A virus is spreading across the world infecting all in its path. Millions are dead. This pandemic is referred to as the ‘Jurassic flu’ named for the time period from which it originated. Scientists have thrown all of the best minds and current medical research at the virus with no success. When humanity is down on its luck and its back is against a wall there is only one thing to do: travel back in time and gather scientific data on creatures of the past in hopes that it will yield a cure to the current pandemic.


Time Machine VR Details:

Developer: Minority Media
Available On: Steam (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
Reviewed On: Steam (HTC Vive)
Release Date: May 19th, 2016


This would not exactly be my first instinct but it’s the premise for Time Machine VR, now available as a full launch on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive through Steam following an Early-Access period which started back in August, 2015.

time machine vr review htc vive (1)

Time Machine VR puts players inside a time traveling pod with different research tools in order help them learn about the underwater creatures of the past. Your research guide, Elizabeth, informs you of the progress being made on the virus in videos that seem like they are straight out of Red Alert 2 (2000) while you travel from the Mundo Museo Research facility in the present back in time to epochs of the past.

time machine vr review htc vive (6)

The game wastes no time in placing you into the aquatic realms of 155 million years ago and begins by teaching you the gameplay mechanics. In order to move around the prehistoric world with the HTC Vive you use the left motion controller, pull the trigger and drag your hand to where you want the time travel capsule to go. If you want to go forward you would pull the trigger and push forward, if you wanted to go down you would move the controller down etc. I found these controls to be rather clunky and uncomfortable. For example, when trying to scan the internal organs of a passing nautiloid I found myself continually either overshooting it or undershooting it and had to loop back around to try again. The lack of precision in the controls can be quite frustrating. The game also gives the player the ability to slow time for a brief period in order to get up close and scan the specific body part needed to complete the research. This mechanic works well and mitigates some of the frustration caused by the controls.

In your right hand you are equipped with all of the tools of the researching trade. You are able to switch between many different tools by pressing the trackpad and selecting which tool you wish to use. These pieces of technology allow the player to scan inside and outside dinosaurs, attract predators, and tag dinosaurs in order to track them.

time machine vr review htc vive (4)

Once you maneuver the probe and scan the body part needed to continue the mission, the robot voice referred to as ‘Rob’ will tell you what information your scan has revealed about that specific dinosaur. Each dinosaur has several different parts that you need to scan in order to complete the mission and each body part reveals new information about the sea creatures way of life. I liked that the developers tried to use Time Machine VR to show that VR could be used for educational purposes as well as entertainment. I learned a good deal about the underwater creatures of the past and I applaud them for bringing real-world info into VR.

I felt fairly immersed while traveling back in time in Time Machine VR. Seeing the clouds speed up as the time machine whirred around me was exciting and hearing the orchestra play me through the underwater realms reminded me of the tense moments in Jaws (1975) where the shark is about to strike hapless victims. But being kicked out to the Vive dashboard every time a level loads broke the immersion severely.

time machine vr review htc vive (2)

If you get too close to a predatory dinosaur it will lunge at you and attempt to eat the pod which again is pretty terrifying for the first few times but once you realize that there are virtually no consequences to getting eaten and you can just pick up where you left off, the scare loses its edge and the immersion is again lost.

time machine vr review htc vive (7)

While the animations and individual character models looked pretty convincing, the environment was not exactly on par with a number of other VR games. The community has seen what level of detail can be put into a virtual reality world and for a game like Time Machine VR, where the main purpose is to explore and scan underwater beasts, I would have liked to see more detail to compel me to stay, explore, and enjoy the time periods that I was visiting.

Further, I would have liked to see variety in the mission structure. Most levels have you focus on one or two dinosaurs per level, and each time you use tools to analyze some aspect of that dinosaurs physiology. Many of the various scanning tools felt too similar and left me wanting more variation. You are either scanning some Nautiloid’s eyeball or seeing what some Pliosaurus had for dinner. Which sounds pretty neat by itself, and it is for the first few times, but after you scan the stomach of a creature for the 13th time it doesn’t feel as interesting as it once did and seems more like a chore than an adventure. Once you complete the game you have the option of going back through and scanning all of the dinosaurs again with newer tools you acquire as you progress in order to achieve 100% completion. The game took me about two hours to get 68% vaccine completion (meaning I played through all of the different time travel locations) so for some it may be worth going back.

time machine vr review htc vive (3)

A major problem for me with Time Machine VR was the motion sickness. Just to preface this: I played Half-Life 2 VR on the DK2, a fairly nausea inducing first-person-shooter (due to it not being built specifically for VR), and experienced motion sickness after about 40 minutes of play time and absolutely had to stop after about an hour so; I would say I have a medium to high tolerance for motion sickness. While playing Time Machine VR I would usually get motion sick within about 30 mins and absolutely need to stop within 50. If you don’t have your VR legs, this game could cause uncomfortable motion sickness.


road-to-vr-exemplar-ultimate-by-avaWe partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.


