The HTC Vive 2016 Developer Summit was held last week in Shenzhen. The highlight of the summit was the launch of its new content platform, which may serve as Steam’s substitute in China (possibly due to China’s new regulation concerning online publishers). Besides this, demos from local Chinese companies also caught a lot of attention.
Most of these demos were developed within the past two or three months. In our earlier 2016 prediction series, we mentioned that quality content would be essential to VR’s development in 2016. Chinese content developers, to a great extent, boosted my confidence with their performance at the summit.
1. VR games have already shown their unique attractions
The center of attention among all demos from Chinese teams this time was a game called Black Shield. This is a serial game developed by Shanghai-based team V-Sensory with a 20-people team in two months. With a primary emphasis on the plot, the Black Shield team plans to release one episode each month with eight in total. Considering that a growth spike in the VR sector has yet to happen, this can be a very effective strategy for game companies at the early stage of adoption.
Back to the game Black Shield – it almost fits all of the suggestions gave out by HTC’s VP of Virtual Reality Content Joel Breton at the summit. The game is set in a spacecraft where players are supposed to combat alien creatures invading the spaceship with a robot.
The game makes good use of HTC Vive’s room-scale and motion control. Players can navigate and walk around in the spaceship and use weapons including daggers, flame-throwers, and laser guns to kill alien creatures in the game, which allows for some imaginative usage of HTC Vive’s controllers.
HTC Vive’s controller system is quite complex. Apart from the triggers, it also has a circular control pad and two side buttons. It can increase in difficulty, making it harder for players to master the game at the beginning. For example, to use a dagger in Black Shield you need to hold both side buttons, which isn’t that easy when you’re blindfolded by the headset.
But apart from that, Black Shield shows great potential to be a killer game for HTC Vive. In comparison with Arizona Sunshine, another VR game demo I tried developed by Vertigo Games and Jaywalkers Interactive, the graphic design of Black Shield is more delicate, similar to Elite: Dangerous, which also presented a VR version this time.
However, Elite: Dangerous locks you to a chair, meaning you miss out on the best part of HTC Vive. In this aspect, Black Shield seems to be more attractive as a VR game (BTW, although you won’t be able to move around, playing Elite: Dangerous with a HOTAS flight stick in VR is still a great gaming experience).
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to discuss more about the game with the V-sensory team because they’re concentrating on developing the next stage of Black Shield for HTC Vive’s contest in April. We look forward to talking to them about the game’s philosophy and conception later when they have finished the competition.
2. VR business application can be stunning as well
Gaming may be the first and possibly currently the most lucrative field for the application of VR. However, VR is also presenting great potential in many other fields.
Google’s Tilt Brush has already attracted a lot of attention. This design application shows how design can be different in 3D. Since headset manufacturers are trying to bring more social features to VR, maybe in the future, designers will begin to pitch to clients on VR platforms, and enjoy the high efficiency of delivery in 3D.
Other information I got from the developer summit were also good signs for the market reception of VR content in business use in China. Conductor, a Chinese VR real estate experience developer team, reveals that they have produced 60 projects totaling over 100,000 square meters in 16 cities in China. The application of VR in real estate isn’t new but it still surprised me by the massive scale of its application.
Meanwhile, according to Modernsky, China’s biggest indie record brand, the company’s live cast subsidiary is planning to launch a VR channel for the top music festival in the country. Other similar competitors in the field include LetinVR, who owns China’s leading panoramic aerial film and photography brand air360China, and ChangBa, a popular Karaoke app that claims to have over 300 million users in China. All current competitors in the field have great fan bases that may push up the VR user population.
Some VR projects in the field right now may have been established to attract attention from investors and the public rather than to make an impact in the field. But at the very least, more competent competitors in the field would be good encouragement for latecomers.
3. Overall impression
Generally speaking, the demos I tried out during HTC Vive’s Developer Summit really boosted my confidence in the field. Although the R&D cost of VR content is relatively high, I still found that many teams managed to create high-quality content in the past half year while both individual consumers and businesses are welcoming the new form.
Back to content development, especially for games. Joel Breton, HTC’s VP of Virtual Reality Content, also gave some advice during the summit. Here are some points he made that strongly resonated with me based on my experience:
1) Don’t design accelerations! Just DON’T!
Joel Breton suggested that developers not design any gradual accelerations for games, instead, they should bring players to full speed right at the beginning. I can’t agree more. One of the demos I tested had an acceleration feature, which almost threw me out of my chair because of motion sickness. Acceleration in the game will worsen players’ motion sickness to such a great extent that even a five-minute demo becomes intolerable.
If you’ve already got a sudden acceleration like that, get rid of it, now!
2) Watch out for scaling
A lot of game developers design games based on their own body size, which may not be a big deal in other games but will be a serious problem in VR. For example, some items placed on a high shelf may not be approachable for a relatively tiny player and squatting down to search for something under the closet can be less than pleasant for an NBA player.
At the same time, developers may do well to spend more time testing the game on players of different sizes. Something I witnessed was that presenters had to spend more time calibrating the headset for a player who’s over six foot three because the average height the game was developed for was five foot eight. I’m guessing the player may also have had a feeling that he would bump into an arch which I had no problem with.
4. Last words
Challenges for Chinese developers are inevitable. Most Chinese companies have performed well in mobile games in the past few years. But according to Charles Huang from RedOctane, the manufacturer of Guitar Hero, game development for VR will be more similar to game development for PC/console. Adapting to a new platform will be a bigger challenge for Chinese game developers than their American and European counterparts.
But I’m also sure the summit boosted some developers’ confidence in the field with these pilot projects. We’ve seen quite a lot of outstanding demos from Chinese companies that are absolutely attractive. Possibly, in the rest of 2016, we’ll see even better products coming along.