If there’s any common reason that ambitious VR games frequently wind up disappointing, restrictive budgets would be to blame. Limited money means fewer people work on a game, generally reducing the scope of the experience. And even though VR tends to demand triple-A-caliber assets and design, experienced developers have come to see big budget titles as especially risky on new, unestablished platforms. Since VR is still building its audience, it’s no wonder that large developers’ VR “experiences” feel more like teasers than complete games.
There’s a solution: ports. While I normally wouldn’t buy into a platform just for ports, they strike me as the best model to keep the VR universe flush with quality software in a “small budget” world. The truth of this crystallized after I read a new Reddit AMA with the developers behind the Wipeout Omega Collection. Sony revealed that a team of only five people brought the iconic Wipeout series (perfectly) into VR — a particularly stunning feat given that the franchise’s original development team disappeared years earlier.
My big takeaway: With the right five people, a memorable older game can become a cutting-edge VR title, perhaps even a killer app.
In the console world, the reasoning is straightforward. If a seventh-generation console could run a game at 30 frames per second, an eighth-generation console should be able to run it at around 120 frames per second — enough to power separate left and right eye displays at 60 FPS each. You just need a developer capable of competently handling the port and looking for possible rough edges that might pop up in VR.
During their AMA, Sony’s XDev and Sweden’s EPOS teams revealed that despite a short, several-month development timeline, they didn’t just dump several prior Wipeout games into VR — they did need to create custom ships that had dual left and right noses rather than a single central nose to make the viewing experience more pleasant. But apart from getting the game engine running smoothly and adding a few optional features to prevent motion sickness, they didn’t need to completely overhaul the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita titles, either.
Think of all the last-generation games that could become incredible VR games. Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty: MW2, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Killzone 2, FIFA, Tomb Raider, Madden, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and Beatles: Rock Band are just some of the titles that could be ported into VR with minimal retooling. Believe it or not, even Tempest 4000 becomes more compelling when seen up close (though regrettably in 2D) in PSVR.
For developers, the payoff is obvious. VR-tweaked rereleases of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Doom have done very well for Bethesda, even though the core assets and engines remained all but unchanged. That’s because people loved the original titles and were glad to see them in VR regardless of whether they were brand new games or re-releases. And there’s a lot of equally great gaming IP out there. Who wouldn’t want to sing with The Beatles in VR, especially since the existing game’s character models and backdrops were pitch-perfect?
On the other hand, developers are seeing negative results when spending their limited resources trying to create engrossing VR titles from scratch. That’s how a “hot for 2018”-listed title such as Supermassive’s Bravo Team wound up described as “an astonishingly bad VR shooter from a team that should know better.” (If you haven’t yet read how the game’s development team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, open the long story up in another tab and take a peek.)
Moral of the story: Bring on the (great) ports. Who knows what forgotten corner of a great game might merit deeper exploration in VR?