As a fan of the Wipeout series, I absolutely had to try Tammeka Games’ Radial-G, a low-grav arcade racer with Oculus Rift virtual reality support. While I’ve long enjoyed the frenetic action-packed racing of Wipeout, could a similar title work in VR—with a cylindrical track no less—without also being a vomit simulator? I was delighted to find out that Radial-G is not only fun in virtual reality, but it somehow dodges simulator sickness with the same ease that its ships hover above the track.
It’s one thing to take the Wipeout-style of fast-paced hover-racing and toss it into VR—in first person. It’s another entirely to race on a cylindrical track which has you racing rightside up, upside down, and everywhere in between. At first glance, Tammeka Games’ Radial-G looks like it was designed to make people sick, and yet, I played it for significant stretches with no sim sickness at all. Tammeka knowns they’re on to something—lest it would be a mighty risky move to offer Radial-G branded sick-bags and sick-buckets as a Kickstarter reward.
Not only does it not make you sick, but Radial-G is a blast in the Oculus Rift. Feeling like you’re right inside the cockpit gives a great sense of speed. The feeling of accomplishment as you just barely make it through the opening of a brake-gate is quite thrilling and speaks perfectly to the action-oriented nature of arcade racers of this type. Head tracking inside the cockpit gives you a unique advantage in Radial-G. The course veers wildly in all directions, meaning at times you’ll be looking at the track ahead only to be greeted with a 90 degree upward turn; with head tracking you can easily look up the track to find the best course long before you reach the turn.
While there are plenty of Oculus Rift demos out there, only a select few make it into my carefully guarded Oculus Rift Demos folder. This is the folder of top-notch demos that represent VR well enough to show first-time VR users. After several sessions with the demo using the Oculus Rift DK1, Radial-G is the newest addition.
Tammeka Games is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for Radial-G where you can find the demo and try it out for yourself. With 16 days remaining, the company still needs support to hit their goal of £50,000.
Q&A with Tammeka Games’ Sam Watts
To unravel the secrets of avoiding sim sickness, I spoke to Sam Watts, Producer and Community Manager at Tammeka Games:
Road to VR: To be blunt, the game breaks many of the recommendations set forth in the Oculus VR Best Practices Guide. How did you manage to make such a fast-paced game into a suitable VR experience?
Watts: The Tammeka team has a long pedigree of working with racing games and serious, high-grade VR, so the combination of the two was a natural progression, not a random chance. There are a number of specific design choices made and taken into account to reduce any sim sickness as we knew hurtling around at great speed in VR had the potential to be a vomit-comet. Some of the key designs include:
- The player typically plays the game sitting on a chair; in the game we place the player sitting in the cockpit. Being placed in a cockpit itself is where the player would expect to be so increases immersion and reduces any disconnect between real and VR world; their body tells them they are sitting down, their brain confirms this.
- The world is clearly not real and so to a degree, the brain automatically dismisses a lot of what it sees and accepts that it’s going to have some fun and not have to worry about things too much.
- The ship is placed close to the track, providing the necessary grounded feeling for VR.
- The track itself provides a constant medium within the world for the player to concentrate and focus on, much like a horizon but it remains in place in front and stable.
- The world horizon is far off meaning the player has no relative guide as to what is up or down and when things are inverted.
- There is no ground plane to invert.
- Everything runs at 60fps+ constantly to ensure silky smooth operation and great response times.
- There are no major changes in speed or movement, even with the slow-down gates, the near-field graphical effect reduces overall nausea by giving the players a distraction whenever there is a change in speed—however the changes in speed are also expected since the player is actively controlling and deciding to go for the boost or can see when they will get hit by the slow-down gate
- The game UI/ship HUD is all integrated into the model and further increases immersion and presence, whilst being easy to read and is expected to be there within the setting.
- We give the player the control of when to start the lap so they have as much time as they want / need to adjust and acclimatise once they first get placed in the cockpit. They can look around and experience the VR depth for the first time, get used to the planes of reference and take in the game world rather than being forcing into a 3, 2, 1, greenlight and begin before they are ready to do so.
There are a couple of issues we cannot control, such as age of the user, the health and well-being of the user, where they are playing the game, what the ambient temperature is and what their hardware setup specification is. These mean we could have players who are older with lower reaction times and slower reactions playing the game on hardware that cannot render 60fps being played in a hot room. But even still, I’ve seen my Grandma of 85+ years play this for over 30 minutes without any ill effect, in fact I had to wrestle the DK1 back off her.
