Virtual reality has an amazing capacity to make you feel like you are somewhere else, and to step into new worlds. But as far as actually being an accurate stand-in for most real life activities, VR still has a long way to go. Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, however, is so darn close to the real thing that I would not advise investing in any minigolf business opportunities any time soon.
Played on the HTC Vive Pre at Valve’s SteamVR Developer Showcase, I am amazed at how closely Cloudlands: VR Minigolf recreates the real life minigolf experience.
In VR, skydiving is ‘like’ real life skydiving in concept alone. Cloudlands: VR Minigolf isn’t just ‘like’ real life minigolf, it basically is real life minigolf. It exists in this niche space, where the activity is so simple (hitting a ball gently with a club) and the feedback so little, that it can recreated almost perfectly in VR.
I was skeptical at first that swinging a non-existent putter would work, lacking the weight of a real one, and totally miss the feedback of actually contacting your ball with the club. But it turns out that the amplitude of action in minigolf—the relatively gentle swing and nearly inconsequential mass of the golf ball against the club—makes it uniquely positioned to work in VR where many other activities simply wouldn’t.
Golf (not minigolf), for instance, wouldn’t work in VR at this point. The amplitude (speed and angle of the club, leading to precise physics of the ball, like compressing and expanding) has a scale that reaches beyond what VR can do without deeper simulation (like maybe using a real club and ball in conjunction with a VR component). Minigolf, it turns out, just so happens to be a perfect combination of low amplitude and simple physics that it can be a near replacement for the real thing.
In Cloudlands: VR Minigolf I found myself hitting the ball so accurately that I asked the developers if there was some sort of aim-assistance. They told me there wasn’t any at all; the motion of the ball was entirely derived from physics between your club and the ball itself—which means that my own experience with playing real-life minigolf translated perfectly into the VR equivalent.
But simply replacing real minigolf with VR minigolf is only half the fun. The rest comes from leveraging the VR platform to do things you’d never be able to do in real life. Like crazy holes that feature canons, corkscrewing paths, or impossible geometry. Developer Futuretown is on the edge of exploring far-out mechanics that go beyond real-world constraints, but fundamentally they want to keep the initial experience based on a real minigolf simulation rather than turning it into an arcade-like parody. DLC down the road, however, could have a theme that drastically alters the gameplay. Anyone up for a game of low-gravity minigolf on the moon?
Disclosure: Valve covered airfare and lodging for one writer to attend the SteamVR Developer Showcase.