Hi everyone! Cymatic Bruce here with yet another gameplay exploration. This time, we look into some third person experiences in VR, and try to make some tentative conclusions about what works and what does not.
When most folks are introduced to the Rift, their imagination quickly jumps to first person shooters – and why shouldn’t they? It is only natural to assume that the most comfortable viewpoint for an HMD would be to look through the eyes of the avatar you control. Even before the Rift dev kit was available, the general consensus was that the most compelling experiences would need to be in first person; third person gameplay would be lackluster at best or vomit-inducing at worst. I personally agreed with this assumption. I thought, why on earth would you want to experience a game as the camera instead of the character?
A few weeks with the Rift have flipped that assumption on its head. I tried a few third person experiences, and not only were they enjoyable but they shed light on new ways to interact with a game that I did not consider!
Controlling a Character
There are not many examples of third person character control out there, but so far controlling a character in third person is a pretty cool experience in VR. I gave it a test run in UDK, and in Garage Game’s Rift Valley.
In UDK, I tried a demo made by Oculus/Hydra dev BlackFang, which included a mode that put the camera really close to the character in third person. This over-the-shoulder, Gears of War style camera angle not only felt good, but allowed me to get a great up close look at the character model. This may be a great way to connect the game character to the player. What if you were the pint-sized shoulder sidekick, and the character turned around and talked with you?
In Rift Valley, the viewpoint is a bit more distant and feels more like controlling a toy soldier. Being able to turn my head to change my character’s direction on a dime felt a little strange, but I rapidly adjusted and was able to successfully maneuver the character. Also, an interesting issue pops up when switching weapons: how the hell do you know which weapon your character has active? There is limited real estate for HUD elements, so some sort of visual cue built into the character model would be useful.
Even with these very early and simplistic implementations, third person gameplay works with a character on foot. What happens when we pick up the speed?
Driving a Vehicle
The behind-the-car viewpoint has been a staple in video games since the days of Pole Position, but does it work in VR? I tried out vehicles in UT3 and Velociraptor Safari to get a sample.
In UT3, I tried two different vehicles: the buggy/tank and the hovercraft. The vehicles have different control schemes; your head controls just the turret on the tank, as opposed to the vehicle direction with the hovercraft. Both vehicles were rather fun to mess around with, but the tank felt especially comfortable. You look where you want,
and the vehicle continues on its path – similar to real life.
In Velociraptor Safari, the control scheme is very similar to the tank in UT3, but somehow felt unsettling. The slight differences in camera distance, motion, and speed combined to make an experience that was tolerable in the short term, but not satisfactory for a lengthy gaming session. Keep in mind that this was a very early build, and changing camera angles is on the dev’s to-do list.
And Now For Something Completely Different
There are some other experiences out there that feature different viewpoints and may have potential. The Battle of Zarnowitz makes you a floating observer of a historical battle. The eerie Girl Mirror Look is first person, but places a character in the environment that mirrors your every move. Both demos are interesting in their current form, and could possibly springboard robust experiences in the future.
On a whim I tried my UDK 2.5D platformer prototype, and ended up with an interesting result: the ability to see what is around and ahead of the character! This feature has some interesting gameplay potential. Could you use the 3D perspective to hide
objects/enemies from the player? Or place items in and out of the character’s 2D plane?
Following your character in third person view seems comfortable. It may even lend itself to the player establishing a stronger connection to the player they control. With a few design tweaks and visual cues, there is certainly potential for a fantastic experience.
Third person driving in VR is certainly doable, with a few considerations. Maximum speeds may have to be tweaked, and it may be a good idea to give the player several options for camera position and distance.
I would have to say that third person experiences have much potential, and should not be dismissed by developers. A player can still be immersed while being a floating observer during a game. In fact, I have had many dreams where I have viewed the action this way. Maybe this POV is not as unnatural to VR as we once thought!
Until the Next VR Experiment,