VR vs. Third-Person

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When we think of virtual reality (VR), we tend to think of first-person experiences. The draw of the technology is to slip into the shoes of action heroes, epic adventurers, world-class sportsmen and more to simulate their actions and emotions. The first-person perspective is essential to creating that illusion, effectively making you and the character one and the same.

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That’s all well and good for some genres; no doubt we’ll be playing first-person shooters and racing titles with VR headsets for years to come. That said, not every videogame lends itself to a first-person view. Can you imagine trying to command a real-time strategy franchise like Total War through the eyes of a footsoldier? Wouldn’t moving a Super Mario title to first-person be an unspeakable sin?

Some titles simply have to remain in third-person for the sake of mechanics and identity. Working out how these videogames fit into the VR landscape is one of the biggest challenges that the tech currently faces. That’s not to say that every franchise under the sun should come to VR, but it would be a shame to miss out on the freedom of a Grand Theft Auto game or horrors of a Dead Space simply over a matter of perspective.

As of right now there are a handful of third-person videogames that can run in Oculus. One such title is Realmforge Studios’ Dark, a stealth-action title. While it wasn’t the most well-received title of 2013, it makes for a reassuring argument that VR can work in third-person. The VR itself is comparable to what’s possible on the best titles on the Nintendo 3DS, with the environment convincingly stretching out around the character.

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With the camera fitted behind the protagonist the player assumes a sort of out-of-body role, using head tracking to scan the environment independently of the character. In the case of Dark, this supernatural element suits the plot’s tone quite well. In fact being able to move the camera independently of the player could lead to intriguing new innovations and mechanics in gameplay itself. Strategy videogames with a birds-eye view could capitalise on the tech as armchair generals peer down into the world, while Nintendo would undoubtedly make some fantastic innovations with The Legend of Zelda’s dungeon puzzles.

More demanding action experiences might suffer from the disconnect between player and camera, however. Trying to keep track of a fast-paced brawler like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance or Ninja Gaiden can be enough trouble on a standard screen; they’d likely need some work before throwing the virtual ingredients into the mix.

Another issue reveals itself in Dark’s opening moments. When the camera suddenly shifts to a cutscene or event it’s easy to be left feeling disorientated. Quickly switching from one view to another without being warned is off-putting. It takes a moment to work out what just happened, gather your bearings and focus on what’s now happening on-screen, which isn’t ideal.

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The solution to this really calls back to former Epic Games developer Cliff Blesinski’s comments on his blog earlier this week. For the best results, VR videogames have to be developed from the ground up. Most developers at the moment are focusing on first-person experiences but when they inevitably turn their heads towards third-person expect to see a lot of these issues being flagged and dealt with in the early stages of development. Titles will start being built around these issues, hopefully with smoother transitions into cutscenes and sequences that are more conscious of where the camera is looking and how the player’s head is positioned.

It’s vital that they do; VR can’t depend solely on first-person experiences to get by. It’s too limiting and fatigue would soon set in playing shooter-after-shooter. Third-person games and their current roadblocks shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to VR so much as an opportunity.  So far what we’ve seen from VR titles is all about putting us in the shoes of the protagonist but there’s plenty of potential to go beyond that premise if we all change our perspective. VRFocus will continue to track the progress of third-person VR titles and bring you all the latest on them.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

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