Too bad I won’t be able to play Land’s End

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Monument Valley’ creators to take on virtual reality in October.

The creators of the beautiful, haunting mobile puzzle game Monument Valley want to take players on another scenic trip — this time entirely in virtual reality. While little is known about the premise, Land’s End seems to take inspiration from Monument Valley, and be centered around the idea of exploration and puzzle-solving.

Land’s End will combine the interactive storytelling ustwo is known for with what the developer claims will be “an incredible virtual reality experience that you can take anywhere”. The team started out simply by sticking a VR camera into Monument Valley, thinking that just looking around that world might make for a compelling experience. But they soon learned that VR is a very different medium. “We quickly realized that there was this whole new language to be developed,” says lead designer Ken Wong. For instance, the impossible architecture of Monument Valley didn’t make sense in a 3D VR world, where players could control what they were looking at, ruining the illusion.

The comparatively low cost of getting into Gear VR also appealed to ustwo, allowing the team to create something that’s both attainable – desktop VR remains a potentially steep investment, with no firm prices or hardware specs available for major players in the field. Once you’ve locked on, you’re transported there at a comfortable speed — a compromise that lets a VR experience like Land’s End work without a controller. “When we first got our hands on a Gear VR kit, we spent two to three months trying to find a way for people to move around this world without feeling sick,” said Peter Pashley, technical director of Ustwo Games. “We wanted an experience where we could explore the landscapes comfortably, where people feel like they were making choices and moving at their own free will, while not be too hard to control and not too on rails.” Through the game’s five levels, there will also be some puzzles to solve, though gratification seems to be more important to the user experience than truly stumping those playing. It’s still very early days for virtual reality gaming; so early, in fact, that developers haven’t yet come to terms on a unified control mechanism. Wong describes it as “like a hike, where someone has gone ahead and plotted the best trail throughout this landscape.” The islands are deserted, surrounded by gently crashing waves, with strange architecture dotting the landscape. They want to enjoy the sights and get through it and see this wonderful world,” Wong said. “Making good puzzles has a lot do with intuition, where people are using pattern recognition.

You can explore at your own pace, and, as in Monument Valley, there are moments of wonder, like when you slowly drift across the sea between two islands, floating quietly among the birds. People see things that are out of alignment, they’ll want to align them.” The team spent about a year working on the game and experimenting with virtual reality in leading up to Land’s End, which was first demoed last September at the Oculus VR developer conference. It feels like Monument Valley, but the process of designing it was very different. “It’s the difference between painting and sculpture,” says Pashley.

Called Land’s End, the game challenges you to awake an ancient civilization, while keeping a bit of the same aesthetic that makes Monument Valley so intriguing. “We all have really unique brains, and the way our brains process VR is different for everybody”. Ustwo’s Ken Wong, Peter Pashley and Dan Gray spent more than a year developing the game, with many stops and starts and do-overs along the way. “It took a long long time to reinvent all these fundamental things about how you move around a world and how you interact,” says Wong. Things like navigation took some toying with. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to let people move around these worlds in a way that felt kind of almost subconscious,” says Pashley.

You make your way through the levels by glancing at “lookpoints,” shimmering spheres of light that burst open and propel you forward when you look at them. Another interesting observation: “Humans don’t tend to tilt their heads back very often, especially us city dwellers,” Pashley says. “If you ask users to do that, it’s like putting them through an exercise routine.” To avoid this, players rarely need to focus their gaze on anything above eye-level.

I’ve only played through the first two chapters of Land’s End, but it feels very different from not only most current VR experiences, but most games in general. The complexity slowly ramps up in the early stages, with later puzzles having you connect beams of light while moving blocks around, and I’m excited to see where things go from there. With platforms like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR (formerly Project Morpheus) yet to make their commercial debut, we still haven’t seen the defining VR experience that will sell non-enthusiasts on the technology. You must unlock these puzzles to proceed through the game, but central to the experience—right down to the interface through which you play—is the act of simply looking around. Wong explains that it’s this dissonance between familiarity and bewilderment that makes virtual reality so compelling. “It’s not like you’re going to Italy or Iceland,” he says of the game’s landscapes. “But they’re reminiscent of real world places.

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