The 20 finalists singled out for the finals of the Oculus / IndieCade VR Jam have now been chosen. We take a look at the first 10 games to be selected as finalists.
Right from the beginning, Oculus VR has been at pains to highlight the fact that, no matter how incredible their hardware is or may become, there’s very little point unless there’s incredible software to match. Their efforts to nurture and promote great VR game development started with the Kickstarter – based entirely around a Development Kit. In fact, during the duration of their highly successful crowd-funding campaign, it was made abundantly clear that this was the audience they were courting.
Fast forward 12 months, all backers have Development Kits and the scene has witnessed an explosion in ideas and software releases inspired and enabled by the Oculus Rift and the new wave of enthusiasm surrounding Virtual Reality. In July Oculus and IndieCade announced that they were launching the ‘VR Jam’, a month long battle of the Devs, challenging participants to produce a compelling game designed from the ground up for Virtual Reality.
The competition had various milestones, during which developers were asked to release video of their work in motion and which have enabled the community to witness these creations come to life. There have been hundreds, as recently gallantly highlighted by ‘Cymatic’ Bruce in his attempts to play every entry as part of a series of live streams, including his own. $50,000 of prizes were on offer along with the chance for the winners to showcase their work at the Indicade Festival 2013 and visit the Oculus VR Headquarters n California.
It’s been a fascinating process to witness, but all good things must end and yesterday Oculus announced that 20 finalists from the 100s of entrants had been picked. Here’s a round up of all 20 including download links and videos both where available. We’ll be looking much more deeply at each entry in the near future so stay tuned.
20 Of The Best [Part One]
Alone [Bryan Cohen] Download
Virtual Reality gives developers the ability and the excuse to smash gaming rules and conventions. There are a few entries in this list that take that opportunity, chief among them is Alone.
The premise: You’re home alone playing video games, a concept I’m sure more than a few of us are familiar with. Your avatar is sat in a lonely house nestled in some appropriately dark woods. You are rooted to the spot. You control the onscreen character depicted on a virtual TV in the gameworld, just as you would any conventional video game. You guide your character around the map set in the grounds of yet another spooky house, picking up notes which grow successfully creepy in tone as you progress. As you progress, events in the videogame’s world seep into your virtual reality as unnerving events are triggered in the house around you.
At once beautifully simple and frankly terrifying, Alone demonstrates the power of VR to elevate simplistic situational scenarios and through sheer realism immersing and frightening you. It’s original and brilliant!
Chicken Walk [Kevin Tsang] Download
Anyone else old enough to remember Chuckie Egg? This bright and cheerful entry throws you into the trouble-free life of a chicken, on the hunt for bird seed. You must collect as much as you can and ‘bank’ it back at the chicken house before time runs out. When you do, there’s a little surprise waiting for you.
Chicken Walk is a charming title with a cutesy graphic design and a simple, arcade style structure. It’s also one of a few titles in this list who attempt to convince you you’re an animal. In this case, complete with Beak right where your nose should be. It includes a nice gameplay mechanic too, nodding your head in order to pick up the bird seed.
Ciess [Edward McNeill] Download
Seems there are a few developers out there who see VR as the key to unlocking their hacking fantasies, although not the dull, realistic type the wonderfully over the top Hollywood type we’ve all enjoyed and chuckled at over the years.
Ciess is a game of subtlety and beauty and constructed with incredible polish. You’re placed as a construct inside ‘the net’, represented by a neon, wireframe world. Your aim, to rip-off as much money from each node as possible armed with only hacks and viruses. The core mechanic revovles around circumventing the security programs protecting each of these nodes. Select a node of choice and you have to use your limited supply of hacks to overwhelm the node.
I love this game, from it’s brilliant realisation (and sense of place) to the wonderfully elegant control mechanism which just feels right. It has the hallmarks of what makes a great game and I can’t wait to see more of it.
Don’t Let Go [Yorick van Vliet] Download
If there’s one thing made abundantly clear in the last 12 months it’s that ‘Virtual Experiences’ are something we’re going to see a lot more of. So how about a game whose central mechanic is tied directly to the experience itself.
Don’t let go is nothing if not simple in it’s idea. You’re placed at an office desk with your virtual fingers resting on the keyboard, you yourself are asked to hold down both CTRL keys and hold them there for as long as you can. Easy enough? Well, what it doesn’t tell you is that you’re then mentally bombarded by successively intense experiences, each once designed to make you release your fingers from those keys. Each event is crafted with incredible care to induce a range of emotions, from fear to discomfort to outright terror. The use of sound is masterful in this entry, anyone not familiar with the concept of Binaural recording should check out this game to experience it’s power. Whether or not that technique, to record stereo audio in such a way to replicate how the human ears receive it, was used in the production of the game I’m not sure, whatever the case, it’s utterly convincing. Wear a good pair of headphones.
