Most virtual reality games will put you into the action from a first-person perspective, but a few are going for the classic third-person viewpoint of something like the revolutionary Super Mario 64. Only it turns out that getting that kind of game working in VR is tough.
Playful is an Oculus Rift developer making the upcoming platformer Lucky’s Tale, which has players controlling a cute fox through a cartoon world. It is reminiscent of 3D Mario games as well as something like the Nintendo 64’s Banjo-Kazooie. And that’s partially because Playful designers Dan Hurd and Evan Reidland rebuilt levels from those games in VR to see what would translate to VR and what would break. Playful has raised $25 million in funding to help it move into VR with a platforming game, and it has learned a lot during development that could make Lucky’s Tale a standout launch game for Oculus Rift later this month.
“We would take a Banjo level and model it out and put it in the Rift,” said Hurd during a presentation today at the Game Developers Conference. “We didn’t know anything, so we were just trying to see if this would work.”
Hurd explained that they almost instantly found out that the Banjo level doesn’t work in VR because that game is built around the idea that you can move and spin a camera.
“And every level is an arena where you’re expected to run back and forth,” he said. “We found that we don’t like characters jumping back toward our face. It doesn’t feel good. It’s weird. It makes you feel like you can’t back up fast enough and when you do, you get sick.”
When Playful tried modeling a Mario level, they found that the stages were more comfortable to play but were too linear.
“We opened up the ability for you to look anywhere, but you wouldn’t because there’s this right path that you must go on,” said Hurd.
Playful found that the solution is to bring together elements from all the games they tested. Instead of being completely open like Banjo or linear like Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, Lucky’s Tale as linear paths that lead to more open areas. You always keep moving forward and then get a chance to explore in a hub area. This keeps things comfortable but not so wacky that you’ll need to flip your camera around.
We’ll find out in about two weeks of the end result is VR’s equivalent to Mario, but it’s obvious that Playful has strived to identify and eliminate problems in making this kind of game for Rift.