Theresa Duringer is a afraid of flying. To cope with it, she designed a game that she can view and play with a Samsung Gear VR mobile headset. Ascension VR, based on a popular card game, is designed to distract her during long flights, and it launches today on the Steam and Oculus VR app stores.
Duringer said in an interview with GamesBeat that Ascension VR doesn’t appear to be a game to help people deal with the fear of flying at first glance. It’s a fantasy-role-playing card battle game where one to four players compete against each other. But the whole point of it isn’t to relax you can calm you down deliberately. It is designed to distract you from your fears. Duringer hopes that if it helps her, it will help other people as well.
“I wanted a game that helps me with my problem and enables me to make a lot of decisions fast,” Duringer said. “This is a game that has a lot of strategy. I’ve had the best success playing for a long period of time on a plane.”
The game is also fun to play for people who just like VR card games or tabletop fantasy card games. VR is tough to do with complex strategy games, but Duringer’s Temple Gate Games got some good practice by creating a prototype for a card game for another project. Then Duringer went to the GenCon tabletop games conference last year and played Ascension. She started adapting her prototype to make a VR version of Ascension, and secured the license from the card game maker, Stone Blade Entertainment.
“The cool thing with this game is a lot of people already know how to play it,” she said. “It’s easy to learn from a friend if you are sitting around the kitchen table.”
The game is faithful to the world of Vigil in Ascension. It features the Ascension deck-building game and includes 52 unique Heroes, Constructs, and Monsters with additional expansions to be released later on. Fans can play as their favorite Ascension heroes in real time with other players, no matter where they live. It has 3D animated avatars and social elements. For instance you can talk to somebody else in the game using spatialized voice chat. Your avatar has lip sync and avatar animations are triggered by player movements. You can play it on PC or mobile VR headsets.
“One of the things I love about VR is people can teach each other how to play using voice chat, rather than reading a tutorial,” Duringer said as we played a game together.
Still, the game has its own single-player tutorial, and you can play up to three artificial intelligence opponents at the same time.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see Ascension come to life in virtual reality, where sitting in the same living room is no longer a requirement and players from all over the world can play a game of Ascension together,” said Justin Gary, Founder and CEO, Stone Blade Entertainment.
Ascension VR is available for $10 via the Steam and Oculus Store. Later on, players will be able to belong to factions, adding a new dimension to the competition. The title is Temple Gates Games’ third VR title to date. The team of five made the game in six months. The other staffers included Patrick Benjamin (animator), B Rosaschi (artist), Jeff Gates (programmer), and Tod Semple (programmer).
As for the fear of flying, Duringer said it works for her. She consulted with some psychologists and found that the quick decisions helped. Her claustrophobia was gone during a recent flight.
“It gives me something focus on,” she said. “I’m not claiming this game will work with everyone who has a fear of flying. I found that when the flight was going smoothly, VR helped me a lot. But when the flight was bumpy, I wanted to take the headset off to see the calm faces of people around me. I’m going to continue to tinker with it to see what helps.”
Some branches of psychology focus on engagement therapy, where you directly face your fears. In the case of flying, you would confront the fear head on and get in a virtual plane. But Duringer doesn’t want to do that herself. She would rather be distracted from her fear, and she thinks VR can help with that.
She added, “This fear of flying crept up on me. I used to love flying, but in my 20s, it got worse. I wish I could say VR would help everyone. I would love to see more research go into it.”