Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Some thoughts on VR and RAW DATA

The emerging new genre, no, it is a platform, of virtual reality. You get embedded by sight and sound into whatever environment is simulatable best by those two senses. Despite waiting for two years for those VR goggles to appear on the market, I still hesitated when they where available. Am I investing 2000 Euros just because of one or two games? Sure, Elite: Dangerous is totally worth the VR experience, but is this enough? Then I just jumped the cold waters. Hell, I am an early adopter, I take this risk of shelving expensive equipment if it turns out to be useless. After all, I already have a OCZ NIA on that shelf!

So, when my VR goggles arrived, I was already on full research about possible available games. The first big potential of VR is for me this wonderful combination of gameplay with fitness. Whether it is Longbow, LightsaberVR, or Raw Data, they are all fun and they make me sweat and have sore muscles, and I feel as good as coming home from a fitness center. The second big potential is all about the famed presence, this feeling of being in there, which you can´t describe neither in words nor video.

Raw Data is a very simplistic shooter, but opposed to many VR siblings, its graphics are very good and the control scheme is close to perfect. See, it is VR not only about a new form display. It is also about how to have control this ultimate form of a 3D-environment. Raw Data does not use buttons as buttons, it uses the controlles as a translator of real physical movement behavior. Want to dodge or kneel behind cover? Do exactly this with all your body. Want to activate a lever? Grab it and pull it down; your middlefinger rests on a button and when you tighten your grip on the controller, it gets pressed.  This translates almost flawlessly into an impression of grabbing something in VR. Reload your gun? Grab the magazine, stick it into the gun. Attack with your sword? Swing it! Want to throw your sword? Tighten your grip (hold middlefinger-button), make a throwing movement and loosen your grip (release button) and the sword flys off. That´s where my sore muscles come from. If I had a suggestion, they should also add crawling through ventilator shafts or something, like so famous in the Deus Ex games. Hey, it´s all about fitness training, right!?

After I have spent about a weekend with Raw Data, all in all about fifteen hours of game time, my body screamed „a break, PLEASE“. The exhaustion is comparable to those first days after you started a new kind of sport. Raw Data receives high praise so far, if you deduct those consumers who complain about pricing or bugs. It is early access and currently offers two hero classes and four levels. After about 6 hours of gameplay, you should have experienced all content. But thanks to the "fitness experience", it still is a lot of fun to replay it again and again. I don´t really need to do a review about it, this article already describes all I wanted to say.

But it is not enough that you have this VR environment which feels already very physical. You also have teamplay, as you can play this game cooperatively as a two-person team. It starts when you form up. Suddenly, there is a person next to you, in the game. Ok it still is very much a puppet, but the player´s movements are scetched out well and it takes just a few moments to have a true feeling of presence. You wave to each other, can imitate a handshake, and, yeah, some lonely guys imitate grabbing the female ninja´s boobs (or the male gunner´s balls). I can see why VR porn is going to be a thing. But it is very interesting to note, even though your own body is not displayed, you instantly get an inkling how a victim of real sexual harassment might feel. Of course, at this point it is still all fun and more of a childish experimentation than anything else.

Teamplay in VR is simply awesome. "Behind you", "got you covered", those typical situations have a very real feeling. After some tight matches, especially the fourth and last level, you feel a kind of comradeship. It might be because we are in the birth phase of a new game, but I somehow cannot imagine flames and all this kinds of impolite behaviour happening here. I might be wrong; for example Blizzard´s new team shooter Overwatch, after an initial phase of enthusiasm and joyful mood, quickly had those dung-flies of players who just need to moan an bitch. However, it could also be that the VR-typical feeling of presence seems also to remove this strange protective veil behind which people act without behaviour and restraint, even though the internet-anonymity still does exist. IDK, it could be also just because twoplayer co-op is not the right "sociotope" where asocial behavious can nurture. Anyways, I am very interested how the social aspects of VR games are going to evolve.

I never looked back to soloplay after my first tries of co-op games in Raw Data. And now, after some hours, intimately knowing every level and wave, the most fun still comes from all those co-players who gasp and breathe and scream, and I simply have joy to observe in their suprise and overwhelmed emotions. I had one guy who was joyfully panicking on the second level, aptely named "Dark Source", and helping him scratch of those Crawlers from his back which was the cause for his screams for help was a real fun. I know how it feels, as I had my share of torn out cables, dislodged VR-goggles and crashes into walls when I am flailing to hit and get them off me.

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