Valve showed off a special HTC Vive demo at this year’s Gamescom featuring the shopkeeper from the Dota 2 universe. There’s no telling yet, but Secret Shop looks extremely cohesive and shows a taste of what level of VR interaction may be just around the corner for the studio.
You find yourself in a wooden shop, or rather a messy little store house of arcane magical items, potion bottles, and curious pint-sized creatures. Looking around in the dimly lit room filled with scrolls splayed out upon a table, a man enters. He’s rotund, and kindly offers you his magical light to guide your way through the fantastic mix of the high fantasy gear.
A small light pulses out of the corner of your eye. It’s a weathered scroll beckoning you to click it for more information, and in so doing you’re transcombobulated into a miniature version of yourself standing on the table. The man looms over you, his voice deeper and more menacing. He could squash you under his giant sausage fingers if he wanted. But he doesn’t.
The Secret Shop demo, a prototype offshoot of the Dota 2 IP, is packed full of interactions like these, using a space that nearly matches the Vive’s 15×15 ft room-scale tracking space perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. The shrinking mechanic gave me a sense of space that I’ve only felt once before in a VR experience—that being the Toybox demo designed for Oculus’ Touch, but the demo space was in fact (according to the booth’s staff) slightly smaller than 15×15. For me, this meant the Vive’s chaperon system, an automatic warning of impending crunch-itude, came up more often than I would have liked. It was annoying, but reminds me of just how much space I have at home for experiences like these. Less. Much less.
When visiting these sorts of VR experiences at demo booths, there’s always a pressing need to see and do everything before they kindly ask you to get the hell out. “You have about 5 minutes left,” my handler told me. Would it be enough time to pore over everything, to crawl under the table to see the shopkeeper’s tired old boots stacked underneath a bench, or fully take in the massive assortment of swords, scrolls, and several points littered around the shop where I could shrink and discover Hardly.
Exploring the entire room as a dopey little pet dragon follows you around (with a floppy fish stuck squarely in his gob) required way more time than the 10 minute limit given, which was sharply punctuated by a giant dragon crashing the entire roof around you.
Afterwards I was left with a marked sense of disappointment. I wanted to have a strange goblet of ale with the man, ask him why he lets goblins in the shop to harass me before jumping out an open window—but then again, there’s only so much complaining you can do.
This year’s Gamescom saw a massive outpouring for the HTC Vive demo space, so much so that HTC closed the booth down to anyone hoping to get in without a reservation—a testament to the curiosity surrounding nearly every VR experience I ran into, and equally an unfortunate occurrence for anyone offhandedly looking for a chance to try the first major VR headset to hit the consumer market.
In retrospect, getting into the Secret Shop was amazing, and not in the off-handish way that people say about a cold half-liter of German beer after a hard day’s worth of pounding pavement. It was truly amazing that they had squeezed not only the visual fidelity into this demo, essentially making a virtual space that very clearly intended on approaching reality (albeit a fictional one), but did so much with only a limited amount of interaction—a single light to guide my way. Although the chaperon system ultimately broke some of the magic, this only underlines the Vive’s limitations, and not that of the Secret Shop or Valve.
I’ll be looking forward to anything Valve makes in VR based on this demo alone, and will be practicing my alchemy in the meantime just in case.