REVIEW OVERVIEW
Comfort
Gameplay
Immersion

This article may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product we may receive a small commission which helps support the publication. See here for more information.


  • Jason Lee

    I think your score needs to better reflect your summary. It sounds more like a 2.5 or 2. Than a 3. I wouldn’t pay $30 for something like this. $15 maybe.

    Comfort should be a two star, gameplay a 2.5 immersion 2.5 or 3.

  • Zach Gray

    The market is so small it follows that the prices will be inflated for a while. I don’t grudge devs who took a risk on the platform asking a fair price, but I think the lack of big titles in the space is allowing the indies to charge more. Granted, there is also a bunch of junk out there where folks are trying to make a buck. But devs are figuring out what works in an unproven market, so that’s worth a little extra.

  • Raphael

    “A major problem for me with Time Machine VR was the motion sickness. Just to preface this: I played Half-Life 2 VR on the DK2, a fairly nausea inducing first-person-shooter (due to it not being built specifically for VR), and experienced motion sickness after about 40 minutes of play time and absolutely had to stop after about an hour so; I would say I have a medium to high tolerance for motion sickness. ” <<< HL2 was amazing on Oculus DK2 last year until Valve killed it. I have never had any motion sickness with any VR game including "Cyber Space".

    What about Windlands? That involves a lot of flying and jumping…. Achieves 85% positive feedback on steam suggesting motion sickness is a minority thing.

    The thing that annoys me about the nausea is that it's a decreasing percentage due to improvements in hardware and yet that percentage pretty much dictates what we can and can't play. Developers get shouted at by angry kids who get dizzy and fall off their chairs easily. I've seen the rants on many VR games from steam buyers… they are a minority but it seems many developers go to extremes to please them.

    • Paul Schuyler

      We’re all entitled to opinions. But those aren’t sick kids falling off of chairs. They’re mature adults, gamers, enthusiasts, and VC’s. And that’s before we get to the general population who will be far less tolerant and much more judgmental then those of us that see the potential. Myself I’ve tried so many titles that do this…when you get that queasy feeling, there’s a natural and long lasting repulsion to the hardware that lasts long after the experience. My Vive does not get me sick on most room scale titles, which is the genius of it (those titles without artificial motion = no conflict of the senses). My view is that if we can’t separate out titles that have this tendency, then that’s the difference for me of market success or failure with VR. I’d bet against VR if we can’t isolate out this phenomenon. The caution over VR sickness is more than warranted. Windlands is an interesting example…I played it a lot on my DK2 in its early days. It provides a vertigo thrill which helps you tolerate the sickness issues. It gives you something in return for it. But ultimately are you really going to want to don these awkward HMD’s if your reward for it is a queasy stomach? Is that quality time?

  • Paul Schuyler

    Motion sickness is the bomb that will poison the well of VR. It is not a hardware problem. The typical person will glance at their Neo or Xbox One VR headset, that sits unused, and say, “yeah what a waste, that thing makes me sick.”. And they will move on, placing VR in the scrap heap of history. This deep flaw is true for games as well as 360 videos, some creators just can’t accept this. VR Legs is a crazy concept. VR sickness is caused by an inconsistent simulation, senses are working against themselves…what one sees does not match what one feels. In other words, the body is CORRECTLY interpreting what’s happening with its senses, that’s the exact opposite of immersion. You can’t fight nature and expect people to like it. A better approach might be for developers to accept this simple reality, and strive to deliver consistent simulations. With titles that produce a weird sensation like this, they should be stowed away in a separate rated area, harder to get to and launch….and far away from accidental access by the mainstream. Here’s a great question for the author of this article. After suffering the motion sickness and flaws, how many times since writing this have you joyfully booted up this title and spent lots of quality time in it?

    • Raphael

      Yes yes. Vorpx continues to sell to those who suffer no motion sickness. Gaming in vorpx is about as extreme as it gets in terms of nausea inducing so it’s not a problem for everyone or even the majority judging from feedback on games more likely to induce nausea.

