Stunning. Absolutely stunning. There is an argument that even the most gorgeous technical demonstration is pointless if it’s being delivered on hardware that even the most deeply committed consumer would baulk at the idea of investing in, but in these earliest days of virtual reality (VR) it’s so very hard not to care. Crytek may have been suffering from some turbulent times of late, but here in their unnamed VR tech demo, it doesn’t show.
You begin in a clearing in the middle of a dense rainforest. Flora and fauna surround you, encapsulating every inch of your vision in every direction. Small furry animals run freely across the ground before scrambling up trees and dragonflies make no hesitation when crossing your path; this is their home and you are the intruder. Moving forward will require disturbance of this area and traditionally in videogames that’s OK: you’ll move an object and it will either return to it’s origin or it won’t. It’s binary. In this instance however, it’s not so simple. Crytek have created a world so convincing that each branch and leaf seems to have a life of it’s own.
As you push the first leaf out of your way, you may turn to find it still swaying from your impact several moments later. The dew drops flitter across your vision and the feeling that you’ve disturbed something takes hold. This isn’t simply pushing ‘block A’ into the designated ‘hole B’ to allow for your progress, this is impacting in a realistic way in a world designed to convince the player that they are somewhere else.
A leaf is no big deal right? During an adventure such as Far Cry or Crysis you’ll have pushed thousands of them out of your way to get to the meat of the action. But this is the difference with VR. The ‘meat’ is no longer the moments in which you’re pulling that trigger, but in convincing the player that the world in which this action takes place is worth fighting for. The leaf is a microcosm of the interactivity required to do just that, and it’s an essential step that VR has to take.
Continuing forward through the vegetation and past the wildlife along a tight, linear path the player comes to a path created out of carefully positioned wooden beams. At first these just appear to ease traversal, but upon turning a corner you find an elevated platform come into view high above the cascading forces of a vision-filling waterfall. stretching high into the sky and far into the distance, the thundering of the water is almost deafening as it collides against itself with such heavy force, despite this point of impact being in the distance. The waters below your feet are much calmer, having slowed in pace yet remaining crystal clear and wholly believable in it’s motion.
As you begin to climb to the higher elevation you see planks that are less secure fall out from beneath you. The platform uses trees for support in what was obviously a hasty construction now suffering from some battle damage. As you reach the top you hear a fluttering in the background. A mechanical whirring of engine and blade. All of a sudden a contingent of black helicopters swoop into view, coming over the waterfall and flying beneath you, across the far horizon in the opposite direction and encroaching on your position, moving in formation as they appear to be studying you and your activities. A peaceful walk through a rainforest has become something altogether more sinister as the demo draws to a close.
Exactly what Crytek intend to do with this tech demo remains to be seen. There is no videogame to be announced at present, VRFocus was directly informed, and yet the quality of the presentation here is far too great to ignore. Crytek are very passionate about VR and the fact that a small team managed to create this demo in a matter of weeks is astounding. VRFocus will have more on this project and the future of Crytek’s involvement in VR coming very soon.