Legend of Luca is a VR-exclusive title, designed from the ground up to utilise the HTC Vive’s room-scale emphasised tracking capabilities. Heavily influenced by Nintendo classic The Legend of Zelda, the title will work aims to scale your virtual experience to the limits of your physical play-space.
As the launch of the SteamVR powered HTC Vive system approaches we’re beginning to see more and more mature titles from developers keen to take on the challenges and opportunities Valve’s emphasis on room-scale virtual reality poses. The problem is, ‘room-scale’ is a deliberately vague term. It accurately describes SteamVR’s elegant, scalable tracking system and its large potential tracking volume. However, it’s a somewhat unhelpfully variable term if you’re a game designer hoping to build a title to take advantage of that volume whilst still ensuring the maximum number of potential buyers can play it well.
Traditional games have the luxury of rigid rules and limitations defined by the designers, programmers and the hardware. The closest a console game developer has to come to worrying about the physical properties of anything in their end user’s living room is ensuring the game can be played comfortably on different screen sizes and at different resolutions. With SteamVR and Lighthouse, the roof on those limitations are lifted, the training wheels removed and some potentially game-breaking physical variables are introduced, most notably that every customer will have a different sized room to play your game in.
Luckily, Valve clearly recognised the challenges from the start and included tools to aid the developer and the player make the most of their space, but as good as Chaparone (SteamVR’s way of mapping and visualising your physical boundaries in VR) is, it’s down to the developer to make their games work for their players using them.
Legend of Luca is a dungeon crawler, formed in the mold of Shigeru Miamoto’s classic Legend of Zelda series, which opts to maximise the player’s ability to use room-scale, but introduces an ingenious scaling mechanism to ensure those with less room get the most out of the experience.
“I’m really all about the high end VR and the room scale experience gives the best immersion.” Legend of Luca developer Bryan Livingston tells me, “This game idea game out of hearing that when vive games are given teleport, players tend to just stand there. So this game utilizes your full space.”
The game takes place in a series of dungeon chambers, each filled with enemies and piles destructible objects, some filled with loot. Find your way through the dungeons, defeat bosses, take their weapons and power up. And were this be a traditional game, played on a 2D monitor whilst sat sedentary in your chair, that sounds like it’d be somewhat dull – when you place the player as a physical actor within this immersive scene, thanks to the HTC Vive VR headset, things get much more interesting.
“So I actually charged across the room at one part of the game play preview,” Livingston states, “There’s zero virtual movement inside of the rooms. To prevent players from moving through walls the weapons will “drop” when you put them through a collider so that helps enforce the physicality of the environment.” So with a title so dependent on the playspace, how is the virtual and physical scaling aligned? “The play area is given to me by SteamVR from the chaperone calibration. I’ve used a bunch of tricks to make the play area feel bigger. The floor is positioned at the real life players waist so that he feels like he’s a small elf running around in a dungeon.”
Instead of navigating the dungeon with a joypad, the player is asked to charge about their room, physically walking and running to avoid dangers, collect loot and move between rooms. When exiting a room, Livingston has implemented a ‘screen-scroll’ technique. Anyone familiar with Zelda and myriad other classic dungeon crawlers, will recognise this effect of course and it looks at first glance to be an instant recipe for nausea.
Not so says Livingston. “I came upon the idea just after thinking deeply about what kind of games would work well at room scale,” he tells me “Originally I was thinking a nice slow pan that gives you a few seconds to get a grasp on the new room, but the slower the pan happens the worse it feels motion-sickness wise. The default pan is now at 150ms which is long enough to give you a sense of motion and then it’s over as to not make anyone motion sick. I’ve had 30 people thru the game now with zero complaints of motion sickness.” Another example of how developers’ experimentation in this brave new VR world can pay dividends.
Quite apart from the clever tricks Livingston is integrating to make room scale VR work for as many people as possible, the title looks like a bunch of fun to play. Implementation of physics means that your destructible environment shatters and crumbles satisfyingly under the weight of whatever virtual weapon you swing at it. Pointing at the exit you wish to travel through engages screen-scroll and the options already present in this early version of the game are impressive.
Legend of Luca is up to view on Steam’s Early Access store, and it’ll be available come April 29th, around the time the HTC Vive is expected to begin shipping. We’re looking to giving our rooms a work out ourselves very soon.