      What I don’t agree with is this idea that VR games should be chopped and shaped entirely around those who suffer from nausea. Toy Plane Heroes… A few negatives from the nausea crowd but mostly positive. The developer is introducing aircraft the nausea crowd can fly. That’s an acceptable solution that doesn’t punish or restrict non-nausea gamers.

      Vanishing Realms is an example of a game that has been shaped entirely around the nausea clan and a number of gamers find the teleport mechanic destroys immersion. This is an example of a game being negatively impacted by that minority percentage. We know it’s a minority percentage based on user feedback of games that are more likely to induce nausea.

      Developers should not pander to one group ideally. Toy Plane Heroes accommodates both.

      • Paul Schuyler

        Taken from a sample of Steam users who are basically, by definition, 100% enthusiasts. I’m not saying that developers shouldn’t develop exactly as they see fit. They should always push new boundaries and feel free to imagine. But I do know with certainty if I show this to my wife, my brother, my brother in law, their friends, our 23 cousins, and myriad others the result will be the same. “Wow, that was cool man, real neat stuff.” And they just kind of avoid it from then on. Game over, so to speak. When asked about VR they’ll say its neat but kinda made them sick, and they’ll avoid it. There should be a rating or isolation system where a normal person who is not an ardent gaming enthusiast can explore titles without nauseating surprises. You should have to drill down to get it, not much different than an amusement park that posts warnings for rides.

        Another thing that would be helpful is some sort of follow on rating system. How many users who bought Vorpx, as an experiment, return to it regularly? That lasting quality time, and joy, and wonder…or the lack of it, is the real potential of VR.

        • Raphael

          Non-gamers aren’t necessarily going to jump into buying VR just because you show them games dumbed-down for nausea gamers. A friend a mine got his mom on Eve Valkyrie on his DK2 and she suffered no nausea. His father likewise no nausea with War Thunder. There is a rating system. Steam and Oculus have rating systems for VR. Toy Plane Heroes has is rated: VR COMFORT: INTENSE
          There are still a few dummies buying it and then giving it negative reviews because it made them sick. One of them wanted the game modified to suit his nausea and this is the issue I have with the nausea crowd.

          • Paul Schuyler

            I agree that non-gamers won’t jump into VR solely because things are comfortable. But I do know that every unanticipated nauseating experience is a long term bad impression for the person that experiences it. I know that there are rating systems but it really needs much more work, in its infancy VR just can’t afford to steer newcomers away out of neglect. Imagine trying to get theme parks going as a new market and every grandma and little boy that walks in the park you immediately throw on a high-G vomit-inducing thrill ride. Better to entice people to come in slowly, with variable experiences…but certainly warn them about those hard experiences in a way that they sense what’s coming, so they can steer clear of it. The rating systems are vague and pretty much useless. This happens more naturally with a theme park because you can see and sense what the thing is before you ride it. But you don’t get that opportunity with VR. Hey this looks cool…oops! Too late!

      • Benny Profane

        To be honest, I feel the teleport mechanic ENHANCES immersion vs using a traditional controller. My theory is that I have no frame of reference for what teleportation is supposed to feel like in real life, because obviously none of us has ever teleported in real life. On the flip side, I know that when I walk around in real life, I should feel something very different than simply my finger pushing on a tiny analog stick.

        When I play a first person game with a controller, I never get an all-encompassing sense of presence. I feel more like I am remotely controlling a floating disembodied brain. With teleport, it feels unnatural for about 5 minutes, then I forget that I am even doing it. No mis-match between what I see and what my body is supposed to be doing and feeling. Combine this with being able to naturally move around a smaller room scale space between teleports creates a powerful sense of immersion for me.

        So IMO even if you find yourself on the “no nausea” side of the fence, teleportation can be defended as a locomotion mechanic. Basically, to each their own and I agree with your sentiment. Devs should strive to include as many control options as possible right now, to really shed light on what works and what the market actually prefers. The only issue is games such as Budget Cuts, where the telelport mechanic is baked into the game mechanics.

        • Raphael

          Something that removed fluid movement and replaces with blink teleportation doesn’t make for greater immersion. Vanishing realms is an example of a teleport mechanic that impacts fluidity of movement/immersion.

          Using an analog stick or keys for walking is totally inadequate. Teleport with GTA V wouldn’t be workable. Would totally ruin the flow of the game. I agree that games should allow for different methods of movement but that’s not happening. What we see are game developers restricting games/control for the nausea group and all game feedback shows they are a minority. It’s an unfair situation.

