Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Reason You’re Still Playing Video Games With Super Nintendo

Fall 1990, ground zero for the modern games industry. The six-year-old Nintendo Entertainment System (eight if you count the time since its Japanese launch), with its box-like chassis and dated visuals, looked like a relic of another era. Nintendo’s arch-rival Sega was killing it with the Genesis, thanks to an aggressive philosophy of price cuts and in-your-face advertising. In Japan, the pricey (but powerful) Neo Geo console loomed on the horizon, promising unparalleled arcade performance, while the consumer electronics giants were all tinkering with CD-ROM technology to bring interactive movies to the home.
Then Nintendo changed everything.

Launched in Japan in November 1990 as the Super Famicom, the SNES represented a whole new approach to the console business. It was not an attempt to elongate the lifespan of an older machine like the failed Intellivision II or Atari 7200, neither was it a completely fresh start like the Genesis or Neo Geo. Designed by NES architect, Masayuki Uemura, the Super Nintendo continued the ethos and brand image of its predecessor without obsessing over backward compatibility.

When fans started queuing outside electronic stores throughout Japan on November 20th, they knew they were getting an entirely new platform, not some continuation or add-on; yet they were assured that the experiences they loved – Mario, Zelda, Metroid – would all be returning. In his seminal book, The Ultimate History of Videogames, Steve Kent writes about the chaos that hit when it was clear only 300,000 units would be available. “All of Tokyo was slowed down by the crowds,” he wrote. “The pushing and shoving were so chaotic that the Japanese government later asked Nintendo and other video game companies to restrict future hardware releases to weekends.” What these consumers were witnessing was the birth of the modern sequential console business, where each generation of hardware is related but discrete. This is where the future started.
It was a slower start in the U.S. When the Super Famicom launched as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on August 23rd, the Sega Genesis had over 100 titles, a lower price point, and an infamous line in TV commercials that had kids all over the continent yelling, “Sega!” at each other, replicating the screamed brand identity that ended every ad. Though the SNES never quite beat the total sales of its rival in the United States, while Sega had attitude and credibility, Nintendo had craft and artistry. With its two custom graphics chips and powerful audio unit, the Super Nintendo was built to an industrial design philosophy that valued beautiful audio-visual performance over sheer processing grunt. This was not a console designed to simply replicate the experience of going to an arcade, it was a machine intended for a whole new era of broad, complex gaming experiences.

The shape and structure of games changed. This was obvious in the very first title, Super Mario World, which further expanded the whole notion of a scrolling platformer with its vast array of interconnected environments, varied enemies and plethora of new skills and features. Pilot Wings too showcased a new form of console game – half action, half simulation – with graded levels of player challenge and expertise designed to test for months as you pitted your hang glider skills against increasingly unforgiving courses. The great role-playing game producers discovered grand new narrative possibilities in the systems’s rich color palette and musical synthesis. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound and Dragon Quest V, all had their roots in the NES era, but their creators revelled in possibilities the SNES provided, writing rounded characters and orchestral scores.

These were narrative adventures of true emotional depth and aesthetic charm – and alongside the likes of Super Metroid and Super Castlevania IV, they taught modern game studios like Bioware, Blizzard and Naughty Dog how to think about story, pace and structure in longform design. Their innovations are still being discovered and explored in the indie community, via the “Metroidvania” and retro RPG genres. “For me, these were the first games to show how deep an experience gaming could provide,” says Graham Smith of DrinkBox Studios, creator of the 2014 SNES-inspired brawler Guacamelee. “They pushed design and narratives much farther than the previous console was able to; they created a real emotional experience for the player, elevating what games could strive to be.”

The SNES was a platform for experienced Nintendo craftspeople. It teased miracles from old cohorts like Capcom (Street Fighter II, Breath of Fire, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts) and Konami (Contra III, the Castlevania titles, International Superstar Soccer), and it opened up fresh avenues for Western developers like Acclaim, Interplay and Rare. “The NES and Gameboy were similar in the way the architecture was set up, in the number of sprites, the character cells, et cetera,” explains Chris Sutherland, lead programmer on the Donkey Kong Country titles, now working on SNES-inspired adventure, Yooka-Laylee. “Nintendo clearly thought, well if we take the NES architecture but make a bigger chip, we can give you twice as many colors, more sprites on screen, less limitations: it literally was a Super NES. By then, developers were wringing all sorts of stuff out of the NES, so when they moved on to the SNES it was easy – they knew all the tricks already, they didn’t have to relearn everything from scratch.”

