You may well have already seen Proton Pulse, the retro breakout style bat ‘n’ ball blaster from developer Justin Moravetz. Cymatic ‘Awesome’ Bruce covered an earlier version a little while back. Justin was kind enough to send us the latest release — we go hands-on.
I am old enough to remember when the Arkanoid series of games from Taito were once considered ‘cutting edge’. Their enhanced twist on the classic Breakout formula (bash ball into bricks to advance) was fiendishly addictive. Introducing power-ups and hidden bonuses really elevated the experience and I was hooked. I’m also a fan of Jeff Minter‘s work, his neon-psychedelic visual style has ensured titles such as Llamatron and Tempest 2000 have become influential cult classics and heavily influenced future classics such as Geometry Wars from Bizarre Creations.
It’s interesting to mention the above games as they’re directly related to the new Oculus Rift enabled title from Justin Moravetz’s studio Pushy Pixels. A psychedelic Breakout /Arkanoid game whose hereditary lines are clear to draw, it’s already available for iOS and Android, so how well does it translate to Virtual Reality?
Pure Arcade Action
I confess to not having the first clue if this title actually has any plot to speak of, should I find that a detailed back-story exists, I’ll let you know. This doesn’t worry me of course, this is pure arcade action and therefore such things are superfluous distractions. In either case, ‘you’ are thrown into a series of levels, armed only with a transparent ‘bat’ with which you can deflect and (using power ups) directly blast different formations of blocks into digital dust. Destroy all blocks to proceed to the next level. That, in a nutshell, is Proton Pulse.
“..the reason why this title is so exciting is that it attempts to drag this ancient genre into the Virtual Reality realm”
However, the reason why this title is so exciting is that it attempts to drag this ancient genre into the Virtual Reality realm. No mean feat by the way and not only does it succeed admirably in it’s aim, it does so with a commendable level of polish. From the geometrical, neon lattices of the ‘rooms’ to the pulsing Electronica / Techno fueled soundtrack, the game envelops your brain in the action.
It does all this with beautiful simplicity too. In one of the most elegant design schemes yet seen in a Virtual Reality game, you have one single control – and they don’t involve your hands at all. Proton Pulse the Rift’s head tracking to lock the position of the ‘bat’ to your view in the game. This means instantly intuitive gameplay – there is no learning required here, at least not in order to get started. Nuances in gameplay that’ll already be familiar to Arkanoid fans (such as different areas of the bat sending the ball off in different directions) arrive later, but you can drop straight into the action with no prior knowledge and play immediately.
“This means instantly intuitive gameplay – there is no learning required here”
The direct upshot of this design decision is that, as you’re rooted to the spot with only your view altering with your head, those who find nausea a problem when playing other Rift titles may find themselves refreshingly surprised by Proton Pulse. As someone who’s yet to experience it I’m afraid I can’t comment on how effective this is however.
In terms of progression and gameplay, Proton Pulse does work well. The low latency head tracking provided by the Rift is superbly suited to controlling the bat and Justin has done well to avoid any twitchiness or over sensitivity here. It’s all suitable satisfying and in many ways quite relaxing, despite it’s frantic moments. However, judging depth accurately enough to place the transparent bat in teh right place at the right time I found difficult at times, especially when the screen is filled with neon fireworks. I suspect however that this may improve with time and I felt myself becoming more accustomed the further I progressed.
It’s another example of how hard some developers work to bring their creations to life. There’s clearly a lot of love on the screen when playing Proton Pulse the polish on show is a direct result of that. There are some tweaks I think that might be needed to reduce confusion in returning the ball in visually noisy scenarios but it’s a minor quibble. As it stands, Proton Pule is an excellent attempt to reinvent a classic genre for Virtual Reality. If you’re even vaguely fond of Arkanoid and it’s ilk you’d do well to look this up once it becomes commercially available.
Kickstarter Incoming and “How do I Make Money From This Thing?!”
Justin tells me that he’s preparing Proton Pulse for a Kickstarter campaign, so you’ll soon have a chance to support Pushy Pixels in their aim to publish this promising title.
However, Justin (as I suspect many developers are) is currently in the dark on how to best monetise the project and claw something back from his months of hard work. If there’s anyone out there who can offer good advice on this both Justin and Road To VR would love to hear your advice. Either email me at:
paul [at] roadtovr [dot] com
…or get in touch with Justin via his website here. It’s something we’d like to cover in more depth in future as it’s a question that I’m sure weighs heavy on many developers wondering how to make a living from developing for VR gaming.