Road to VR: Have you done much user testing in VR? If so, what portion of people have issues with sim sickness when using the Rift?
Watts: We’ve taken it to a couple of shows and local VR & gaming events and have seen over 1,000 people play Radial-G to date. We have a tally in the office that shows how many have had to whip off the headset within 20 seconds of starting to play; there are currently 8 strikes on that tally and 3 of them admitted that they got motion sickness in cars really easily. Another two said they can’t ride roller-coasters. A further two had never really played games before and had never tried VR until that point. We will accept that as a first experience of VR, to lose your VR-ginity to Radial-G is at the pretty extreme end of the scale!
Road to VR: Did you try any game design elements that just didn’t work out well in VR?
Watts: To be honest, when we first worked on the level, we had the pipe first floating in black space so there were no problems whatsoever, since there was zero reference as to what was up from down or that you were even rotating around the pipe. As we added more scenery and buildings, we were initially concerned that this might introduce sim sickness but it didn’t because of the reasons mentioned above. The hexagonal skydome was the final addition we decided to add later on as a way to neatly wrap you up and ensconce you within that little world.
However, we are looking to add collision, which may or may not be successful. We can foresee being shunted from behind without seeing why, so that your direction of travel suddenly changes beyond your control could easily add a sim sickness trigger. We will carefully playtest this feature as we move through development to ensure we can ensure the challenge of multiplayer racing remains on your opponents not on keeping your lunch down. We may well end up as a result of keeping it so that players phase through each other but suffer a speed penalty instead to keep it a smooth, sim-sick-free experience.
Road to VR: Are there advantages to playing the game in VR, from a gameplay perspective, that you don’t get from playing on a monitor?
Watts: We’ve done a lot of testing with and without VR, with both controller options (gamepad or keyboard) and have found that once you know the track, things are pretty tight between the two in terms of times and there is no real gameplay benefit to using VR. However the experience in VR is much more immersive with your presence in the cockpit (obviously to be helped further when we add a body of reference in the seat too). You can look around with the right stick in the “2D” mode but it’s more natural to look in that direction by moving your head and you feel a lot more connected to the game world and especially your ship with VR.
Road to VR: What’s the reaction been so far to the VR version of Radial-G?
Watts: From those who are interested in VR, overwhelmingly positive. VR seems to be fairly marmite amongst gamers; lots of people want to try it out but there is a hardcore group of naysayers who flatly refuse to have anything to do with anything VR, and you see on articles that reference Oculus Rift, they post negative comments and you have lost their interest right away. We want to be able to bring those people into the fold and widen our audience as we are obviously aware that there are still relatively low numbers of Rifts available as a potential maximum installed userbase for the game. These are the people who will have to be convinced moving forward that this current take on VR is deadly serious about being fun, accessible and worthwhile and will not end up yet another failed attempt.
But for those who have tried it and/or are great VR enthusiasts and have developed and worked with VR themselves, most walk away scratching their heads wondering how we’ve achieved such an incredible experience without creating an insta-vom experience. Some of the comments we’ve received from the those who are VR stalwarts include: “How have you achieved this with DK1?”, “This is a near-perfect VR experience.”, “Can I see your DK1s, have you modified them at all as this is seriously polished,”—of course, Callum from Oculus VR had to pop our bubbles with a couple of comments but it was all constructive criticism and valid feedback. We really can’t wait to get our hands on DK2 to see how much further we can go with it.
Road to VR: Is the VR version of Radial-G just a fun addon or are you hoping that a large portion of your userbase will be Rift users?
Watts: It was intended to be a VR game from conception, designed from the ground up with full immersion and presence in mind. We added the 2D mode later in order to increase our reach and widen our potential audience as we know there are far more flat monitor displays in the world than there are DK1s and we need as many people to get involved as possible in order to have a successful Kickstarter campaign. Once we get our DK2, we can do further testing of our DK2-enabled Mac and PC build and release this publicly. We wanted to give VR early-adopters something to show off the hardware to their friends with and to provide a full game experience out of the box and ultimately, become a system seller when the hardware is more widely available to the mass market.
Thanks to Watts for his Q&A! I definitely recommend you give Radial-G a try for yourself and consider supporting their Kickstarter campaign.