Resident Evil 7 nearly cost me my lunch (but not for the obvious reasons)
How well will gamers prone to motion sickness handle the rigours of VR gaming?
At a Plantronics event in Sydney today, I had the chance to have some hands-on time with the most recent demo build of Resident Evil 7 using Sony’s soon to be released Playstation VR headset. I was keen and interested as I’ve been a gamer a long time, although Resident Evil hasn’t particularly been my favoured franchise since... hmm... probably Resident Evil 2, to be honest.
Yes, I’m old.
But I’m also a glasses wearer and someone who’s well aware of my own tolerances for visual gimmickry, whether it’s 3D movies or virtual reality headsets. As such, while I can handle VR in limited doses, I’m also aware that I’m part of the population that can find it a touch disorienting. Matching that up to the deliberate scares of Resident Evil 7 was always going to be a challenging affair.
I should point out that the event wasn’t to show off Resident Evil 7 per se, or indeed the PlayStation VR either, but instead Plantronic’s upcoming Rig 4VR headphones. They’ll launch in Australia alongside the PlayStation VR, and are designed to be light, relatively cord-clutter-free and stylistically in tune with the look of PlayStation VR.
Of those I have no complaints; they were light, comfortable and with good audio, both for in-game events and enough ambient audio so I wasn’t entirely cut off from the rest of the world. Not every headset will suit or fit well with VR gear, so there’s a certain argument to be had in investing in a decent pair to go with your shiny new VR headset.
As for Resident Evil 7... well, I don’t want to spoil anything in too much detail, because that’s kind of the point of horror games. If you know the scares are coming, they’re much less effective, and even at this demo stage there are some very effective scares to be had.
I’d had some experience with PlayStation VR previously, but those had largely been more static, less interactive experiences over very short periods of time. What I thought might be the case would be that movement would be fine, as I’ve played plenty of first person type games over the years, but that looking around when not moving might lead to me feeling distinctly wobbly.
Pleasantly, that didn’t happen, so I could peer (in terror) around corners, through gaps in walls and cautiously at doorknobs before running through them. However, what I didn’t expect was that the game’s other method of movement control, via the right stick, would prove distinctly less satisfactory. Flicking the right stick turns you instantly by around 30 degrees. It’s designed to facilitate quick rotation, which is kind of necessary when a crazed witch is about to hug you to death and you want to run away.
The problem is that the rapid nature of the camera shift that this enables was, it turned out, also a great way to get my inner ear balance offside. I could ignore it for a while, wandering around a cabin and investigating its charming, ideal-fixer-upper-ambience, but relatively shortly, I started to feel a little bit nauseated. Not terribly so, and not due to the content displayed in front of me, but because of how that right stick currently works.
My understanding is that the right stick to flick around is a relatively new inclusion in Resident Evil 7, and Capcom’s still investigating the best way to handle motion in what can be a very intense game.
What it highlights, at least for a proportion of the population, is that it’s something that developers will have to be very aware of, lest they leave them out of the VR experience, or at best very cautious about donning headsets.
My own experiences suggest that it’s definitely more pronounced with low-cost VR efforts of the Google Cardboard variety, and significantly less so with higher-priced, higher quality units such as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
For what it’s worth, I lasted around five minutes with Resident Evil 7 in VR mode before I decided to call it quits, simply because I didn’t want to push my balance (or my ability to hold in my lunch) too far. Other people at the demo sailed through without concern, so this isn’t a problem that will hit every gamer. However, it's something to be aware of if you already know you’re susceptible to these kinds of perceptual balance problems. If we’re lucky, developers will adjust to make games that suit everyone, but I won’t be surprised if we’re simply left out.