Thoughts on Rift Experiences – Part 2 of 3

Edit: I’m adding some additional notes to this write up, which is written about a demo version of Radial-G that is more than a month old.

  • Radial-G has been approved through Steam Greenlight, funded, and Tammeka Games now aims to release its first full version in November 2014.
  • The team at Tammeka Games has already implemented many improvements to the demo I played and more are on the way, including some of those suggested here.

Original Post:

I’d originally planned to post my thoughts on Radial-G and Titans of Space several weeks ago, but the arrival of my daughter (a bit earlier than planned!) understandably set these back a few weeks. Everyone is doing fine and I’m slowly transitioning back into blogging and editing between feedings and nap time and listening to an unreasonable amount of lung practice. This week I’m going to write up my thoughts on Radial-G and how it uses the components of VR design I established several weeks ago.

As with my prior post on Ocean Rift, I want to again state that I’m reviewing a demo, not a finished product, and focusing specifically on how it hits the three elements of VR game design I’ve called out.

Radial-G was developed by Tammeka Games and you can check out its website here, where you can learn more about the game and team. It’s currently on Steam Greenlight and in development. My impressions come from playing the original demo (released with the Kickstarter) more than a month back and may not reflect the experience of playing the most recent demo. However, I still want to examine this experience in regards to my thoughts on VR game design.

Radial-G

This demo was recommended heavily on the Oculus Reddit and, after playing it, I can certainly see why. The developers took a relatively simple concept (riding a rollercoaster, a common VR demo) and took it a step further, allowing you to control the speed of the coaster and maneuver it around a central track, kind of like the classic arcade game Tempest (for those of you who go back that far). The game places you in a capsule attached to a central rail and tasks you with getting the fastest time around the “track” by hitting speed boosts and avoiding hazards which slow you down.

This was the first experience I played on the Oculus Rift that actually felt like a game and the developers did an excellent job of taking a simple concept and implementing it well. Highlights:

  • Looking around inside my capsule/spaceship. It really did feel like being inside a metal capsule attached to a long rail.
  • Hitting a spinning wall hazard for the first time. I unconsciously leaned my entire body to the side to avoid it and then flinched when I hit it dead-on.
  • Getting my first really good lap time and cruising at a fast and uninterrupted pace. Radial-G does a great job of starting you off with a task that is easy to learn but rewards even incremental improvement in an understandable way – a faster lap time.

I did experience Presence in this demo (thought this was intermittent) and while it was not as strong as it could have been due to some technical issues, it was still a fun experience.

The Bubble

Radial-G took the correct approach in creating the Bubble. You spend the experience inside a racing “capsule” that completely encloses you as you speed down the track. Being inside a craft like this makes it believable that you aren’t feeling wind in your hair or on your face, and speeding along the track and spinning loops around it imparts a sense of motion that (almost) matches doing this in real life.

Where the Bubble could use improvement is in technical issues. It was not obvious how to recalibrate the Rift to place my head in the “center” of the capsule, and so I spent some time with my head stuck in the seat or in the ceiling (breaking Presence). The capsule itself also didn’t full “sell” the experience of racing around a track. It felt too smooth and sterile, and I wanted it to feel more white-knuckle.

The Proxy

Unfortunately, the version of Radial-G which I played provides no Proxy, and I couldn’t see my legs, body, or hands. The sense of being a disembodied “ghost” inside the capsule fights with Presence, and while I did obtain Presence when not paying attention to the capsule interior, the lack of any sort of body was a constant reminder that I wasn’t really there.

So, while I could feel Presence when I was looking out into the environment or down the track (which I was doing most of the time) looking down at myself or behind me broke Presence immediately. As with other games of this sort, I think Radial-G would benefit from adding a body in a flight suit (even a stationary one) so that I at least had some sort of anchor for my disembodied head.

The Controller

The demo suggests a standard XBox Controller and this was a really good choice. The developers were conscious of how disorienting it can be to move in VR and did a great job of creating simple, intuitive controls that are difficult to get wrong. Since I’m “flying” a capsule attached to a track, using a joystick felt very natural, and the movements were simple. Right Trigger accelerated, Left Trigger braked, and I used the Left Stick to either slide left or right around the looped track.

While these controls aren’t binary, they are very easy to use because each control corresponds to a single direction of movement. By depressing the Right Trigger, I accelerate (move forward) or don’t. By pressing the Left Stick, I slide directly left or right around the central tube. It’s impossible to get pointed in the “wrong” direction or get turned around, and by attaching me to a round tube, the developers created a clean and fun way to speed about what would normally be a complex and disorienting track without ever getting lost or frustrated.

The control scheme for Radial-G and how it interacts with the game elements was top notch and one of the best things about the demo.

How Can Radial-G Better Establish Presence?

A few improvements on the technical side would help (and given the demo I played is more than a month old, these may already have happened). Offering the user an easy way to recalibrate the position of the Oculus Rift would be a good start, ensuring I’m always at the optimal point inside the capsule, and not stuck in a seat or in the ceiling.

Second, adding a Proxy (a human body in a race suit) would increase my sense of Presence and anchor me inside the racing capsule. If this Proxy was animated (with a hand pressing forward on an accelerator, and perhaps side to side as I turned) this would also improve the experience.

I’d also like to see more feedback inside the capsule itself. Screeching and rattling when I speed along a rough portion of the track. Perhaps a bit of shaking or bucking in the capsule itself when I pull a number of Gs in a turn. Right now the capsule feels very static and almost too solid to sell the experience. I’d expect it to feel a bit more rickety or, at least, affected by the fast speeds and tight turns I’m pulling.

Finally, a great addition would be adding distortion or blackness at the edges of my vision as I pull tight turns, similar to what fighter pilots experience when pulling a number of Gs. Another demo used this with great success and it could really add to Radial-G’s immersiveness.

Summary

Radial-G is a great example of a straightforward, well designed, and playable game experience that works perfectly with the Oculus Rift. It’s easy to learn and control, provides a large amount of fidelity in incremental player improvement, and does a relatively good job of establishing Presence during play. As it is polished and improved I’m sure it will turn into a truly impressive VR experience.

Next Post

Next up, I’ll be providing the same thoughts on Titans of Space, a virtual tour of our solar system and perhaps the best and most immersive VR experience I’ve tried with the Oculus Rift.

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