‘NOSTOS’ Beta Gameplay Highlights the Pitfalls of ‘VR-optional’ Game Design

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In development by NetEase Games, NOSTOS is an online RPG due to launch later this year on PC with optional VR support. The game recently had a closed-beta period which gives a good look at how things are shaping up with less than four months before launch. While Zelda: Breath of the Wild inspiration is clear from the outset, the bolted-on VR gameplay speaks to a broader issue of ‘VR-optional’ game design.

The modern open-world game is often about covering vast distances on foot, collecting resources from disparate locales, crafting items to aid in your survival, and roaming the lands to fight baddies, complete quests, and collect loot. Nostos has this going in full force, drawing some clear mechanical and aesthetic inspiration from Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The big problem is that these open-world game design themes—unless radically adapted with the VR player in mind—are nearly the polar opposite of what’s been found to make for compelling VR gameplay.

Our friends over at the YouTube channel Cas and Chary VR posted a 15 minute segment of gameplay from the Nostos closed beta, but unfortunately it doesn’t give much confidence that NetEase Games has been able to overcome the pitfalls of ‘VR-optional’ game design.

Spending time reading textual instructions, making quest and dialog selections by clicking floating buttons, ‘crafting’ via menus, ‘building’ by pointing at the ground and pressing a button, and especially sliding along the ground with stick-based locomotion for minutes at a time with nothing to do, is all a dull affair in VR. And let’s not forget the moments where immersion is broken as your perspective suddenly pops into third-person so you can see a 15 second text-based cutscene before appearing back inside your body.

Screenshot courtesy Cas and Chary VR

What’s more, with combat being such an essential component of this flavor of open-world game, VR needs more than ‘slide around with artificial locomotion while waggling your weapon at the enemy’.

Though much of the game’s menu-based systems are simply projected into floating windows attached to your controllers, some of the game’s interactions have indeed been ‘VR-ified’ (like climbing with motion controls, swinging an axe to chop down a tree, and shooting a bow and arrow by pulling the string). But it’s clear that these functions are bolted onto a system that was made from the start for non-VR gameplay, and risk becoming more tedious than interesting by the time you’ve chopped down your 20th tree, climbed your 20th cliff, or killed your 20th enemy, let alone the 500th, as these types of games often expect players to do over hours of gameplay.

The problem here is not that the overall concept of an open-world game cannot be brought to VR, but that doing so in a meaningful way effectively requires designing two separate games—which is not only heaps more work, but comes in conflict with a game like Nostos that wants to support both non-VR and VR players in the same, balanced game.

Contrast all of this with the likes of a VR native game like Until You Fall which (outside of the open-world nature) has similar systems in concept (combat, inventory, upgrades, skills, etc), but they are built in fundamentally different ways which make them rich, interesting, and interactive in VR.

A promising upcoming VR native title, Stormland, takes VR design to heart in the open world context. Instead of slowly sliding across large landscapes with nothing to do until you reach your next quest marker, the regions between meaningful spaces are covered in clouds which players quickly fly across using interesting motion input, retaining a sense of geographic scale while reducing the tedium of long stretches of locomotion.

This method of movement also means players can launch aerial attacks once they reach their destination, and once they’ve finally come down on solid ground, they have interactive means of maneuvering around enemies like jumping, climbing, and gliding, all largely driven with motion input.

SEE ALSO
'Stormland' to Support 2 Player Drop-in Co-op, New Trailer Highlights Diverse Combat Tactics

I will of course reserve judgement on Nostos until we see the final product. But with less than four months before the project is set to launch, I’m not holding my breath that the VR experience will be enough for most to bother putting the headset on more than a few times before just choosing to stick to the flat screen. We’ve seen a handful of VR-optional games before, but there’s yet to be one which has truly delivered. I would argue that a game like Nostos is better off focusing all of its development efforts on non-VR or VR; splitting the difference will only make for a sub-par version of each.

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  • I am so much more inclined to buy this game simply cause u guys don’t like it

    • Arcticu Kitsu

      Same. I’m just amazed by how much whining and moaning went on in this blog posting. Just because the person is whiny I’m more inclined in trying the game out to see what it ACTUALLY is about, not these fake bored wall of text I see above to simply fill a void.

      Get someone who is more neutral, or actually passionate about what they’re reviewing.

