E3 marked many firsts for me beyond simply my first time attending the game industry’s own convention. I played a Nintendo Switch for the first time which will likely lead to me buying that console this fall. It was also the first time I attended a con at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
And it was the first time I experienced a virtual reality (VR) game.
I haven’t really followed the developments in VR technology with any pressing interest. It is not something I seek out or look to engage with. The Star Child trailer during the Sony press conference completely hooked me. The intriguing artwork and the seeming distance the player had from the controllable character marked definite shifts in what I’d previously seen of VR games.
The E3 preview was short – about six minutes total – and started with a scene you see in the trailer. A large spaceship lands before you and another smaller ship emerges from it. You follow that ship down a long elevator shaft and you turn your head up, down, and side to side to see everything around you. I couldn’t look directly behind me but the image faded out on either side to indicate that there was nothing to see there anyway.
A glowing space bug runs past the periphery of your vision and down the elevator shaft right before it clunks to a stop and the top opens, revealing your avatar. It is a female of color that you control and move with the PlayStation joystick controls. Other than using your head to turn your vision in the environment, all the controls were done on the controller.
The preview progresses as I moved the avatar through the side scrolling landscape, helping her run, climb, and jump over the obstacles she encounters. She comes to the first puzzle. I essentially parked her at a console as I took over another smaller ship that allowed me to access and solve the first puzzle.
It was simple enough: lift a string with a glowing ball at the end and “plug” it into a round container. Only after you solve the puzzle can you reactivate your avatar and continue the game. The preview had two similar puzzles, the second on a much larger scale than the first.
The preview ends as what I hoped was a friendly, giant robot saves you from a giant version of the space bug you see in the elevator shaft. The screen dims after your avatar climbs up and into his hands.
This first VR experience was quite enjoyable. May lack of interest in VR stems partly from getting motion sickness quite easy. This causes me to generally avoid 3D movies. I did not experience any kind of headache with this game. This was in part due to the fact that the game is not motion controlled other than how you view the environment. I didn’t have to swing my arms or move my head very much, just turn my head as I sat in place. I did have a moment of disorientation as I walked away from the game booth that was quite minor.
Overall, it looks like Star Child will be a great immersive environment. As a side scrolling, puzzle based game I imagine it will be family friendly. The preview definitely had some scary moments but nothing too intimidating. I asked the person walking me through the preview if he could tell me anything about the story and he said he didn’t even know any details. He asked the producer of the game and he just smiled coyly. I guess we will have to wait to see what unfolds for Star Child.
What are your thoughts about VR games? Are you excited about it? Or less than interested? Somewhere in between?
Regina is a gamer, writer, teacher, and podcaster living in the Pacific Northwest. She completed her Ph.D. in 2011 from Washington State University in Vancouver and continues to teach there part time. Regina’s research interests focus on women and technology, and her dissertation discusses female gamers and identity in digital role playing games. A lifelong geek and technology enthusiast, Regina recently started a Girls Who Code club in support of their mission to close the gender gap in technology.
To continue the conversations about gender and gaming that Regina started during her research, she started a podcast called Game on Girl. Called the “NPR of game podcasts” by Chris Brown of The Married Gamers, the podcast features women involved in the game industry, and tackles some of the complicated issues in the gaming community. Season 2 began in the spring of 2018 and will premiere new episodes monthly.