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"I don't believe the killer app for VR is going to be shooting"

Papo & Yo developer Vander Caballero says he's betting it all on virtual reality, starting with Time Machine

At first glance, Minority Media's upcoming Time Machine seems like a radical departure for the Montreal-based studio. The virtual reality action game casts players as a scientist travelling back in time to observe and record biological data of an assortment of dangerous prehistoric creatures. Tonally, it's a far cry from Minority's 2012 debut, Papo & Yo, a critically acclaimed "empathy game" about a child coming to terms with his father's alcoholism.

But for Minority Media creative director Vander Caballero, Time Machine feels more like coming home than striking out into new territory. As Caballero explained to GamesIndustry.biz at the Game Developers Conference earlier this month, his first job out of school 15 years ago was working with VR. He might have stayed in the field, too, if he hadn't noticed that the technology was essentially stagnant at the time, while the virtual worlds depicted in video games seemed to be evolving far faster. But when Oculus Kickstarted both the Rift headset and a renaissance in VR interest in late 2012, that no longer seemed to be true, and Caballero's interest was piqued. When he got a Rift dev kit, he was committed.

"We were like, 'Wow, this is it.' This is the future. Then we decided to bet it all on VR."

"We were like, 'Wow, this is it.' This is the future," Caballero said. "Then we decided to bet it all on VR. And then we made a lot of experiments with VR and after a lot of experimentation, we decided not to go with empathy games at the beginning. We're going to do one, and we have one already in the process, but we're going to start with a game that really takes advantage of the technology."

For Caballero, that means a game that can instill in players the sense of wonder and fascination he had with nature documentaries growing up. Of course, in nature documentaries, you never see the animals attack the people holding the cameras. In Time Machine, players must plan out a strategy allowing them to get close enough to scan creatures without creating a paradox (getting killed and leaving a futuristic corpse back in prehistory).

"It was so rewarding," Caballero said of the first time trying the idea out in VR. "All your senses were immersed by it and suddenly when you finish the experience, you take off the helmet and you go, 'Wow, that was heavy!' And you didn't shoot anyone. You didn't hurt anyone."

That's a key point for Caballero. Every platform has a different affordance, he said, and certain genres and experiences that work well. Traditional consoles and PCs with a keyboard-and-mouse setup work well for first-person shooters, he said, but the experience doesn't translate well to mobile devices or something like the Wii. The first-person shooter genre is a similarly ill fit for VR, Caballero said, because movements like going backwards, circle-strafing, or ascending stairs at high speed can quickly trigger motion sickness.

"I don't believe the killer app for VR is going to be shooting," Caballero said. "And that is an amazing step forward, an opportunity for all of us."

"Someone can go through a really bad demo and say VR is bad. No, it's not. It's just a bad demo..."

Caballero might be happy to see the threat of motion sickness pushing people to not rely on the same old genres in VR, but he understands it's a tremendous obstacle to the success of the technology.

"My biggest concern is that people aren't able to differentiate between the tendency to get motion sickness from a bad product," Caballero said. "Someone can go through a really bad demo and say VR is bad. No, it's not. It's just a bad demo if you don't keep the frame rate stable or you make people do really stupid stuff for example, like you make a first-person shooter."

Time Machine also marks a move away from the mobile space for Minority. Caballero said that after Papo & Yo, there was lots of pressure to make games for the exploding mobile scene. Minority made a pair of premium titles--Loco Motors and another empathy game, Spirits of Spring--which Caballero described as fun to make, but also "really, really painful." The games got great reviews, and Loco Motors in particular received plenty of featured placement on digital storefronts, but the games just didn't take off.

"If we came out with [Loco Motors] two years before, it would have been crazy," Caballero said. "That's a thing about this constant technological wave: You can arrive with something amazing, but if you arrive late, [shrugs]. That's another reason we don't want to miss the VR wave. We want to be there at the beginning."

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Latest comments (11)

I agree. I think VR will allow players to experience such things as being a rock star in front of 10,000 screaming fans, Running out to play an NFL game during a frenzied snow storm with 60k fans chanting your name, Flying a space ship, walking through a graveyard and haunted house. Things along those lines.
If VR can really trick the mind and make you feel and experience something, the last thing people will want is to be in a real firefight. War is hell, and why would you want to experience hell in VR? If anything perhaps it will perhaps give a glimpse to these kids today that there is nothing cool in war and killing. But until VR can capture smell, there will be plenty missing, want to smell war? pour some gasoline, gunpowder, blood, piss and shit around your room.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 23rd March 2015 11:21pm

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John Morales President/CEO, Way Cool Warez3 years ago
Time Machine sounds like a combo of Beyond Good and Evil's animal survey gameplay and Larry Niven's Flight of the Horse stories. Sounds fascinating!
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Steven Hodgson Programmer, Code in Progress Ltd3 years ago
As soon as there is a Twitch app for it, there will be Twitch Plays Life.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steven Hodgson on 24th March 2015 12:05pm

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Show all comments (11)
Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.3 years ago
This guy has the right attitude and the right idea.
I've often thought that walking with dinosaurs would make a compelling experience. A Jurassic Park game would be out of this world.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios3 years ago
movements like going backwards, circle-strafing, or ascending stairs at high speed can quickly trigger motion sickness.