      • Sven Viking

        But what if he’s using reverse psychology to encourage people like yourself to play more VR games?

        • Arcticu Kitsu

          Probably. I guess that’s one way of doing it with how the world works nowadays.

      • Unorthodox Method

        Well of course, always investigate further and draw your own conclusions before making a judgement on something, but honestly everything this article points out as flaws are all things I’ve already been thinking myself from watching gameplay of it. The VR aspects of the game sadly stick out like a sore thumb as feeling tacked on and poorly thought out.

        I have roughly 2000 hours in VR personally, and from what I’ve seen of Nostos thus far, it’s not impressed me. I was really hoping it would be the one to break the mould, but it seems way too uninspired.

        • Arcticu Kitsu

          Yeah, people should be doing their own research when buying games, something people aren’t doing. Certain people are, others aren’t. I see a lot of it on Steam where people abuse the Steam refund system then whine whenever they can’t refund a game. It’s best to know what you’re buying, same when you walk into a retail store. That’s what I’ve been doing by researching every game before I purchase.

          Again, I’m not viewing Nostos to be a 100% grand game, I do see its flaws. I however do view it to be a nice decent game. What I saw is what a typical basic VR game tends to be. It’s right in the middle. I’m not expecting anything special. I however do see basic VR gestures implemented, thus I’ll praise those while hoping to look forward to those. I agree with people it should have been VR first, THEN desktop mode.

          I spent a fair share in VR myself Can’t say how much, though can say I’ve been using VR since December 2017. I can spot when people are fearful and lying trough their teeth. I may not be an expert, “we” should know if people are speaking genuinely or making a mess of things.

          You know what, I’ll just do the “wait and see” approach also. Let’s get our hands on it to see how it actually fairs :)

    • Zantetsu

      I am so much more inclined to read more articles like this one simply cause u guys don’t like it.

    • Jarilo

      Nobody cares dude.

      • No one cares about what anyone posts so what’s ur point.

  • PJ

    Not sounding too promising, I HATE VR games with a tacked on VR feel. I was looking forward to Nostos, but after reading this I’m likely to give it a miss.

    Any devs building a VR RPG or Survival game need to look at A Township Tale, that’s how you do VR

    • doug

      While I agree that VR controls are better in native titles than in ports from flat titles, the fact remains that the most played titles in my VR library are the flat ports Fallout 4 VR, The Forest, and No Man’s Sky. Since they all contain these vestiges of their flat origins, the article’s word “Pitfall” is seems too strong. The flat ports have a huge breadth of content, way beyond a VR native title, which are made possible by the wide appeal of their flat origins, and more than make up for non-optimal VR UI.

      Township Tale, from what I could tell from Youtube videos, breaks new ground in simulated tree chopping, torch making, and beaker handling. Although an MMO can be story-light compared to a single player title, commercial success for Township Tale would require a solution to the problem of there being few players in online VR games.

    • david vincent

      BTW that’s strange that Roadtovr didn’t cover ‘A Township Tale’ yet. This is quite groundbreaking VR.

      • Tima Anoshechkin

        Tima, one of the ATT devs. Thank you for the kind words.

        To get coverage, dev actually has to do work if they want a good coverage. Like prep press materials, trailer, screenshots, make team members available, plus for us we want people to play rather then just read about ATT.

        We never did any of those things, because we just focus on shipping updates every 2 week to community members and working on the tech to scale the game.

        Also RoadToVR is independent entity and they can cover whoever they want whenever they want, so we as a dev team are super thankful that they didn’t cover us because we are not ready for that kind of coverage.

  • Arcticu Kitsu

    As it tends to go with fake jouranlism with Kotaku & friends I’m more inclined in trying this out because of all the whining and moaning going on in the main article. If you’re not interested in covering Nostos then get someone else who is…. Don’t force articles onto people from those who are bored out of their mind. Instead, find someone who knows about it, or is at least on the middle line.

    Then you guys wonder why Kotaku, Polygon, PC Gamer, IGN, Gamespot & friends end up being the laughing stock of the journalistic world. Don’t become one of them, unless you already turned into a zombie.

    You’re covering VR news, so do it properly. So, yeah…. I’m more inclined in trying Nostos because there’s lacking information from this posting. There’s no enthusiasm, passion, or anything of that sort. I need to try this game out on my own to gain my own thoughts.