Furthermore, the stability of the platform allowed creativity to flourish, so while Sega muddied the legacy of the Genesis with its attachments, updates and the Saturn – its underpowered follow-up – the SNES was able to boast astonishingly assured releases to its dying days. Even when the PlayStation arrived in 1994, heralding a brave new era of 3D polygonal graphics, the SNES was still dropping masterworks like Chrono Trigger, Yoshi’s Island and Harvest Moon. “For me, the SNES was a joy to work with,” says veteran coder, John Pickford, who, while working at Software Creations in Manchester in late 1990, received the first SNES development kit outside of Japan. “What really struck me about the SNES was that it was truly designed for making fast 2D games. Whilst it’s true the CPU was quite slow – and I later learned it was deliberately under-clocked due to an aborted NES compatibility mode – this wasn’t really a huge problem.”

That’s because the dedicated graphics chips did all the hard work of drawing the images to the TV screen, allowing the CPU to focus on raw data like where the Mario sprite was in relation to the rest of the objects in play. “For a ZX Spectrum coder like me, that almost felt like cheating!” says Pickford.

The SNES, then, occupied a unique place in the history of games, straddling the inventive chaos of the Eighties and the technological confidence of the Nineties. It closed the era of pixel art and computer-generated music, and welcomed 3D visuals with the Super FX chip, (which was housed in the game cartridges themselves). If there is no classic Super Nintendo title in your past, if you did not willingly submit hours of your life to Super Mario Kart, Star Fox or Street Fighter II Turbo, a game designer you respect certainly did. Blizzard started out making interesting hybrid role-playing platformers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the console. The creators of Cave Story and Shovel Knight hark back unselfconsciously to the era. Naughty Dog founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin cite the character platformers of the SNES era as a major influence on Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. “We were most derivative of Donkey Kong Country,” he admitted to industry news site Gamasutra. “That was the game that we really looked at, if you look at the way the levels were structured.”

Ryan Lee of Cellar Door Games, the creators of Rogue Legacy, is keen to emphasise that the influence of SNES games is about more than their quaint pixelated visuals. “We had a huge soft spot for the RPGs from back then,” he says. “The great thing about them was how varied they were in their gameplay. People remember the story, the music, etc. But people don’t give enough love for how much depth there was to their combat systems. They were much more nuanced in their design compared to many RPGs nowadays which, to me, feel superficial.”

The SNES taught us that home consoles could be more than home arcades or toys – they could be an accessible medium for story and experience – for everyone. You play the games you do because someone somewhere played something on the SNES.

Everything You Need to Know About PlayStation Pro

g3No doors were blown off. No presses were stopped. Yesterday’s invite-only “PlayStation Meeting” in New York had less in common with the excitement of a new console reveal than with a mid-cycle Apple iPhone event – with which it happened to share the date. Shortly after Tim Cook’s brain had waited patiently on stage for its host’s Carpool Karaoke ordeal to mercifully end, Sony was doing its best to build excitement for it’s own mid-cycle refresh of the world’s number one selling video game console, the PlayStation 4. Along with a slimmer version of the current PS4 (that’s unhappily less capable than its equally slim new rival, the Xbox One S) Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO, Andrew House revealed the faster, more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro, which will retail at $399 when it launches November 10th. Here’s a primer.
What is it?
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the brainchild of Mark Cerny, lead system architect for PlayStation and technical MVP of at least three generations of Sony games including Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted and Resistance. It features a new three-layer case design, a more powerful graphics processor and a faster CPU, along with a bigger, 1TB hard drive. All of which is in the service of two things: the 4K future of your television and the soon-to-be-strapped-to-your-face future of Virtual Reality.

Why now?
Traditionally, console makers like Sony have been on a mission to drag out the life of a single piece of hardware for as long as possible between generations. The original PlayStation lasted six years, the PS3 seven before they were superseded. What’s changed is the technology inside, which used to be bespoke and pricey but is now basically the same, off-the-shelf stuff that sits in every PC, tablet and notebook. That and a tech consumer that expects their phones to be updated every two years. That’s made it a much easier sell, and even a necessary step in order to keep up with the current trend towards ever more high definition content (4K TVs) and games that demand virtually photorealistic graphics.