          Ultimately we need to be able to move around with our bodies in these games and so room-scale/standing needs to be incorporated. The question is how to make that work with a game like battlefield or GTA without relying on a bulky treadmill.

    • yag

      “VR legs” is a very real phenomena observed since years (you should look a bit on Oculus’ forum or reddit/oculus). VR would obviously already be dead if people (well, most people) couldn’t get acclimated, don’t you think ?
      But it’s also true, unfortunately, that a substantial minority can never get acclimated (5-10% from the last pools I saw).
      That is the real problem : you cant’ know if you belong to this minority if you can’t try a VR device for an extended time…

      • Dan

        I agree with Paul here – “VR Legs” is a nonsense notion – The hardware is working towards reducing/eliminating motion sickness caused by latency and inaccuracy… and if developers go about things correctly, they can entirely avoid adding their own nausiating effects. Sure, there are people less effected by sloppy VR implementation, but that doesn’t make it any less sloppy, it just means some people got used to it.

        The root of the problem I think is that a lot of devs still seem to be desperately clinging to the idea that you can have the POV translate indirectly (ie, moving a character around using a joypad/keys) in VR without instantly instilling massive motion sickness in half the population.

        You may be able to train yourself to feel less bad when devs do this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad VR design practice. FPS games aren’t going to work without some sort of direct 1:1 movement… so probably not until something like Infinadeck is perfected. (And they’ll be a serious damn workout too I’d imagine!)

        I see already that this silliness is going to develop into another inane gamer elitism thing – “real hardcore gamers don’t suffer motion sickness”. It’s going to get us nowhere fast.

        • yag

          Why don’t you and Paul google “VR sickness” (don’t confuse with “motion sickness” : same symptoms but different mechanism and different sensitive population).
          The sad truth is : in some cases (yaw rotation of the virtual body with a stick is the most known), the best headset and the best VR dev can’t do nothing because of how works your inner ear… you have to train progressively and acclimate your brain (or found an hardware solution like roomscale, omni virtuix…)
          In other cases you will be sick simply because you will simulate something who would make you sick IRL (think rollercoasters…). And it’s very normal, here again you must get used, headsets and devs have nothing to do with that.

          • Dan

            I know it exists, and it’s obviously caused by different stimuli than regular motion sickness (effectively the inverse, visual motion without corresponding physical motion, rather than physical motion without corresponding visual motion).

            Just because it exists doesn’t mean you “just have to train yourself”. Consider the absurdity of what you’re suggesting – that the basic core design of a game *doesn’t* have anything to do with developers? It’s like suggesting that a traditional game with atrocious UI design is “just something you have to get used to”… no, it’s something you’d expect the devs to fix, or you just won’t buy their broken game.

            There is no implicit requirement to get used to developers’ bad design practices. Ultimately Paul and my point is, by employing these bad practices, and then falling back on the cop out “you just need to get your VR legs!” to excuse that bad design, they’re simply going to damage the overall appeal of VR as a medium, as experiences so bad that they cause actual nausea tend to stick in people’s minds.

            There is no reason people have to just accept this… and there’s no reason they’re just going to. Far more likely is that VR as a whole ends up a flop, simply because too many devs were too determined to shoehorn in pre-VR genres and control styles rather than accept the fundamental need to think differently. It doesn’t need to be that way.

            I for one would rather VR devs explore new ground and we end up with a genuinely viable new medium, with its own fundamental design language, in which nobody needs to slog through a period of nausea as a base requirement.

    • Konchu

      See it really comes to the games I played my Vive for long periods the 1st week with no issues no an ounce of VR sickness. This is probably due to playing the top rated games on many people’s lists so I was buying the best rated experiences. But I have tried many experiences and found some that make me whoosey. They are normally those experiences that try to shoe horn traditional fast action with VR.

      But that said when as I have pushed my bounds in less than a month really ,weeks many of the experiences that bothered me do not now. So VR legs is a real thing. In apps like Altspace VR when I first found the touch pad would move you like a joypad it made me feel like I was going to fall over.It was jarring now I feel fine with it now and in other apps in like a week. I did recently get a little discomfort with some loops in the toy plane game and my whirl of death strategy in xcapocalyse was not the wisest thing.

      But well made VR games have no issues, especially room scale games for me. So If these guys do there homework I don’t think sickness is an issue. I had a DK1 and hardly played it due to VR Sickness the improvements to hardware and Technic are great.