Project Arena is a competitive ‘full-body’ VR experience from CCP. Using the Oculus Touch controllers, this eSports experiment is far removed from the space simulation themes normally associated with the company, although it retains much of the style and slick presentation.
I was able to try two modes in Project Arena at Fanfest 2016, both of which are set up as 1v1 competitive future-sports. Similarities were drawn to volleyball, but I thought ‘table hockey’ was the more fitting comparison, as you use a paddle to strike a disc. An interesting twist on a simple concept, it uses a central, circular ‘net’ with gravitational properties; you need to direct your hits away from the middle, resulting in satisfying, curved trajectories. You’re able to hit the discs in any orientation around the net, in other words: a typical ‘tennis swing’ would go around the side, but a downwards smash would see the disc curving underneath the net, which is novel in itself.
The thin green band around the net is where you try to aim; a disc passing through it receives a speed boost, throwing off your opponent’s timing. There are other nuances, like a slow moving disc, which is clearly indicated, can be smashed extra hard resulting in a free speed boost essentially. And if that shot passes through the green band, that’s a glorious double boost. Curve your shots far enough, and they can bounce off the walls, but you really have to strike them hard.
The second mode is more aggressive. Instead of a ‘bat’, you’re equipped with a small shield. The play space is significantly reduced, feeling like a small corridor, and far more wall-bouncing is involved. Pull the trigger, and your shield turns into a glowing disc, which you can then throw at your opponent. They can either dodge with their body, or block with their shield. Unlike the first mode, the objective is to strike the other player with the disc.
The shields can only take two hits before they need a recharge, so they are really promoting the dodge as the key mechanic, making it a very physical game. It’s one of the few VR games that encourages the player to move their entire body with some haste. It’s not really ‘full body’ of course, but the reference points from the headset and Touch controllers is enough to calculate an accurate torso position for dodging.
In both modes, only one hand is used, and you can swap at any time. In theory, you could play the game with a single controller, but it’s always better to have both hands tracked anyway… let’s not forget the essential taunting of your opponent.
CCP are also considering the importance of the audience, with different camera modes on display for spectators to view the action. There is potential here, and it already plays very well, with a decent level of polish. An ideal title to tie in with the launch of Touch? Fingers crossed.
Disclosure: CCP Games provided airfare and lodging for Road to VR to attend Fanfest 2016