Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How VR changes how games are played

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 26, 2022

Yeah, a lot of my posts are VR-related these days. It’s how I roll, now. Not that all (or even most) of my gaming is in VR. I’m still retro-gaming regularly and I am really looking forward to the PC release of Persona 5 next month. But… VR is a wild and exciting frontier, and I’m still nowhere near jaded. While a lot of approaches and conventions have solidified for certain genres of games, there’s still nothing set in stone, especially as the tech keeps improving.

One of the things that still amuses me is how different VR gaming turned out to be from what I anticipated back in the 1990s when the first systems came out. I think most of us were expecting a Doom port to VR with fundamentally unchanged gameplay. And yes, I’ve played exactly that. It was at once extremely satisfying to play exactly what I had once hoped for, and yet a glaringly obvious example of how VR is a revolutionary entertainment platform that demands a new approach to game design.

Just last week, the long awaited Half-Life 2 VR Mod came out on Steam (it’s free!), which gives us a pretty major conversion of the venerable classic to VR. It is still in early access, but I believe the entire game is fully playable in VR now. With the hand controllers, it absolutely changes the gameplay, at least from how I (distantly) remember it. You can physically move objects with your hands, manually load your guns and use holster-like areas. It’s a brand new game… except for the the textures, which are now very obviously old-school since you can get a closer look at them than ever. There are still a lot of elements that could be / should be different if it was written for VR from the ground up, but HL2VRM demonstrates the depth of changes needed to convert a standard first-person shooter/adventure to a reasonable VR experience.

RPGs… well… Suffice to say that how an RPG “should” work in VR is more complicated of a question than it is for non-VR. The trend is to do what is happening with the FPS games, and make it more visceral. Less menus, more physically-based action. Unfortunately, this makes most VR RPGs converge on a straight-up action game design where character skill becomes little more than a modifier to some numbers or a toggle on what spells are available or what items can be equipped. I personally like more of a mix of character abilities + player abilities in my RPGs, but VR does demand a bit of a reevaluation of how that is supposed to work. We may have to borrow ideas from the LARPing (Live Action Role-Play) community as we go forward.

The somewhat more sensationally-titled video “How Virtual Reality is Changing Gaming Forever” by Virtual Insider also touches on the topic of the intensity of the VR experience. This is most notable in horror games, where the intensity inside a VR headset is several times higher than that of playing on a flat screen, even in a dark room. Fear is definitely more intense. I never thought the monsters in Minecraft were ever that big of a deal until I encountered them in VR, and they genuinely freaked me out. But fear isn’t the only feeling that intensifies. I think this applies to the sense of intimacy and shared experience in a multiplayer cooperative game, the sense of wonder in an RPG or when landing on a new planet in No Man’s Sky, and the fierceness of the competition in a PvP game.

I think flat-screen “pancake” games are not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m still playing them regularly, and there are many genres I just don’t see making a convenient leap to VR… at least not without just being played on a projected 2D screen. Making games that are playable in both VR and on a flat screen will be a challenge, and will inevitably be “best played” on one or the other. Regardless, these are exciting times to be a gamer.





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