Born out of a lengthy period of experimentation, Lucid Trips begins with a novel method of locomotion and follows through with a unique approach to game design and multiplayer interactivity.
Lucid Trips is an excellent example of the sort of creative game design that we’re going to need much more of for virtual reality to emerge as its own medium, rather than a subset of the existing gaming space.
In many ways, Lucid Trips could be called ahead of its time. With developer VR Nerds (also the group behind VRNerds.de) starting work on the title as far back as 2014, the game has been designed from the ground-up for VR controllers. While back in 2014 there were some third-party motion controllers available, neither Oculus or Valve/HTC had shown their respective VR controllers until 2015, and wouldn’t launch them until 2016 (Oculus’ controllers withstanding).
Curiously enough, Lucid Trips largely uses the hand controllers as a replacement for your feet—a novel locomotion system which gives you disembodied virtual arms with which to crawl, jump, and fly around the game’s dreamscapes.
The fantastical environments are just one hint that the game is inspired by lucid dreaming (the name of course being the major giveaway), a state in which a dreamer is aware that they’re dreaming. As an occasional lucid dreamer myself, the game’s locomotion struck a surprisingly familiar chord. In many of my lucid dreams, I try to run but find that I can’t get much, if any, traction from the ground.
Indeed, in Lucid Trips, the disembodied arms which you control are at first unintuitive. Your instinct to use them like feet—where high friction allows one foot to be planted quickly after the next—is of no use in this low-gravity dream world. After a few minutes of practice I found myself gracefully skimming along the landscape by learning to gently guide myself with smooth strokes, almost as if swimming.
And you can do much more than skim; with two arms and an exaggerated shove off the ground, you can launch yourself high into the air. This is useful for ascending difficult terrain. Once in the air, you can also spread your arms out to glide, and even use a special boost ability for brief moments of powered flight. Turning your hands while flying gracefully steers you in a way that is once again reminiscent to how you might fly in a dream.
The locomotion system is a complete departure from anything else I’ve seen in VR and I was surprised to find that it was a completely comfortable way of getting around a virtual world. And it served purpose beyond simply moving me from one place to the next; while some games use locomotion out of necessity, Lucid Trips’ novel movement scheme is half the fun, providing challenge in learning how to navigate in an elegant, if inhuman, way, and also lending you the dream-like ability to fly unhindered.
So it turns out that locomotion itself can be fun, but what you do you do in Lucid Trips beyond gliding, jumping, and flying? At present, the title presents itself as an exploration game. Artifacts scattered about the environment will lead you along interesting paths, often ending at a high location that’s a great view and a perfect place to take off for a high-altitude flight (with special powerups providing a longer period of powered flying as a reward).
Developer VR Nerds is also exploring an interesting asynchronous multiplayer idea where one player could visit another player’s dream world and hide artifacts for the first player to find when they return to that world. Presumably, players will be able to place artifacts in challenging areas which can only be retrieved if the other player is able to match the maneuvers needed to reach the location. And while Lucid Trips tends to be a surreal and relaxing game, I imagine speedrunners would love to see how quickly they can race around the various paths as a challenge.
Lucid Trips is among a handful of VR games that are genuinely thinking outside the box and exploring what can be done in virtual reality that simply wouldn’t make sense on other platforms. These are games that can hardly be described as ‘X in VR’ because they’re simply too different than what’s come before. The more developers being fearlessly creative in VR, the faster the platform will evolve into its own distinct medium.
Lucid Trips is currently in closed Alpha, but VR Nerds plans to release an open beta around September. They’re currently developing on the HTC Vive, but also hoping to release on Oculus Touch and PlayStation VR once the platforms become available.