What does it mean for my games?
Quite a bit. The enhanced graphics and 4K output means that games you already own, as well as any new titles released after the PS4 Pro is launched, will either be running smoother (faster frame rates), running with much more detail (in 4K) or at the very least, running with enhanced color depth – thanks to the addition of High Dynamic Range, or HDR. To prove the point, at yesterday’s reveal, Sony re-introduced a number of stunning-looking games – from the open-world sci-fi adventure of Guerrilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn, to the zombie apocalypse of Days Gone from Sony’s Bend Studio, to Ubisoft’s hacker fantasy, Watch Dogs 2, and finally a surprise all-new in-game demo of Bioware’s forthcoming Mass Effect Andromeda – all running in 4K with HDR color.

What does it mean for movies and TV?
If you have a 4K TV and broadband, the PS4 Pro will take advantage of the limited (but growing) Netflix library of 4K content via a new Netflix streaming app. Marvel’s new Luke Cage series will be compatible, as is the Netflix original series and caterpillar mustache showcase Narcos. Sony also has its own catalog of 4K movies that live under its ‘Ultra’ brand. Bafflingly, despite Sony owning the Blu-Ray format, the PS4 Pro won’t be able to play 4K Blu-Ray discs – something the new Xbox One S can do. Either Sony doesn’t believe its own disc format has a future, or it’s simply assuming that the kind of people that will pay $399 for a mid-cycle refresh of a games console they already own are cutting edge enough to have long since left the confines of physical media for the world of streaming.

What if I don’t have a 4K TV?
Thanks to the wonders of something called super-sampling, where the PS4 Pro takes the 4K image data and shrinks the image to fit a standard HD screen, even a 1080p image should look a wee bit sharper. But the real benefit will be in how games run. If the PS4 Pro detects a standard HD TV, it will know to push its power towards increasing the frame rate and dabbing extra detail into the world, such as extra blades of grass in a field or more realistic flowing locks on the head of your favorite hero. Or slightly more realistic identical gray backpacks in The Division.

What does this have to do with PlayStation VR?
Because VR works by giving each eye its own HD TV, virtual reality is power-hungry – effectively asking the PS4 to draw everything on the screen twice. Though Sony has promised that all PSVR games will run smoothly on the vanilla PS4, the extra processing power that the Pro brings to the party is going to mean enhanced – and certainly less motion-sickness-inducing experiences, thanks to increased frame rates.

How does it compare to Microsoft’s forthcoming 2017 Xbox One update, ‘Project Scorpio’?
Given that it’s arriving an entire year earlier, not well. Microsoft has already stated that its PS4 Pro equivalent will have both faster chips and more raw processing power thanks to its silicon being a generation newer. What this means in practice is too early to say, but both systems will handle 4K gaming with HDR color so the real differences are likely to be in the smoothness of the images and the amount of detail the designers can bake into their creations. Still, neither Sony nor Microsoft want to see inferior versions for their legacy consoles, so this will have to be handled carefully – it’s one thing to see every leaf on a tree in 4K on PS4 Pro, but another to find that on an old PS4 the tree has been replaced by a sign that says ‘tree here’ because the aging processor can’t hack it.

Some Things You Didn’t Know About PlayStation VR

g2PlayStation VR launches this week, and looks like it could well be the first proper “living room-friendly” virtual reality setup. If anything has a decent shot at demystifying virtual reality gaming and making it a little more “mainstream” this year, this is probably it. At the very least, the gargantuan marketing push that Sony is making is prompting people to at least consider trying something new that’s maybe a little outside their comfort zone. The company claims to have already given more than a quarter million demos at Best Buys, GameStops and other stores in an effort to convey the fact that VR is really something you need to see and – more importantly – feel to fully comprehend its potential.

Sony initially appeared to be uncharacteristically late to the VR party – announcing its $399 device for PlayStation 4 this March, more than a year after the other high profile VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for PC – but it has actually been working in secret on it for more than half a decade. Glixel spoke with Shawn Layden, the chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s worldwide studios for some insight into how initial development of the headset had nothing to do with Sony management, how there’s no plan to try and replace more traditional gaming setups, and how he’s trying to avoid a lull in games after launch.

Here are the five most surprising revelations from our conversation.