    • Kevin White

      I’ve never detected the kind of insipid whinging and bullshitting that Kotaku and Polygon and others do here on Road to VR. For one thing, this article was about the *game* and its *VR implementation* rather than politics and woke Twitter culture.

      • Arcticu Kitsu

        Taken out of context. I should have worded it better. RoadtoVR is still genuine, though they do have their odd “moments” here and there. It’s very minor. I’ve been with VR since December 2017 so I make note of certain things. I’m not trying to be a blind sheep to VR, trying to seek that middle line. The part that made me say it was this part:

        by pointing at the ground and pressing a button, and especially sliding along the ground with stick-based locomotion for minutes at a time with nothing to do, is all a dull affair in VR.

        (It’s not just that quoting, it’s just the general tone, though I may have misread it.)

        Sometimes people want a peaceful moment in games. Not everybody wants to fight constantly, nor does anybody want peaceful times constantly. A balance. Each to their own. I simply over-reached with my wording while not proof-reading it. though “dull afair” and just noting this negatively is what caught me here. I may have over-reacted, maybe not. Hard to tell currently.

    • benz145

      As the founder of this publication, I’ve been closely following and reporting on the XR space for 8 years now.

      I’d like to understand what makes you say we’re not interested in covering this game if we’re here commenting on an article about the game (our third article about it, in fact).

      I’d also like to understand what your definition of “proper” coverage is. You say this article is lacking in “enthusiasm” and “passion” … is your definition of “proper” news coverage only that which is filled with hype and blind positivity?

      I’ve been professionally analyzing VR game design literally since the start of the modern VR industry, and by now I’ve got at least a little bit of insight into the challenges therein. Blindly hyping anything with ‘VR’ attached to it (because someone values “enthusiasm” more than objectivity) is not going to get VR to where it needs to go. Analysis and critique are the way forward, so that games, hardware, and the entire VR experience continue to improve.

      • Well said. Re feedback, the white line outlines on moving figures needed comment too. But this was a fair relevant assessment of ‘issues arising’ so keep up the good work.

        Totally off topic, but feedback you are seemingly seeking, just yesterday morning I tried out Dassault eDrawings to look at a real world engineering model in 1:1 scale in a Vive and was super impressed at where that is at (despite the many easily critiqued issues that remain). There are lots of organisations doing credible things in the real world of VR applications that get zero coverage in the Road to VR format as hardware plus games, whilst important, is barely a tenth of what is going on ‘out there’. It is useful depth that should be added; may need a special interest writer (not me). VR Model Viewer (on Steam) may be a good place to start. Just Google VR viewer to get a snapshot of what else is happening, un-covered by R2VR.

      • Arcticu Kitsu

        Well, I see my haste posting got me in a bit of hot water. Lovely. Alright, let’s see if I can clarify things…. Some words may be taken out of context, though I do admit I may have over-stated things which shouldn’t have been noted. I waste hastfully making a comment and hopped off to check other pages late at night.

        By “proper”, I mean just viewing things on a neutral front. The tone of this article was more of fear & boredem.

        by pointing at the ground and pressing a button, and especially sliding along the ground with stick-based locomotion for minutes at a time with nothing to do, is all a dull affair in VR.

        That’s just one thing out of it all. Sometimes you just might want to enjoy the scenery while other times you may want to attack bosses. I get it that there are people who simply want to keep with a fast pace in game. Everybody is different. My wordings my however been trash because I hastefully posted my comment.

        I don’t expect a blind hyping up of VR, just a neutral take on it. Like you said,we don’t need VR propaganda here “Enthusiasm”, just a neutral take on a game to show both sides. Everything just simply reads as if the person was bored, but I guess that’s just me and one other person. Maybe we read it wrong. Who knows.

        I also am aware that blindly hyping up VR isn’t going to get it anywhere, neither is blindly hating on it either. Not saying you are, I’ve seen my fair share of dooms day articles and comments saying how VR is a “gimmick” and such. It’s a struggle hitting that middle line because it’s always on one spectrum or another.

        Maybe I am at fault with my comment, maybe not. Maybe even this one as well.

        ———-

        Side-note: Shall still keep an eye on Nostos to see where the pros and cons are, similarly noted in the provided Youtube video. I’m genuinely curious in seeing how the actual gameplay shall handle because it seems VR implementations is actually well done. I need first hand experience with it though.

