Peering into the Future of VR

I started playing Planetside 2 in 2012 during the PC closed beta. It’s a massively multiplayer online first person shooter (MMOFPS), one of the first of its kind where thousands of players fight in never-ending battle across multiple 5km x 5km continents with infantry, planes, and ground vehicles. In those days, I didn’t know anything about VR and while the game generated tons of excitement and many devoted players, there were serious performance issues and as you can imagine, it was hard to balance the game.

A few months back, I started playing it again. It was one of the first games I thought of at the start of this latest VR wave. The game has since been optimized (and having a VR-optimized rig helps) and many bugs fixed. Without these distractions and with the promise of VR on the horizon, I think I’m peering into the future of VR.

Scale and Persistence will be Critical to Immersion

Old shooters like Doom, Quake, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty don’t evoke a sense of place as Planetside does. The matches are short and the clock is a countdown to Doomsday as the world and all its players will disappear into oblivion once it stops. In Planetside, the game is running continuously so unless you log off or there’s a rare server maintenance, there’s nothing to disrupt the flow, to break the immersion. Older games are also limited in scale. Maps have fixed sizes and even with Star Wars: Battlefront, you can easily go outside the designated play area within a map and have the angry game overlord yell at you (it’s like hitting the wall of the Holodeck). This doesn’t happen very often in Planetside as it would take a few minutes just to fly across the map. VR worlds will be persistent and massive.

Real World Barriers will Fall

Planetside allows you to self-organize into squads, platoons, and outfits. An outfit is like a clan or a guild — it persists across sessions and you generally form up with your outfit members. I play with my outfit consistently and spend a lot of time chatting and interacting with the same people. And yet I know very little about who they are in real life. From time to time I do get surprising hints: when it’s 11pm and my buddy says he’s going to have lunch, I’m like “wuh?”; when someone confesses that they’re still a virgin I’m like “whoa”; when someone starts talking about their grand kids I’m like “would’ve never guessed”. If you interact with the same players long enough, you’ll see that real world barriers like age or timezone will melt away in VR. Things like language and gender are still easy to detect but heck, some people have even started using voice changers.

Interactions will Define What is Great

Planetside offers fairly sophisticated voice chat. You can talk to your squad, platoon, outfit, proximity (people around you), or even region (of the map). You can also use text chat or one of the basic voice commands with the voice of your choice — I partial to the Russian one. However, while most players will use voice commands, fewer will use text chat and few talk consistently on voice chat. The simplest form of communication is to shoot somebody with your gun. It may be that players don’t have a microphone or find it cumbersome to use or are too shy to talk. Whatever the case, there is a strong need to have more interactions as people want to express themselves but not with today’s limited options. In Battlefront, you can fist bump or shake like Jar Jar Binks. Soon with motion controllers like Oculus Touch, you’ll be able to gesture and manipulate objects. VR worlds will only be as compelling as the interactions they offer.

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