Jonathan Blow’s gorgeous The Witness is basically the perfect puzzle game– and judging by just how pretty it looks, and how it has so many perspective based puzzles, it also seems like it would be a game perfect for VR. Sadly, the developers don’t seem to be too keen on VR support for the title, citing multiple problems that would arise if they were to do so.
“VR is actually quite problematic for The Witness (outside of the broader issues that current seated or room-scale VR is just bad for navigating any huge open-world environment in first person) in that some of the alignment-puzzles (I won’t go into spoilers) can be “cheated” by crouching down, or tilting your head etc,” said The Witness programmer Andrew Smith in a Reddit AMA.
Smith did concede, however, that The Witness’ artstyle would lend itself wonderfully well to VR.
“On the upside, The Witness’ geometry-heavy art style works really well in VR where a lot of traditional methods, like normalmaps, lose their magic.”
Continuing on about why VR would not add anything to VR, Smith said, “The Witness can be played in VR, but its far from optimal because it was very much designed to be a traditional non-VR experience.” According to Smith, the best VR games are those that are built from the ground up for the format- not ones that had VR tacked on to them post facto. Think the difference between Avatar and just about every other 3D movie ever made.
Smith also discussed the issue of movement in VR, which would create a problem for a game like The Witness, which is after all a game with boundless free movement over an entire island.
“Any kind of free navigation in VR is a hard problem. If you move around with a gamepad, but can move your head freely, what happens when you move your character up to an in-game wall and then lean forwards to stick your head through it? Should we disconnect the camera from the head tracking before it passes through the wall? Or do we move the collision boundaries in so you can’t get close enough to any object to do that? Both are pretty bad options.
“Stuff like this is why most current games are designed around seated or room-scale, where the real bounds are known. It’ll be interesting to see what people come up with as solutions to this stuff.”
It does sound like game design will need to be fundamentally rethought when it comes to VR- and also that for the time being, existing games are best off without post processing conversion to VR- or VR would suffer the same fate that 3D did.
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