Oculus Studios and Insomniac Games are teaming up to deliver what may prove to be the biggest, most expansive virtual reality game yet. The new title ...
Oculus Studios and Insomniac Games are teaming up to deliver what may prove to be the biggest, most expansive virtual reality game yet. The new title, announced today and called Stormland, is an open-world game that puts players physically in the body of an android whose day-to-day existence involves gardening on a remote alien planet. After the arrival of a hostile threat, you set out to repair and augment your body, find fellow androids, and fight militaristic enemy droids.
Unlike previous VR games, which typically put players on a controlled path, this game is more akin to open-world games like Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, and so on. Insomniac says one of its largest gameplay influences was in fact The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which incentivized exploration and rewarded players for exploring the world without a distinct goal in mind. Aesthetically, Stormland looks to be taking cues from classic animated films like Pixar’s WALL-E and Neill Blomkamp sci-fi works District 9 and Elysium, as well as more recent games with strong art direction like No Man’s Sky.
Image: Insomniac GamesStormland is due out in 2019, and Oculus is billing it as the largest and deepest game it’s funded for the Rift platform to date. For Insomniac Games — the makers of Ratchet & Clank, Sunset Overdrive, and the new Spider-Man game for the PlayStation 4 — Stormland is a culmination of years of investment in the VR space.
The developer is behind three of the more prominent Oculus Rift titles, including multiplayer game The Unspoken, and Stormland is designed to showcase all of its learnings over the years. Stormland will have both a single-player and a multiplayer mode that lets players explore together, and it will feature various VR movement types the developer has mastered in previous games, like climbing and gliding to get around.
For the VR market, Stormland could have a big impact. VR is still a nascent technology that’s barely even a few years old, and right now it’s focused primarily on gaming. And yet the biggest and best VR games to date have been tightly focused, linear storytelling exercises like Lone Echo and Wilson’s Heart, or straightforward arcade-like games like Robo Recall. We haven’t yet seen a game that really pushes the limits of what the medium can accomplish — a game that redefines VR gaming by achieving something even close to a big-budget, major studio game.
Insomniac and Oculus hope Stormland can be that game. “This title is very important for us because it’s scratching an itch a lot of the community has, and that’s for a big open world to discover and play around in and play perpetually,” says Jason Rubin, vice president of content at Oculus. “We think it will take us to the next level when it comes to VR software and start to attract consumers who might have been saying, ‘I’m really interested in VR,’ but wants something that scratches that itch.”
Insomniac says Breath of the Wild is the one game that comes up the most often when it talks internally about the open-world elements in Stormland. But the game will feature a strong combat component, and for that, Insomniac says it’s drawing on its rich history with Ratchet & Clank.
“We are VR players and this was our chance to make this game that we’ve always wanted to play where we have freedom of movement and agency,” says Chad Dezern, the chief creative officer at Insomniac. “We love the experimentation that comes along with... the challenge of exploring new game mechanics. It’s huge for us. Those eureka moments we have along the way give us the same kind of sense of wonder we’re trying to deliver to the player.”
Image: Insomniac GamesOf course, open-world VR games will introduce a number of obstacles, both in how they are marketed and sold to players, and in the comfort level required to maneuver the virtual world when there are little to no restrictions in movement. Stormland will be no exception here, and Insomniac will have to ensure its game is as comfortable to play as possible for its open-world promise to play out. There are also questions about how long players are expected to play the game in single sessions, and whether VR fatigue will be a serious issue. Until we know more about the game and have an opportunity to try it ourselves, these questions will remain unanswered.
For Oculus, games like this are critical to help sell more Rift headsets. Though the company has aggressively discounted the Rift since its launch in March of 2016 — a bundle with Oculus Touch controllers now costs $400 — VR adoption remains slow. As a result, the industry is undergoing significant hype fatigue following the early days of tech expos and prototypes, and interest in the VR market from both consumers and developers has waned. For high-end VR, Sony has led the pack with its cheaper and more accessible Playstation VR headset, which as of late last year had sold 2 million units. Oculus has shipped less Rift units, but we don’t know exactly how many as the company has not disclosed numbers.
Still, Oculus is confident that games like Stormland can change the conversation. “2D games had 40-some-old years of development behind them,” Rubin says. “Video games for VR are really only four years old at most, and Rift is two years old as of March of this year. It’’s amazing to me how far we’ve come.” Rubin says it’s just a matter of time and the right combination of price point and game and entertainment options before VR starts to really break through to mainstream consumers. “I believe we’re well on our way to the point where people say, ‘Okay, yep. This is the future of the medium.’”
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