It’s an intriguing idea and, although the game’s production values aren’t always up to it’s ideals, it really does succeed in challenging you mentally. Another example of a title that’d have been a hard sell without VR but is sublime with it.
Dragon [Morgan Jaffit] Download
One of two Dragon themed titles in the list, ‘Dragon’ puts you behind the eyes of a fire breathing, flying beast as it terrorises the inhabitants of your adopted world. I was unable to get hold of a download in time for this article, but judging by the trailer, if you’ve ever harboured fantasies of living as a Dragon, this one is probably for you.
We’ll look at this in more detail when we review all of the VR Jam entries in full over the next couple of weeks.
Dreadhalls [Sergio Hidalgo] Download
Visceral, claustrophobic, unnerving and terrifying .. are just a few words that spring to mind when describing Dreadhalls. This dungeon explorer very deliberately tightens the corridors of the darn and dank hell you you find yourself in. Armed with only a map, oil, some unsettling notes and a very VERY thirsty lamp, you explore the halls trying to find your way out.
From the very off, Dreadhalls is working your brain overtime, using audio cues to set your nerves on end – and that’s before you’ve even left the first room. In fact, the use of audio deserves a special mention here. Playing with a decent pair of headphones and in VR, the world completely envelopes you. Whilst the visual production values are not particularly high, they simply don’t need to be. Due to your massively limited visibility, the sound and the encompassing vision – every single corner in Dreadhalls is a mental dare with yourself. With some brilliant jumpscares and genuinely unsettling scenes, Dreadhalls if one VR Jam entry I’m not looking forward to reviewing in full .. for all the right reasons.
Dumpy [Brian Schrank] Download
OK, hands up who’s ever wanted to ‘be’ and elephant. I mean actually be one. No? OK, well Dumpy lets you do exactly that regardless. Another title that delights in it’s silliness (and by god I needed that after Dreadhalls). You play dumpy the elephant and you’re on the rampage, complete with enormous trunk (all you can actually see of your enormous avatar). In a neat twist, turning your head means the trunk follows, you then use your extensive protuberance to unleash chaos as you travel, on-rails, through the kerrazy gameworld.
Another title that, despite it’s daft premise, manages to depict 3D depth brilliantly, and there’s actually a whole lot of game here.
Elevator Music [Julian Kantor] Download
One of two Cyberpunk (never liked that term) themed titles on the list, Elevator Music takes a more passive approach to visualising Cyberspace, albeit still a sombre atmospheric one.
You play an elevator operator, investigating clues in and out of Cyberspace to find out more about the Mysterious Omnihedral incorporated. What this means in terms of gameplay is logging onto terminals and exploring the 3 floors of the building. Whilst logged into terminals (the few that are operational) you can read messages and try to decipher where to next.
I have to confess at being slightly baffled by this one at first, in terms of what was expected of me the player at least. However, both the digital and the physical worlds are beautifully realised. The physical and sombre, Escher-like series of cavernous spaces, featureless and eerie. The digital world, a brilliantly collection of animated typographic swirling around you when transitioning. In aesthetic design terms, Elevator Music is a bit of a looker.
It’s a curious package and I want to find out more.
Epic Dragon [Aurelien Kerbeci] Download
This game, seemingly heavily influenced by the likes of Panzer Dragoon and no small amount of Retro Style arcade games, has you mounted atop an epic fire breathing monster. The idea, to fly through as many orbs as possible to ward of the lords of darkness who are fighting to throw a blanket of darkness over the world .. or something.
This game scores on multiple points: The sense of place is fantastic, wonderfully fluid and with a great sense of depth and scale. The production design values are high, with a bombastic rock soundtrack and a stylised graphic design. But most of all, the control mechanic is ingenious. Turning and banking your head whilst in-game turns your dragon’s head and with it the direction of travel. It really works, and as an added side effect your flying experience feels that much more convincing.
I didn’t have time to get to grips with the combo elements, but it seems there’s some hidden depth in this title and I’ll certainly be spending more time with it ahead of our full review.
Komorebi [Fernando Ramallo]
Details on this are a little hard to come by right now. I’ll update this once I find a download / video / anything. :)
There you have it, our impressions of the first 10 finalists for VR Jam 2013. There’s some astonishingly creative stuff here, I’ve laughed, whimpered and cowered in fear and this is just part one!
Congratulations to all the finalists, we’ll be back with the second part of this preview in a few days.