Exploring the Outer Limits: Reviews and Tips for Space-Themed Games
23 May 2023
It would appear that there is some agreement that virtual reality’s primary feature, in terms of the user experience, is its capacity to create presence. This refers to the perception that a user is physically present in a nonphysical world, which is one level above immersion. Therefore, it makes sense that developers immediately reach out to bring far-flung shards of the universe into our living rooms, bringing a dark background into the foreground.
Take, for instance, Ben Vance’s Irrational Exuberance. It’s a trip into an imagined outer space with huge starfields, real-world low-gravity physics, and other interstellar phenomena; You learn bits and pieces about extraterrestrial knowledge as you move from crater to crater. Yet, it’s all solidly established in sci-fi — it is to the Smooth Way what Bad habit City is to Miami, Florida, without close to as numerous Tommy Bahama shirts.
Vance’s title began as an Oculus Rift project in 2013, long before Facebook bought the company and before virtual reality had reached its peak. It was one of Vance’s first endeavors since finishing work on 17-BIT’s Skulls of the Shogun, and it marked a significant departure from the development of a turn-based strategy game. It was thrilling new ground.
Then, in January 2014, he went to Valve’s Steam Dev Days conference on the invitation of Doug Church, who Vance had worked with several years earlier on EA’s unfinished LMNO project. He first encountered the VR technology of the company there. Vance was bought, despite the fact that Valve described the hardware as “experimental” and denied any plans for a future consumer product; His Oculus sessions had been limited to 15 minutes at a stretch due to motion sickness, which Valve had already addressed. Any waiting questions he had about the medium evaporated.
In Spring of 2015, Vance got an award from Venice, California-based WEVR (articulated “weaver”), as a feature of the organization’s $1 million program pointed explicitly at financing computer generated reality projects. One of the demonstrations that Valve used to introduce its Vive hardware at this year’s Game Developers Conference was created with assistance from Vance by the startup. The name of it was “TheBluVR: Encounter,” which allowed users to interact with a life-size blue whale while traversing a virtual reality underwater landscape. The project provided valuable hardware experience, WEVR’s eventual backing of Exuberance, and access to its difficult-to-find Vive development hardware.
The open loft workspace of WEVR HQ is visible from Vance’s desk on the third floor, where he keeps his laptop, monitor, and Vive development kit. He shrugs and says, “People say I look like I’m in a DJ booth up here.” However, because he frequently stays around long after everyone else has left, he is typically a DJ in an empty club.
Unreasonable Extravagance drops players (or “guests”) onto a desolate space rock where they experience “secretive peculiarities, stowed away excellence, and go eye to eye with the endless.” The small room we’re in suddenly changes into an endless, extraterrestrial space as I put on the headset. In the distance, thousands of stars can be seen; A strange, black obelisk juts out of the ground 10 feet in front of me on the small piece of rock we share as it drifts through space, while appropriately massive planets and comets hover in the background.
I go through a number of brief vignettes, each filled with various foreign objects. I eventually realize that I can use the unfamiliar tools I have to knock floating pieces of space rock around, causing them to shatter and change direction in slow motion, satisfying low gravity. The aforementioned obelisk can be dismantled by me, revealing a glowing yellow rod within. I can extrude plant-like forms from the strange, multicolored lights embedded in the ground of some asteroids and mold them into gangly, Dr. Seussian shapes with my tools. Vance enjoys the fact that Irrational Exuberance is currently a sort of interstellar sandbox.
Vance has been locked in with VR for longer than most. In 2013, he was working on projects for the Oculus DK1, and while he was still in college, he worked at the Iowa State VR Applications Center. The $10 million lab used a VR method that involved projecting images on all of a room’s walls rather than headsets. This effectively demonstrates Moore’s Law, despite the fact that the technologies utilized somewhat distinct approaches; Vance expresses that in numerous ways, even his first-gen Oculus Crack dev unit bests what was conceivable in that lab simply 10 years prior.
Since switching from Rift to Vive, the game’s direction has also changed slightly. Vance asserts, “I think the [Vive] controllers themselves have made it less gamey.” In my prototype, I used an Xbox 360 gamepad, which naturally gives it a game-like feel. Even though I only used it for navigation, you still hold it and have that connection.” Even though the Vive controllers are depicted in the gameworld as mechanical tools, players quickly come to regard them as their “hands,” as he points out that the controllers’ motion tracking is so precise. I’m really building on that because it feels very natural.
Vance aims to create interactions that feel as natural as possible—things you’ll see and expect to do just because you’re human. How much he will rely on the controller buttons for interaction has been one of his concerns.