Sony bosses never instructed anyone to develop a virtual reality headset – it all came about from engineers tinkering in a lab building it on the quiet.
“If you ask when it was ‘first floated’ as an idea – really, what is that?” asks Layden, when we quiz him on how the notion of VR was brought up as a new initiative at Sony. “Is that when they first started working on it? Or the first time they had the courage to tell management they were working on it? If you look back at the EyeToy cameras that we did back in the PS2 days or the Move controllers or the SingStar microphones – these things always start out as skunkworks projects where someone starts with just a germ of an idea. These kinds of things do not come from top-down management decisions.”

PlayStation VR is the lovechild of PlayStation Move and EyeToy, and it took five and a half years to develop.
“The engineers were building prototypes using sticky tape to strap a Move controller to their heads to see if the camera could track it,” Layden explains. “It was always just chewing gum and sticky tape stuff. It came about by these guys asking questions like ‘what if I put this thing into that thing and then strap that to your head?’ It takes you five and half years to go from those kinds of conversations into making a product out of it. When they finally came to management with it, it was pretty well baked.”

Once Sony leadership was on board, PlayStation VR became a coordinated international effort. “We had teams right here in Silicon Valley working with the team in Tokyo on creating the platform,” Layden explains before elaborating why we’re seeing it finally come to market right now, alongside so many other virtual reality headsets. “A lot of it is because of the ability to put super high fidelity display tech into a small space. Those screens are really state of the art. Also our ability on the manufacturing and engineering side to create a headset that can deliver it all comfortably. We didn’t want it to feel like you’re wearing a football helmet or something super heavy on your head. Those elements have only come together right now. It’s no coincidence that there are other players launching VR in 2016. It seems like this is the year of VR, and now we’ll just see who has the gameplan to reach the most users worldwide.”

PlayStation VR isn’t being treated like a new console by Sony, and Layden claims there is no plan to try and replace the way we currently play games. At least not anytime soon.
“The consoles were on a trajectory that you could predict and understand,” says Layden. “Every generation is faster, smarter, more powerful, more networked, more integrated. All that. But then VR comes in perpendicular to all that. Bam! It just comes crashing in. It’s the same as the effect that the iPhone had when it came into the world of flip phones,” he says, citing a frequently used example to illustrate the paradigm shift that virtual reality represents. “People back then were asking ‘what’s the point? Why do I want to make a phone call on an iPod?’ And then they began to understand what that really meant. VR technology is at that nascent stage right now. It’s really an incubation period, and we need to see what people will do with it.”

On the subject of whether VR will replace traditional game experiences, Layden seems far more pragmatic than the majority of VR soothsayers, no doubt because Sony’s real focus is still the core PlayStation 4. “I think we’ll have games that you sit back on the sofa and play on the big screen for a long time yet. If it’s you and me and FIFA – two guys on the sofa playing in front of the TV – that’s not going away anytime soon, believe me. The really interesting part of VR is how it’s going to create new ways that we experience storytelling and game design. I think it’ll all live in peace and harmony: the big 10-foot experience and the super-immersive VR experience.”

This is just PlayStation VR version 1.0. There will be others, and the team at Sony seems to understand where some of the frustrations lie with this early hardware.
“There are some wires, yes,” says Layden when we grumble about the spaghetti-like mess of cords tumbling out from under our TV. “Remember when cellphones used to be the size of brick? They were analog and really heavy, but it didn’t stop the march of time. This is VR 1.0 right now, and of course we have engineers looking at that and what can be done in future. As we’ve shown for 21 years of iterating on the PlayStation platform I think you’ll see that same kind of energy from us to continue to improve the VR experience over time.”

“When you look at the tech and experience of VR, it’s all a completely new thing,” he says. “For some of the games in VR you could honestly say ‘I could just play that on my TV,’ and in some cases that would be true, but it’s still a very different experience. Just being able to look behind you in a game is something genuinely new and different. 3D audio really changes the experience that you can have inside an environment. Early on though, some of the games will seem kind of like a standard console living room experience – but you’re just doing it in a really immersive fashion. Eventually there will be games that will only be fully realized in a virtual reality headset, and won’t translate to the TV screen. When we start to see those kinds of game, then you’ll know that we’ve broken the back of what VR can be.”

