As an aspiring virtual reality developer for mobile, it would make sense to spend time engaging with VR games and experiences on my device. So over the past few days I’ve done exactly that, with InCell VR and MAX VR, two games that have been well received in different blogs.
While the games are distinct in aesthetic and gameplay, they feel similar mechanically. Because I’m using a Google Cardboard headset, I only have one button for interactivity, and most of the gameplay is driven by the direction of my gaze. This is the overlap between InCell and MAX, and it’s something I’ve noticed while playing other games in VR on my iPhone.
Fantastic Voyage was way before my time, but for those my age that grew up watching The Magic School Bus, you’ll be familiar with the premise of InCell: shrink small enough to enter the human body for exploration and adventure.
As the protagonist of InCell, it is your job to race towards the nucleus of a cell to beat back a virus and protect the body from illness. This is accomplished by moving down a 360-degree track of microtubules, collecting white proteins and green speed-boosts while avoiding red barriers that slow you down. At times the game is a bit dizzying and I think for those completely unfamiliar with VR this would be a rough introduction. The player is in perpetual forward momentum, as if strapped to a rollercoaster. They control the angle on the microtubule that they move in, but they never come to a complete stop. This game mechanic combined with collecting proteins and avoiding barriers is reminiscent of the early Sonic the Hedgehog games, in which the hero is tasked with collecting rings and avoid spikes.
InCell is a fun game, although the race can get tiring. However, I definitely recommend it to those interested in trying out a VR experience on their smart phones that’s more engaging than photos or video.
MAX is the first game from RetroView VR, and it’s a VR exploration of Space Invaders, to a degree. The same aliens that were fought in the ‘80’s arcade games make a comeback, and this time beating them requires shooting their eyes. The gameplay for MAX requires aiming a laser with your gaze and managing all of the enemies coming from different directions. While that sounds as if it could get boring quickly, the game finds a way to keep you engaged. Something about the retro look and the awesome backing synthesizers really make the experience come to life and give you the feeling that you’re not too different from Jeff Bridges in Tron. The boss battles that come at the end of levels are also exciting in and of themselves, and the endings make for some really beautiful visualizations.
MAX is a beautiful game with a great soundtrack, but I think it could have benefitted a bit with a backing story. Not that this is necessary for the game to be fun, but in a way the story behind InCell made it feel like something a bit deeper than just a little app. With VR, giving the feeling that these worlds in your pocket go deeper than just the first-person perspective will be important. I think the narrative will do more to drive immersion than the graphics will.
Playing these games and thinking critically about what makes them work and how they might be better has been a good exercise in reflection. I have yet to build a VR game of my own entirely from scratch, as I’ve been building off of Udacity’s templates in their VR Developer course. But I can tell from these two games that crafting a strong little narrative, a cool sound track, and steady camera will make a VR experience that sticks with the user.