One of the earlier titles to be used by Oculus to demonstrate the potential of virtual realit gaming SUPERHOT is to be completely reworked for a new VR specific version that’s built for motion controls, and in particular Oculus Touch, from the ground up.
As hackneyed as it may be, one of my sincerest wishes for virtual reality gaming is that at some point, a game would come along that allowed me to be Neo from The Matrix, and use my powers as ‘The One’ to bend reality to my will and in particular to experience ‘Bullet Time’. SUPERHOT is the game that has come the closest to fulfilling that wish so far, and the good news is that the developers are working hard to do that fantasy justice, having announced that there will be a new, VR specific version of the title rebuilt for motion controls, and more specifically Oculus Touch.
The premise of SUPERHOT is straightforward to understand whilst playing, rather more difficult to describe in words. To boil it down though, you advance against a series of enemies, and whilst you’re not moving, your gameworld remains in slow motion – a state of bullet time perpetuity if you like. Bullets from assailants weapons glide towards you sluggishly, including those fired by you at them, allowing you to assess your path through the area and plot how you’re going to take those enemies out. The twist? As soon as you move your head, the world switches to real time and stays that way until you stop moving. That is the essence of SUPERHOT and an example of how a strong simple, single, elegant mechanic can be good enough to build an entire game around. SUPERHOT on the surface then is an action game, but you soon realise that elements of strategy and even puzzle solving come into play as you dodge and weave your way through the whizzing bullets. You are, in essence, choreographing your own lethal action sequence again and again.
Recently SUPERHOT teased that they were working on bringing the title to VR proper and that they’d struck a deal with Oculus, part of which means the game would become an Oculus exclusive title “for now” and include support for Oculus’ forthcoming motion controls Touch. “We’re now working super close with the guys at Oculus to release SUPERHOT VR later this year,” said developer Szymon Krukowski. “We’re really trying to capitalize on all of the new design possibilities that Virtual Reality is giving us. The level of game immersion that you get from playing SUPERHOT in VR is simply crazy.”
As you may be aware (or perhaps you’re fortunate enough not to be) that Oculus’ approach to building its proprietary content portal Home and encouraging developers to build Oculus-only titles to appear exclusively for the Rift has caused much anger in the hardcore VR community and beyond. Some believe that Oculus providing financial assistance to developers to encourage them to build games for VR in exchange for timed or permanent exclusivity, that so the title works only on the Rift and not, for example, on the rival HTC Vive, is anti-consumer and damages virtual reality in the long run. The SUPERHOT developers catching some considerable flack in the wake of their exclusivity announcement as a result.
Now, in an enjoyably irreverent blog post, the developers have clarified their reasoning for this approach and detailed that the new title, SUPERHOT VR, will not be a lazy port of the original, but a completely reworked title built for the Oculus Touch motion controllers. “We never compromised on design. We sure as hell weren’t going to start by halfheartedly adding poor VR support to SUPERHOT and calling it a day. We started drafting a plan to spin up a SUPERHOT VR team and we did some rudimentary budgeting for a year-long intensive project.” This is of course great news for SUPERHOT and VR fans alike. The mantra that VR games cannot be treated as afterthoughts is now well established, and rightly so.
But what of that exclusivity deal with Oculus? “The budget was waaaay too scary for our indie studio’s thirst for survival. We wouldn’t be able to make it without diverting resources from all the other crazy stuff we’re creating in the SUPERHOT universe,” the developer states, “Towards the end of last year, we rang up Oculus and pitched to team up – to pool together enough resources and VR design knowhow; to give us a shot at fleshing out a fully fledged, no-compromise SUPERHOT VR. A couple of weeks later, we already had our first full time VR dev happily coding away, and we had enough runway in the budget to keep us from having to cut the project short.”
It’s doubtful that those statements, as well reasoned and understandable as they may be, will do much to quench the flame wars from those who believe VR gaming should treat the PC as one unified platform, avoiding market fragmentation through these sorts of deals which result in those opting for one headset unable to play titles developed for the other. But frankly, in SUPERHOT’s case at least, it seems to make complete sense and if the net result of said deal is that we get a great VR title as opposed to none at all, it seems like a positive move. Besides, the developers have indicated that this exclusivity may not be permanent.
The final criticism levied at the developers was the assumption that this new Oculus exclusive title would mean that backers of SUPERHOT’s original Kickstarter campaign, who were promised VR support, would be left out in the cold, having to buy the game seperately. However, in a note at the end of the new blog post, the developer states “Oh, and we’ll be giving keys for SUPERHOT VR to all of our Kickstarter and preorder friends and backers. :)” – good news for those concerned then.
No firm release date for SUPERHOT VR is yet available, but the developers are stating “Winter 2016” currently. For Oculus, SUPERHOT VR joins the ranks of the 30 strong lineup they’re building for the launch of their Touch motion controllers, set for release in the 2nd half of 2016.
As for the raging debate on VR exclusivity, we’ll be looking much more closely at the subject in a forthcoming feature article. Stay tuned.