Sadly it is time to ditch my beloved Sega for something a little more recent and on the cutting edge. Six months ago I bought a HTC Vive, and struggled to find good content that I would actually call a game rather than an ‘experience’. Then came along the gem that is Vanishing Realms. While it isn’t hugely famous like the other titles I’ve covered and therefore information may be a little sparse, I’ll do my best to cover this little VR gem. I’ll be covering the same criteria as before:
How available hardware impacted design.
● Intended audiences for the game.
● Critique the game. Talk about game
design, visuals, mechanics & performance.
Hardware Available at the Time
This point seems a bit obvious given it’s plastered right above, the HTC Vive. I won’t do a write up of what the Vive is as I already have a quick review of the hardware from last year on this blog (which actually made me go buy one).
However I always wondered how such a fleshed out Vive game could be released alongside the launch of the hardware itself. We’re still waiting for major Vive titles as people get to grips with development for it. After some investigation for this post it all makes sense. The sole developer Kelly Bailey worked for Valve up until February 2016, contributing to every Half-Life game and Portal. It seems obvious now that he would have had early access to dev kit versions of the Vive long before it’s actual release. The more astounding fact is that he made Vanishing Realms by himself in eight months before its launch on Steam.
This is kind of hard to say, there is no age rating information anywhere for it. Or even any developer comments on intended audiences. I feel like the intended market is already slim to begin with, as uptake in VR systems are slow due to the high price tag however I feel the real audience is anyone that grew up with a love of classic role playing games such as tabletop D&D and digital titles like Legend of Zelda. It has a very pen and paper, swords and sorcery kind of vibe. However due to a lack of good titles for the Vive I would not be surprised if a lot of people bought the game just for something to try on their VR system, its how I came across it.
Game Design & Mechanics
Vanishing Realms plays like you would expect an old dungeon crawler to play. Explore, collect items and gold, fight monsters, get more weapons and eventually fight a boss. It’s a time old system taken straight from pen and paper of old. However Vanishing Realms changes this forever by putting you into the dungeon using a combination of teleporting and the Vives room scale exploration. You can kneel, lie down, jump and even throw items by simply doing it yourself. I recall a rather tricky wall of traps I had to carefully navigate around on my hands and knees, from an outsiders perspective I must have looked crazy.
There are several logic puzzles to solve in various areas of the game that rely on some of the mechanics already mentioned, there is a fantastic element of personal interaction in the game and thats before I even get to the combat. It takes a little while before the game presents you with an enemy, but once it does you’re confronted with hulking 6-7ft skeletons trying to swing swords and axes at your head in VR. It takes you off your feet a little bit and your very first fight will inevitably contain a degree of flailing. Once you adjust to it all, all movements are tracked. You can block by clashing swords, strike as you please when the opportunity arises, parry with a shield and then strike with your off hand, it is entirely down to you as a player how you choose to fight. The game later introduces a 2 hand weapon mechanic which requires a primary hand that guides the weapon and your second hand simulates holding the weapon at some distance down the shaft which actually determines strike distance. It’s fun and involved and once battles become more intense almost becomes a workout. I’ve smashed several light bulbs in my own living room after losing my sense of presence and getting invested in swinging a weapon or throwing a rock.
The overall visual style for VR is cartoony and simple. Given the short development time it doesn’t surprise me the developer went for a more simple style but also VR demands a lot from your graphics card even if the game looks relatively simple and low poly. So the decision for this was likely two fold to save time and keep the framerate high enough to avoid motion sickness. The same goes for the texture quality in game, which doesn’t hold up under scrutiny when you consider it’s a modern title. However in no way none of these points are a negative against the gameplay, once invested in playing such things become irrelevant and you stop paying attention.
Otherwise the colour palette is what you’d expect from a medieval fantasy, stone greys, browns, blues and the occasional warm palette for fire lit areas. I’ve heard tales that some of the assets used in game are paid for pre-built assets and while I can’t confirm this one way or the other, it wouldn’t surprise me given the short development time.
VR performance is a mixed bag and usually is down to hardware. I personally ran the game on a modern Skylake i7, 16GB RAM and a GTX 1070 and the game ran flawlessly. However anything less and the game does run into some framerate issues, but this is just the nature of VR in its current state.
I also frequently had issues with dropped items being ever so slightly lower than the floor plane meaning I couldn’t pick them up and more often than not ended up ramming my Vive controller accidently in the floor while trying to do so. This along with a few clipping issues with bad guys were the worst of my problems, so nothing serious that crippled gameplay. I’m hoping in the future VR and the hardware required to even run it will start to drop and allow more widespread use of the technology, I would love to see more games like this as currently its a rare gem among a sea of short ‘experiences’ with little gameplay. I spent so long inside the Vive playing this that I came out with motion sickness for a whole day. Do I regret it? Absolutely not, it was an amazing time!