‘Bounce Arcade’ is Like VR Pinball for Your Fists—And Exactly the Kind of Creativity VR Needs to Thrive

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Bounce Arcade, recently announced and launching this Fall, looks like a unique fusion of pinball and VR, in a way that’s truly native to the medium. It’s an example of the body of VR-native gameplay mechanics that’s still in its infancy.

All video games trace their lineage to arcade games.

I’m not necessarily talking about games in a big cabinet, but any game which has little in the way of narrative, characters, and progression. They’re primarily built around mechanics that are just plain-old fun.

With Pong (1972) we figured out how one axis of input could work. With Pac Man (1980) we added two axes and enemies to chase the player. Super Mario Bros (1985) figured out how we would fit a larger and more complex world onto a small screen. And Star Fox (1993) on SNES laid the groundwork for navigating 3D worlds from a third-person perspective.

It’s the mechanics that drove these games—the ones that are so fun they don’t even need narrative, characters, or progression for them to feel complete.

It took 21 years to get from Pong to Star Fox. And since then, games have only grown in complexity, but only by building on core mechanics that were invented long before.

Platformers that are not conceptually distant from Super Mario Bros are still huge. So are games using third-person views and on-screen reticles for navigation and aiming.

I could go on-and-on with these examples, but the point is, they take time to figure out. And it’s not until you figure them out that you can create compelling games with all the other stuff on top, like narrative, characters, and progression.

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It took decades of work to find these core mechanics and eventually turn them into the huge games we know and love today. But, all that work was done specifically for flatscreen games made for controllers or keyboards and mice.

When a new medium like VR comes along—with a whole new kind of input like 6DOF motion controllers—we can borrow from the flatscreen realm, but ultimately the medium needs to invent the mechanics that feel truly native to it.

Many VR games borrow too much from the world of flatscreen gaming. They don’t sufficiently answer the question ‘why play this in VR instead of on a flat screen?’. And these games tend not to find much commercial success.

Then something like Beat Saber comes along. Rhythm games have been around for a long time; but Beat Saber took the overall concept of a rhythm game and paired it with a core mechanic that is truly VR-native. The way you use your body to slice cubes in Beat Saber can’t be replicated in any medium other than VR.

Beat Saber found a core mechanic that feels great in VR. And one day that mechanic will be the foundation for a game that’s not just the arcadey expression of the mechanic, but a large and complex game instead.

There’s been other core VR mechanics discovered thus far. Like Gorilla Tag’s unique movement—which can’t be replicated outside of VR—that turned the simple game of tag into one of Quest’s most successful titles and spawned a whole new genre of games based on this VR-native mechanic.

But there’s still so much to invent and discover when it comes to VR-native mechanics.

All of this is to say, I love seeing new and creative gameplay ideas that feel truly at home in VR. And what I’ve seen of the recently announced Bounce Arcade immediately struck me as one of those ideas.

We’ve already seen plenty of pinball machine simulations in VR. The kind where you’re literally standing in front of a pinball machine and pressing buttons to flip the flippers.

But Bounce Arcade is taking the overarching concept of pinball and truly and creatively reimagining it for VR. Your fists are the paddles and the world around you is the playing field. It’s a fresh look at what pinball even means when you’ve got the power to alter the player’s entire reality and allow them to bring their hands into the game world.

Bounce Arcade is coming to Quest sometime this fall. So far pricing and other platforms are unconfirmed.

But this isn’t to say that all VR games are destined to be arcade games. To the contrary—what I’m saying is the medium still needs to spend time experimenting and innovating on core VR-native mechanics.

Only once a sufficient number of them are discovered and refined will we start to see a real mass of larger and more complex games that feel properly at home in VR. It’s actually pretty easy with a little imagination to see how you could extend Bounce Arcade’s underlying mechanic into a much more complex and less arcade-centric game.

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And honestly, I think there are many more of these VR-native mechanics already out there that simply haven’t gotten enough attention. That’s a huge reason why I’m working on the Inside XR Design video series to highlight these kinds of learnings. If you’ve read this far, I have to imagine you’re interested enough in this topic that you’d probably enjoy checking out the episodes published so far.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • XRC

    One core VR mechanic I thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps best demonstrated "In Death", the bow pull driven with 6DoF motion controllers, it's very physical generating a rich stream of proprioceptive feedback

    feels damn good to shoot (weapon arrows) or move (teleport arrow) almost like a superpower especially for longer distances or vertical fighting and moving.

    Index controllers with haptics on maximum are just sublime "In Death", somehow I lost 100.1 hours to that game, or so steam tells me…

  • Mike

    Does developing for Quest in 2024 **REALLY** require Playstation 2 level graphics? That was 23 years ago…

    • philingreat

      Playstation 2 was console, not a mobile headset. And in VR you need to render 2 screens at all times, which cuts the performance in half.