There’s a huge effort to ensure that there’s not a game drought post-launch. Expect a steady flow of new titles.
“We have around 30 games at launch, and we’ll have more than 50 by the end of the year,” Layden says. “We can’t tell third party publishers when they have to launch, but we’d like to get away from that awful sine wave curve of titles,” he says waving his fingers up and down to describe the boom-crash release cycle we usually see after new hardware launches. “We’d like more of a continuum. It’s important that in January we have Farpoint coming out, that supports the gun peripheral that we’ve shown. That’s a whole other level of immersion for shooter games. We have more titles coming out from first party studios in the spring, and we’re tracking stuff from third parties. We’ll start to see some momentum building next year, and we’ll see a lot more publishers start to put VR on their roadmap.”

Some Reasons Game Makers Are Struggling to Make VR Fun

The virtual reality game Accounting is exactly the sort of surreal experience you’d expect from a collaboration between one of the creators of Rick and Morty and the guy behind the mind-bending game The Stanley Parable. Strap on the HTC Vive VR headset, and you are transported into drab offices, idyllic forests, and dank dungeons. You interact with objects using a vintage pointer icon straight out of Windows 95. All the while, you’re screamed at (and hit on) by a ghost, a corpulent king, and a xylophone made of human skeletons. It’s just a hint of the potential for literally anything to happen in this immersive new medium.

Amid all of this lunacy, the creators of Accounting were faced with a very mundane problem – how could they make the player look where they want them to look? In traditional games and movies, that’s been easy – you just point the camera in the direction of the thing that you want your audience to see. But if your audience is wearing a head-mounted VR display, they can look in whatever direction they choose. How do you direct the player’s attention to a specific spot in VR?

This is among one of the many fundamental problems that VR content developers are struggling to solve. They are having to learn the rules of a completely new medium, and unlearn some of the rules they’ve carried over from others.

We’ve been here before. Every new art form goes through an initial awkward phase of trial and error. When film was new, most movies were stagy and static, with the camera observing the action from the vantage point of someone sitting front row center in a theater – the best seat in the house. Filmmakers gradually learned to use camera positioning and close-ups and lighting and editing to heighten the drama.

Similarly, when video games first made the jump to 3D, game makers struggled with how best to let players look around and navigate the game world. (The original 1996 Tomb Raider’s tank-style controls have aged even worse than its crude, lo-fi graphics.) But developers gradually learned how to make moving your avatar and the camera intuitive and satisfying.

That’s the point that a lot of VR game developers are at now, according to Shawn Layden, the chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios. He’s had a front row seat, watching games being created for (and ported to) the PSVR. “Early on, some of the games will seem kind of like a standard console living room experience, but you’re just doing it in a really immersive fashion,” says Layden. “Eventually, there will be games that will only be fully realized in a virtual reality headset, and won’t translate to the TV screen.”

Layden compares the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t in VR to learning a new language. “We talk about grammar and the syntax a lot,” he says. “We’re starting to create the lexicon of VR to describe these things, because it won’t be the same as the words we use to describe current experiences.”

So how are VR game developers learning the vocabulary of their medium, like making the player look in a certain direction?

In the case of the game Accounting, the answer was surprisingly simple. “When we need players to look somewhere, we just make a phone ring, or we make a baby cry,” says Justin Roilland, co-creator of Rick and Morty, and co-founder of VR studio Squanchtendo.

Timoni West is the principal designer on the Labs VR team at Unity – a code and development platform that powers more and more of today’s games. She thinks that’s smart.

“I see a lot of developers using audio cues,” she says. “You can’t control where people look, but you can use directional audio to whisper in someone’s ear, or trigger a loud noise that seems to come from behind them. That makes people instinctively turn around.”

Unity aims to be the go-to development tool for people designing virtual reality games for computers, consoles, and mobile devices. West’s Labs VR team at Unity is trying to provide everything developers need for the profusion of VR platforms, like a wide variety of input sources – physical controllers with buttons as well as hand gestures and the direction of your gaze. She’s also noting the best practices that seem to be emerging.

West sees all sorts of examples of game developers taking advantage of the potential of VR to create uniquely intense moments, like Insomniac’s Lovecraftian chiller Edge of Nowhere. “At one point, you hear this creepy voice behind your head, and from the corner of your eye you see these, these tendrils coming at you,” she recounts. “I watch people playing that, and they’re like, ‘Nope, nope, nope …'”

But she also sees projects that don’t take full advantage of the medium. For instance, many VR content creators fail to fill the full 360 degree field of view with interesting stuff to look at. “I once saw a VR experience, a sort of trailer for a cop show, that had characters standing around and talking to each other,” says West. “But these were TV actors who were trained to not move or do anything to draw attention to themselves when it’s not their turn to talk. That works in TV, but when you’re watching it in VR, it’s like you’re surrounded by a bunch of inanimate mannequins. The technique just doesn’t transfer.”

