therefore creating a VR education market. Progress in the software side of gaming also translated well to improving VR for education, for example, faster 3D graphics engines and content creation tools such as Unity and Unreal engine, are also used for by the content creators for the VR education market. All the same technologies that go into making an appealing and easy to use, affordable gaming product can also be translated into products on the theme of education.