Make backwards movement speed slow, can you circle strafe on a controller? Place all the enemies in front of you, so you don't have to, make the combat 'slow' and don't put stairs in your game. I really want to play a shooter in VR (as do hundreds of millions of other people, I would presume?) There must be solutions, instead of writing off a whole genre.

Flight sims, or swimming, or exploring etc will probably be the first type of games we get.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Marty Howe on 24th March 2015 2:52pm

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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 3 years ago
The killer app will be porn - that's why the porn industry has invested so much into VR.

But walking with dinosaurs sounds freakishly fun to me. I do think he's on the money about wanting to catch the wave, too. Getting in there early enables you to stop someone else defining what the technology is "for" - setting people's expectations on what you can do with it.

I'm also hoping for things like walking around on Mars or on the icy surface of 67P, and delving into lost Egyptian tombs. Tomb Raider will probably make the jump to VR more easily than any other franchise, except perhaps Surgeon Simulator.

Although as we get closer to REAL VR, I'm very interested to see how shooters will change. When getting shot hurts, will it change the dynamic from shooting to avoiding getting shot? Will we see dodgebots replacing aimbots? With force-feedback to add a (massively diminished) punishment to failure, will it effect real world violence in any way? I'm thinking it will, and that's going to be a powerful thing, even with the force applied being too light to bruise.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bonnie Patterson on 25th March 2015 10:13am

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Gary LaRochelle Digital Artist / UI/UX Designer / Game Designer, Flea Ranch Games3 years ago
Have to agree with Bonnie, the porn industry will put out the first killer app for VR. And the company the creates the first force-feedback VR peripheral will cash in too.

Next will be ride simulations: race cars, flying machines, Robot Mechs and so on. You can just sit on your couch and do the exploring. Controls for these types of games are already on the market.

FPS will be what most gamers will want. There are already force-feedback vest available from TN Games ( http://tngames.com/products ) so you can feel getting shot. The main problem comes from moving around. During most FPS Death Matches you spend most of your time running around the arena. Players will end up getting pretty tired if they have to actually have to run as much as they do now in FPS.
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Jan Almqvist Senior Level Artist, Ubisoft Quebec City3 years ago
I dunno, virtual CGI porn? Would that really be a killer app? Maybe I'm getting too old for this shit :)
Or how would it work? Like a "bog standard" stereoscopic 3D film? I'm sure that already exist. Or shot with a VR camera so you have the freedom to also look away from the porn and instead look at the set fixtures and maybe even the crew. What a selling point! They can have a guy juggling knives behind you. Or maybe porn movies will all become massive, badly lit orgies with a VR camera in the middle. :)
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.3 years ago
We can make it so that you don't have to move your legs much to get a sufficiently good feeling of running so you won't necessarily get too tired. However, high speed might make you nauseous. I think FPS can work but will likely be slower. Exploration and close proximity horror such as zombies should be OK. In the above example you might not be able to out-run a T-Rex so thinking your way out of situations will hopefully become the norm. The simple 3D Pac-man game we use for demos always impresses and leaves people in no doubt that VR can work for the right kind of first person games.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
You need something that people will happily evangelize to anybody. That eliminates porn, or to put it another way, how many porn related products did you recommend last month? You maybe do not want to give everybody a heart attack either, so no jump scare zombie games and more family friendly content. I also somewhat question the idea of physical exhaustion leading to more sales, the world has enough failed motion sensors and bike training simulators as is.

The killer app will be something subverting our expectations in a way not thought possible. I compare VR to the moonlanding. Everybody thought they knew TV until they saw a broadcast from the moon. It will be the same with VR. We will believe we know what we are about to see and then we see it using VR. It will neither be the most expensive special effects movie, nor the best video game of all time. Total perspective vortex anyone?
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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media3 years ago
I'm still hoping for someone to bring space combat sims back from into the mainstream with VR. Disney/Lucas should really take the chance to make a new X-Wing (or any new Star Wars dogfight sim or arcade game) based on the new movies, taking advantage of the hype. Great for multiplayer, and besides, no running involved! A perfect match :)
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