I’ve been a first person shooter (FPS) addict since Wolfenstein 3D, I’ve played and completed 100’s of them, and killed enough gamers in multiplayer online games to keep a digital reaper busy for life (assuming reapers have a life expectancy).
Nowadays I spend more time gaming on my HTC Vive than on any other platform. It’s debatably the most immersive, enjoyable gaming experience out there. There is nothing I enjoy more than strapping on my headset and playing a good FPS title. It’s fair to say there are some great games already, but as we are still in the early stages of Virtual Reality (VR), none of them are as good as they could be!
Here are my 9 top tips for developers to improve VR shooters. Let’s all make killer VR FPS games!
1) Improved HUD systems
If there is one thing that disappoints in most FPS VR games it’s the way game data is presented. Health status in-particular always feels like an afterthought. My suggestion is to bring in an augmented reality visor into the game. A simple addition of a helmet or AR glasses, put on during the tutorial would be ideal. The game could then display critical data such as health/armor status, bullet clip capacity and map/position without breaking immersion. The visor could also be used for more visual damage such as cracks or blood splatter.
An additional benefit to wearing an in-game helmet is the reduction of motion sickness. With minimal impact to the viewing angle a slight view of a static object following your perspective helps to negate motion sickness for those times you are propelled within the game outside your control. This is something developer threeonezero adopted with good effect in Adr1ft.
2) Depleted health warnings
Few VR FPS games find a way to represent your near death moments. Often you die with a glancing blow as if you had taken an axe to the head. This is because in game you are about to bleed out, but you are clueless because there is no feedback to the player.
I suggest a couple of simple changes; firstly make the controllers vibrate when health is crucial, secondly add a visual aid (such as a cracked visor or blood overlay, maybe a mixture of both). ZenzVr have implemented something similar in their game HordeZ, but without a visor it feels somewhat superficial but still a vast improvement over a health indicator strapped to your wrist (for example).
3) Invincibility period after taking damage
Invincibility periods have been implemented in many first person games, but are largely ignored in VR titles. It’s common to get hit two or three times in quick succession and die instantly. This is fine if realism is desired, but often its a result of poor game design. Getting hit in quick succession is a side effect of the effort required to dodge in VR, its certainly more challenging than strafing with a D-pad! A short invincibility period would give enough time to dodge without breaking the immersion and help prevent frustration. Remember to take health deduction from the strongest hit, particularly in multiplayer gameplay. One game that would benefit from this in-particular is COMPOUND, developer ‘NotDead‘ has only released a pre-release demo, so has plenty of time to make further improvements to their already impressive game.
4) Simple grenade mechanic (panic option)
Grenades in non VR titles have always been the go to weapon when you’re outnumbered on the brink of disaster. In most (if not all) VR titles, finding a grenade, pulling the pin and throwing it, is far trickier than it would be even in real-life. Without the touch and feel of the grenade and the weight in your hand to help with throw distance, mastering grenades in VR is tedious. My suggestion is that when a grenade is selected the trigger button pulls the pin, the grenade doesn’t drop unless propelled far enough to ensure you don’t kill yourself easily and the grenade doesn’t bounce nearly as far as they do in most VR games. I swear, if VR game developers are correct, most grenades must be made of rubber 😂.
5) Improved movement mechanics
Locomotion in VR titles is a challenge to developers. In my opinion it is without doubt the biggest limiting factor to room-scale FPS titles. Many games elect to make you a turret, simply shooting wave after wave of enemies from the same position. Some games allow you to teleport from one position to another and others risk motion sickness with controlled movement through more traditional analog stick directional movement.
Teleportation works well, but isn’t ideal in competitive online gameplay. The creators of Rec Room would disagree, but as much fun as the paintball mode is, you do get left feeling a little frustrated every time you are about to shoot someone, only for them to teleport behind cover.
There is one game that already demonstrates a good solution, anyone that has played Stress Level Zero‘s ‘Hover junkers‘ on the HTC Vive has experienced immersive gameplay with the bounds of their play space as a vehicle which they control. This I believe is the best solution so far, however perhaps there are vehicles better suited to more traditional FPS games than a room size floating barge. Perhaps a jet pack or a grapple hook movement system would keep the immersion, but allow movement which could become natural and stay immersive.
6) Restoring health and/or armor
A small point perhaps, but picking up and strapping on a bullet proof vest feels like an obvious and effective way to add health or armor. It would be believable, accurate and effective, but yet it is currently underutilized. It makes better sense than eating an apple or other food like many games chose! Apples may well ‘keep the doctor away’, but they certainly don’t heal flesh wounds! Anyway the point is; let’s save dinner for the real world and focus on protective gear to restore health.
7) Inclusion of power ups
You might think every VR dev would be dying to make you feel like a superhero, yet very few FPS titles have any form of power up to heighten your natural abilities. It feels like one big missed opportunity that could make so many mediocre games great! Insomniac Games – Unspoken sets the standard for superpowers, but doesn’t quite fit the FPS genre.
Let’s eat some spinach, gain some super strength, drink an energy drink, get super speed and then snort some substances to achieve neon glow vision bullet time. Well perhaps you can find some more politically correct alternatives 😉.
8) Quick 180° rotation
“Who’s behind me?”, a question you ask a lot in any FPS game. In most VR titles we don’t have the luxury of hitting a button to rotate 180 degrees. Why not I ask? Not only would it help deal with the enemies behind you when surrounded, it would also help to deal with the boundaries of your room. Think about it, you could walk indefinitely for real if you rotate 180° every time you reach the bounds of your play space. I admit, there are plenty of games that already allow it, but these are games designed for the limitations of the 180° Oculus defined guidelines. This means the function is there by necessity rather than purpose and implementation is therefore not optimised for full room-scale gameplay.
9) In game audible support
It is fair to say there are games that do a decent job of providing in game feedback during gameplay. Survios’s Raw Data does a good job of this, it uses in ear voice support from a mission director to tell you to what needs to be done, how to achieve it and why it’s worth doing. But it could do more. Why not take it one step further and have it tell you when your ammo is running low, your health is critical or if you’re simply kicking ass. In the real world a mission director could support an operative with all sorts of data driven feedback to aid the mission. Why not help bridge the gap of physical feedback with audible clues? It could help you navigate around the map to find enemy targets by providing information presented as heat tracking data from satellite tracking too!
There are plenty of decent VR FPS games out there, many of which do a great job and are amazing VR experiences in their own right. However, although each game may do certain aspects really well, none of them bring all the elements together to deliver the perfect FPS VR experience.
One upcoming title which may change the situation is DOOM. They are working on a VR update which has huge potential, especially considering it has so many of my suggestions already mastered as part of the original game. If they are cleaver about how they deal with the other challenges that a conversion to VR includes, it could be the VR FPS experience we all desire!