    • Jarilo

      “There’s no enthusiasm, passion, or anything of that sort.”

      The VR has to feel good and play good, not just immerse. When it comes to VR I prefer publications that are specific to VR as it has VR veterans that aren’t simply impressed by the “VR-ness” of it.

      • Arcticu Kitsu

        Yes, it does have to play and feel good. I agree with that. Even immersive. I completely agree.

        I’m baffled by people’s comments in return implying that I don’t want a good VR game. I do! I don’t want a propaganda piece, or anything like that. Not implying this is, I just want to read up on the game as to what it genuinely is. This article ties to do that, yet the video does a better job of doing it because it’s more of a visual thing. I simply want cool VR games, and that’s what I’m seeking. That’s what we’re all seeking.

        I’m honestly feeling people are taking things out of context purposely because I misspoke one night in my haste in posting. I also want a good VR game. I’ve been with VR since December 2017, I’ve seen where VR games can go, and I’ve also seen developers constantly make excuses as to why they can’t make good VR games. Sure, it’s difficult in areas, while others simply use it as a lazy excuse as to not make VR games properly.

        I’m just facepalming right now. Yes, I did ask for these sorts of comments but I’m annoyed that certain parts have been taken out of context.

  • Interesting your discussion on the UX of the game, and I completely agree with you

  • sfmike

    We would all be better off with VR games designed as VR games from the ground up. Added VR support always is second rate.

    • Sven Viking

      Yes, although we’re also better off getting acceptable ports like Skyrim VR than not getting them. Not getting that second-rate VR implementation wouldn’t result in someone creating a comparable first-rate VR game — the players the port brings to VR actually bring that sort of future closer to feasibility.

      (Of course, there are also unacceptable ports which probably do more harm than good.)

    • Arcticu Kitsu

      I do agree we need more pure VR games, it’s however still nice seeing desktop mode games getting VR.

      It’s because of Skyrim that a developer was inspired make their own VR game – ‘Blade & Sorcery’. It feels like it in certain areas. It’s bettter to have Skyrim VR than not. Same with Borderlands & etc. There were certain people who still enjoyed Skyrim VR, though amusingly enough, more people ended up playing Blade & Sorcery over Skyrim VR (or so Steam stats noted).

      Scanner Sombre has VR mode (not the best) though people have been known to encourage new players to play VR instead of desktop mode because of how much better it visually appears.

      Subnautica VR… Not the best, though people playing VR have been defending it. I’ve been bashing it, I however gave up because people are allowed to play whatever they want. If they want to play Subnautica VR, then do so. Zero Dawn of Subnautica has no VR planned upsetting numerous amounts of players. People want something over nothing.

  • Sven Viking

    We’ve seen a handful of VR-optional games before, but there’s yet to be one which has truly delivered.

    Though it might depend a bit on the type of game. A number of people seem to like Elite: Dangerous for example.

    • All the vr games i love wasn’t made for vr.. skyrim and no man sky. Now i am excited for borderlands 2 vr. Made for vr games r still too simple and tries to force a lot of manual action like reloading and opening doors. I always end up bored

    • benz145

      This is a fair point; I was thinking more on the ‘full VR’ end of things — simulators generally translate well to VR but typically only in ‘output’ side of VR (audio/visual) while not making any meaningful use of VR’s inputs. In pretty much all cases I’ve seen, they work best if you’ve got an extra accessory to enhance the input immersion (like a wheel for driving games or HOTAS for flying games).

  • Michael Lupton

    My favorite VR games are literally all ports. RE7 in VR, Skyrim with Moves, Thumper… yeah, ports can be good, and none of those is a subpar title in either mode. I get you want a VR only killer ap, but saying everything else is terrible til we get one is not doing VR any favors.

  • Unorthodox Method

    I had really high hopes for Nostos. The trailers were promising, but the more gameplay I watch, the more I feel like it’s missing the mark on it’s VR aspects. I’ve had all the same thoughts before reading this article. I’ll still of course reserve judgement for the actual release and a wider perspective of the game, but can only agree with the observations listed here thus far.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    Air brigade out for the quest on itch.io needs to be sideloaded on sidequest.It’s worth it and the best arcade jet fighter game I have played.