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So VR is now a thing, in the most tentative sense possible. We have a lot of tech-demos, but they’re being sold as if they’re games, and since the PlayStationVR is relatively accessible a decent consumer market is buying them. Which means we’re finally getting to see how VR works in practice, and how it might change game design philosophies. And one particular aspect of this that happened to catch my interest is the possible end of cut-scenes and locked controls.

The cut-scene thing is obvious. Trying to put cinematics in a game where players have two screens strapped against their eyeballs could be disorienting even more disorienting. Non-organic (meaning player-motion-controlled) movement in general seems to be a difficulty for VR, and different tech-demos have different ways of handling it, from placing the player stationary in a cage or cart that itself moves, to just not moving. In any case, the player always retains full control over the camera via headset orientation, and to have otherwise would mean puking all over your fancy new goggles.

But since motion control is a major part of all these systems, and designers can’t lock motion controls, games can’t do that annoying not-a-cut-scene cut-scene thing where there isn’t technically a cinematic, but the player character is frozen for a minute and their camera control is severely restricted while some event happens or another character gives some exposition. The player retains full control over their movement at all times.

I noticed this while watching some Arkham VR videos, where, even when characters were talking, the player could still look around, play with Batman’s gear, and just generally ignore whatever was being said.

In particular, a lot of players seem to like taking out the batarangs and just throwing them at the character who won’t shut up. Maybe try to cut Penguine down when he’s suspended above a thirty story drop, or latch the batclaw on Zsasz’s rings. Of course, Zsasz never reacts to having the batclaw stab him in the back over and over. This is the kind of thing developers usually discourage because a) ludonarrative dissonance crap, and more poignantly b) it makes their game look unfinished, unpolished, and like, well, a tech-demo.

Which is why this presents such an interesting situation. Devs are bound to want to cover this up. They’re going to want to make Zsasz have some kind of reaction to being shot at. In the past, the solution to this has been locking the player’s control so that they can’t do silly things, but with VR, the only option is for game designers to come up with reaction code for every dumb thing the player might try.

They can’t stop us from being goofballs anymore! They have to cater to every conceivable way we might try to get a laugh out of games! And hopefully, while they’re doing it, they’ll get a laugh out of it too. If the player’s messing around and trying to do something funny, hide a funny Easter egg for them.

Don’t Lose Your Way