Frank He shares his experiences of VRWERX’s made-for-VR experience, a sneak peek at what you can expect in a full release coming to virtual reality headsets some time next year. The Paranormal Activity VR demo is an HTC Vive experience that debuted recently, shown at 15 AMC theaters across the US to promote the latest instalment in the popular horror franchise.
Now a second year UCLA undergraduate in a neuroscience program, Frank was born in Los Angeles and then raised in Canada, spending his high school years across the border in New York. His main interest is in technologies that enable immersive experiences, and Frank’s academic path is towards better understanding the brain, how it works, and then enabling us to do something for the betterment of life through that knowledge. Besides studying, Frank makes efforts towards supporting the VR community locally and online, where he regularly participates in discussions about VR.
Over two days, I was able to visit one out of the 15 booths across the US running the Paranormal Activity inspired VR game demo by VRWERX (part of the Beast Media Group), on the HTC Vive. In addition, I was able to hang out with the crew and some of the developers, and have a great time with them. Introducing me to what they were showing off, I was told that it was a demo to let people see the sort of environment the game might have, so everything else was designed to get people through the demo efficiently, unrepresentative of the actual gameplay that will be in the final experience. I was told that all of the collisions were turned off, and that all of the other interactions that you will be able to do, like open doors and drawers, would be in the full game, where it is also much more open with exploration than it is in this on-the-rails demo.
As for the demo, I actually tried it 3 times, but each time I encountered minor bugs in the demo setup, such as one controller not being detected. Looking past them, I would say the experience was most like going through a thrilling haunted house, with a lot of jump scares. You start in a closet and you’re handed a single controller, or two when that worked. Only one was needed as you only needed to press the top or bottom of the touch pad on one of the Vive’s controllers to move forward or backward, respectively.
After exiting past the door, which automatically opens, you can go right or left in the hallway greeting you. Going left triggers an animation where furniture is thrown into your path, blocking it, and at the same time providing a small jump scare. Going back down the other way objects get smashed, or the lights go out, or a little girl suddenly appears and disappears , a lot of which happens quickly and consecutively, almost overloading your senses and confusing you rather than horrifying.
In the middle of the demo, you enter a room with a lot of different play toys in it, which I imagine would be really great fun to explore and interact with in the full game. In the demo, interactions were limited, but it at least did have a blow-up clown you could swat around. This was the one thing they left in for people to see that you could have some interaction with. Another thing in the room was a tent, which you had to physically crouch down and crawl into. That was my favorite section simply because it encouraged some real movement on your part.
After that you go through more hallways where objects like a toy car and soccer ball move by themselves, some players were so convinced of their surroundings, the would try kicking them. More jump scares as spikes are driven through the walls, you could duck down to avoid these. At the end, there was a room, where utter chaos unfolds – with lights being flashed, walls cracking, bugs crawling, the little girl flying everywhere, and particles all over the place. I didn’t even notice the bugs, also present in the scene, until I was told about them. Finally it went totally dark and the final jump scare, suddenly confronted with the little girl, close up and personal.
In general, the experience was like a blur in my mind, but I believe fun because of that. It is a good thing to keep in mind that this gameplay is very much not what you would be getting in the real game. So if we’re just talking about the environment and assets, I liked them a lot. It has a very populated feeling, where the huge amount of various objects that inhabit the virtual spaces makes them feel alive and plausible.
The full game itself is yet to be revealed and announced, but I have been told it may be revealed in January, while they are targeting a Spring release date in time with the full release of the three major headsets that the game will support — the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR. It is said the full game will have a complete story to start a new stage for the Paranormal Activity series after the end of the movies, and be about 2.5 hours of gameplay, depending on the individual. And relevant or not, I was told the current demo runs around 3 minutes, but people took anywhere from a minute or two to 10 minutes, from my observations. I was also told the full game will be many times more truly terrifying.
So let’s talk more about observations, as I was there for hours each of the two days. There must have been many dozens of people going through it in one day. Multiply that across 3 days and by 15 locations. That’s a lot of people. This is a big showing exposing people to VR. Consequently there were a lot of reactions. Though I unfortunately were not allowed to film the game screen itself, I was able to film the people playing.
Watching others play, there were a lot of people who screamed or reacted greatly to the demo, seemingly free of nausea and looking like they had fun. People who didn’t enjoy it, at least at this theater, must have comprised a very low percentage of the total.
Even though there were some technical problems with the demo set up, hardware and other hiccups, the reception was extremely positive. Some of the jump scares were “cheap,” yes, but they were fun and appropriate for the nature of this demo. Overall, I’d say it was a success in my mind.