      • ViRGiN

        Is that why Red Matter on Quest 1 looks so good? And Red Matter on Quest 3 even much better with dynamic shadows?

      • Mike

        There are some Quest games with much, much better graphics.

        Generally, mobile graphics are about 1.5 generations behind consoles. So the current standard should be between PS3 and PS4.

        Rendering 2 images at 3x the frame rate is 6x the render power (simplifying). A generation is usually around a 10x jump. At the very least, we should expect solid PS3 graphics.

    • psuedonymous

      If you think those are "PS2 graphics" you have extremely rose-tinted spectacles.

      • Mike

        Nope. Go compare. The only in-game thing in this trailer that looks better than PS2 is those shiny-asteroid things near the end – more like PS3 (2006). Obviously not considering render resolution or aliasing.

    • Octogod

      This is a valid question! Let's talk hardware specs.

      PS2 had a in-game max of 6,000,000 polygons per second. The Quest 3, has an in-game limit of maybe 500,000 per second. So, it's not PS2 level – it's significantly lower.

      But that's not all! The PS2 excelled at certain tasks, like transparent overdraw, which is used for fog, lens flares, and more. The Quest finds these tasks very hard due to being a tile based, so they are rarely used.

      I wish more people knew, this isn't the PS2 – it's 10x less powered. It will get better with time, but you shouldn't expect modern graphics on a mobile chipset designed for 90fps gameplay.

      • Mike

        I was referring to the entire generation of PS2 as "PS2". Including GameCube and Xbox 1.

        What's your source on these specs? Doesn't sound right. There are some Quest games with much, much better graphics. Generally, mobile graphics are about 1.5 generations behind consoles. So the current standard should be between PS3 and PS4.

        Rendering 2 images at 3x the frame rate is 6x the render power (simplifying). A generation is usually around a 10x jump. At the very least, we should expect solid PS3 graphics.

    • NL_VR

      Most important is if it's fun.
      then dont judge to much out of 2d videos

  • ViRGiN

    This is the kind of game if you want more mom and dads getting into VR for 30 minutes a month.

    This is exactly what VR does not need to grow.

    • Ben Lang

      The whole point of this article is that this game specifically is not the future of VR. It's about experiences like this which experiment and establish core VR mechanics which are thus proven enough to become the building blocks for much larger and grander experiences.

      • ViRGiN

        I get “what the bat!” vibes from this.
        You know, GOTY according to UploadVR (and also sponsored).

    • ViRGiN

      What a miserable troll I am, nothing positive to say at all.

      Now be gone, I have a madame palm and her five lovely daughters to entertain. Into a sock.

      • ViRGiN

        i am gayben

  • Patrick Hogenboom

    Oh, seems to be another Meta exclusive :/

  • polysix

    Why does everything have to have such shitty cartoon graphics? If I was making this game (which I could) you can bet it would look as real as possible to make it properly immersive in VR. So many games brought down to mobile quality graphics thanks to the shitty quests making VR seem about as believable and immersive as a children's colouring in book.

    • ViRGiN

      Rec Room came out on PCVR years before Quest was even a thing. Same with superhot.

      pcvr is driving vr down.

      • Holger Fischer

        Who doesn't remember the spiking gaming PC sales, after the release of Rec Room.

    • philingreat

      the quest is the most successful VR headset so that's where the market goes

      • ViRGiN

        That's where the market goes, but these aren't Quest 2 graphics, this is something I'd expect on Oculus GO in 2018.

        • Ben Lang

          Graphics != Art Direction.

          This looks better than the average Quest game IMO

          • ViRGiN

            What is "average Quest game"?
            It surely looks on par like average PCVR game, given their sheer amount.

    • Ben Lang

      TBH it would be cool to see a game like this with the visual fidelity of something like Red Matter 2. I wonder how far it could be pushed.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      I wonder if something like this would be more fun if it had 'real' graphics. I personally don't mind, for these type of games. But then again, I also like low poly escape room type of games.

  • Ben Lang

    That's the point. You can't start with huge VR games if you're just copying and pasting mechanics from flatscreen. These are the kinds of experiences that should have been focused on more, earlier in the medium's lifecycle. That didn't quite happen so now we're making up for lost time.

    • Rosko

      There was plenty of this kind of thing back in 2016 & i always thought they worked well. Sports/arcade type vr games can be great but i rarly play them for long. This looks fun apart from the dire graphics & art style. I share the OPs disappointment though, I had high hopes that by now we would have wonderful worlds to visit & explore & things have pretty much gone backwards in that regard but i guess nothing can be done about it.

  • NL_VR

    K, thanks bye

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Looks like a lot of fun, looking forward to playing this on PCVR.

  • Eddy

    Good concept, hope the landing sticks