Another dilemma: How do you portray the player’s body in VR? If you look down in real life, you see your torso, your arms, your legs. Should you model a body in virtual reality?

Many games simply show the tools that the player uses. For example, if you hold up the controller in front of your face real life, you see a gun hovering in mid-air in the same spot inside of the VR action game you’re playing. Other games show virtual representations of the actual controllers that the player is grasping, or simply a pair of disembodied hands that they use to interact with the game world.

West advises designers to keep things like this simple, as anything that doesn’t match up with what a player expects to see can be very disconcerting. “I was playing this VR game Asunder Earthbound, and I could see my hands moving around in it. But they were modeled to look like the hands of an old person,” says West. “My reptile brain was instantly like, ‘Stop everything! What’s going on?! Are you sick right now?’ It completely pulled me out of the experience.”

This is a particularly tricky issue, because many have suggested that VR games have the potential to be “empathy engines,” something that can literally allow you to see the world through someone else’s eyes. West says that VR developers are discovering that they have to give players time to gradually orient themselves to having a new body. “You have to acclimate to being someone else, someone who’s taller, or is a different gender,” she says. She compares it to the moments spent settling into your seat at the movie theater and watching the lights dim before the show starts.

Simply moving around in VR presents even more conundrums. If your eyes and ears tell you that you are racing across a scorched field in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but your other senses tell you that you are kicking back on the couch in your living room, it can undermine the illusion. Or worse – it can lead to motion sickness.

“Physics systems are a huge issue,” she says. We take it for granted that gravity doesn’t affect Mario in quite the same way that it does normal humans, but that floatiness can be disorienting when you actually feel as if you’re inside Mario’s world. And what about sci-fi games set in zero-g outer space?

“Moving around freely in VR is not a big deal for me, but I meet people who are opposed to free motion on a philosophical level.”

“Trying to get the physics to work in a way that’s not like what we have on Earth, but that is still predictable and doesn’t lead to crazy glitches, is a big challenge,” West adds. “A big but interesting challenge.”

The potential issues of moving around in the game world multiply for VR games that get you up out of your seat. Even if you’ve cleared a large play area before firing up your game, you can’t walk in a straight line for long without bumping into a wall or a couch or a bemused significant other.

Many VR developers are using a teleportation mechanic as a workaround. For instance, Epic’s Robo Recall has you slaughtering an army of malfunctioning automatons by popping from place to place like Nightcrawler from X-Men. Other games like Obduction, by the creators of the Myst franchise, gives players the option of jumping between “nodes” or moving freely through the environment.

“In the game Land’s End, by the team that made Monument Valley, you can teleport between points by looking in the direction you want to go,” says West. “It’s very beautifully done. Moving around freely in VR is not a big deal for me, but I meet people who are opposed to free motion on a philosophical level.”

One technique being explored by VR researchers is redirected walking. By subtly shifting the point of view, they can make users feel as if they are wandering freely through a large environment when they are actually walking in circles in a circumscribed area. “You still have to be in a pretty big space for that though, something like the size of half a basketball court,” warns West.

What will a mature VR experience look like, once the medium has come into its own? Sony’s Layden suggests that it might evolve into something in which the current challenges will all seem quaint. “In gaming, you’re typically objective driven; you always need to go get that thing, or go to that place, or achieve that goal or destroy that thing,” he says. “But what if I don’t feel compelled to move the way I would be in a traditional game? What is progression like in a virtual reality world where you can just stand there to experience it? VR just completely blows up the whole traditional idea of narrative.”

West, meanwhile, predicts that the evolution of the art form will slam into overdrive once game developers stop using mice and keyboards to make VR titles, and start using using content creation tools that actually utilize VR. “At Unity, we’re working on something that lets you sculpt a 3D world around you,” she says.

She predicts another explosion in creativity when these VR content creation tools filter down from professionals to the general public, citing what people are already making with Google’s TiltBrush, a simple VR app that lets you paint in 3D. “The things people are making with Tiltbrush are just crazy,” says West. “They’re doing stuff that Tiltbrush was never designed to do. It’s like they’re using Microsoft Paint to make a Pixar movie.”