The focus of this year’s Develop, the annual game developer conference held in Brighton, was unmistakable: virtual reality. The aim of conference is to highlight and discuss current trends, and last year these included social media, spectatorship, and games as services. This year, however, VR dominated the schedule to the extent that sometimes it was difficult to find a non-VR talk to attend, but with so many developers and other industry members in one place there were plenty of other discussions on the fringes. At least until Pokémon Go came out.
In a Q&A session, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail said: “The industry moves so fast that I think a lot of advice from two years ago, unless it’s very generic advice, does not really apply in the same way anymore.”
Here, then, is what we heard the games industry talking about this year, and what could change the way games are made in the near future.
Proponents of virtual reality are eager to fight back against one of the platform’s key criticisms: that it’s isolating. Dave Ranyard, previously studio head of Sony London and now an independent VR developer, made clear at a panel discussion that he believes the future of VR is a social one, and that it will be about being transported to another place and doing something cool with your friends.
In the opening keynote, Oculus’s head of developer strategy, Anna Sweet, said: “When you get two people together in a virtual space, and you actually get to see how they move and how they talk, and how they interact with the world, it lets you connect as if you were really actually in that room with them. And it’s pretty powerful.” She recounted a story where two people who had never met, but had spent 10 minutes in a VR space together, were able to recognise each other by the way they moved. Solomon Rogers, co-founder of a VR creative agency called Rewind, told a very similar story in his talk “Consumer Virtual Reality – Hope or Hype?”, describing his ability to recognise another VR player as his wife from her gestures alone.
Even beyond what Sweet refers to as the “generic blue head and set of hands”, VR is a physical experience, and perhaps with more social spaces, like virtual reality arcades or multiplayer VR games, the medium will be more about a shared space of collaboration than solitary play.
As Ghislaine Boddington, creative director of body>data>space, noted in her talk on virtual reality and the “internet of bodies”, the hope for the future is in recognising and augmenting physical bodies in games and play. She offers technologies like programmable gels used with the body in more intimate ways, such as rubbing “gels on to erogenous zones”, allowing partners to “connect together at a distance”.Advertisement
Boddington also noted the future of physically collaborative and increasingly social spaces in AR, as seen in the very popular Pokémon Go: “Pokémon Go is definitely a collaborative share space. The Pokémon Go site, along with many others, allow the individual to join with the group into the middle, both in a physical and a virtual way.”
Implications of the physical are vast, as Robin Hunicke, co-founder and creative director of Funomena (Woorld, Luna) and previously of thatgamecompany (Journey), noted on the psychological impact of VR brought about by gestural controls, and recognising the capacity of range of movement from players. What does it mean for a player, psychologically, to encourage them to stand tall and strike a powerful pose? What might it mean to force them into a crouched position, to feel small? The necessity of an embodied experience in VR also brings up new questions, such as what the platform offers by way of accessibility.