At GDC 2016 I saw an early version of VRScore, a virtual reality benchmarking program created in collaboration with Crytek and Basemark. To test PC hardware performance to ensure enough power for running VR experiences, Crytek created a real-time cinematic VR short called Sky Harbor which quite unexpectedly blew me away.
It started like hundreds of other VR experiences I’ve seen at trade shows past. Crytek’s booth had rows of PCs with attached Oculus Rift headsets for people to try. All of the systems except for one was showing the company’s new VR game The Climb; on the very end, one PC was running something different.
Built in collaboration between Crytek and Basemark, VRScore is a hardware benchmarking suite specifically tailored for virtual reality. Like most benchmarking programs VRScore includes a real-time scene that acts as a stress test to ensure your computer can handle the demands of rendering virtual reality experiences at 90 FPS.
At the booth was Basemark co-founders Tero Sarkkinen and Arto Routsalainen, who asked me if I wanted to take a look inside the Rift headset sitting there on the table and see a cinematic version of the stress test scene (the real version for testing will have a fixed view to ensure consistency from one test to the next). I said ‘sure, why not?’, expecting to see a short little little test scene running in CryEngine with some dynamic lights flying around, maybe a few translucent surfaces… the usual fare for graphical benchmarking. What I was about to experience however turned out to be the most spectacular cinematic VR short I’ve ever seen.
The teaser we have above doesn’t really do the short justice. Luckily you’ll be able to see it for yourself when it launches with the VRScore benchmark in June (provided you’ve got a VR headset and the PC to run it).
Sky Harbor is the name and it was built in-house by Crytek, presumably using the just-released CryEngine 5, which the company says is improved for VR. The direction of Sky Harbor makes it clear that it was built from the ground up for virtual reality; it was a comfortable experience that still managed to move the viewer throughout some pretty awesome action.
Beyond the usual graphic polish that Crytek is known for, the experience does a great job of emphasizing action and massive scale—something which is appreciated far better through a VR headset than a computer monitor. I have seen plenty of good cinematic VR content up to this point, but nothing that has achieved the sort of spectacle I saw in Sky Harbor, which dropped me in media res into a convincing fiction where an epic battle was unfolding.
Sky Harbor was so impressive that I almost don’t believe it was made for the sole purpose of being a stress test for a VR benchmark, and I hope I’m right; it left off with a cliffhanger, but didn’t need to—I had already decided before the end that I wanted much, much more.