VRFocus has said it before and we’ll say it again, location-based entertainment (LBE) is not only a lifeline for early VR adopters but also great as a means of promoting the industry as a whole. Gamescom 2018 has already seen the likes of Vertigo Games showcase its project Arizona Sunshine LB VR Edition and Pillow’s Willow VR Studios also happened to be at the event to demonstrate its latest project, Exodus Burned, a bold attempt to enter the LBE industry.
Pillow’s Willow VR Studios is the Dutch team behind mobile virtual reality (VR) title Spark of Light, however, unlike other studios who adapt a pre-existing title into LBE, the developer has created a brand new experience as well as collaborating with VRee on a full-body tracking suit which is crucial to playing the title.
Exodus Burned is a competitive multiplayer experience where two players (the final version will feature 1vs1 and 2vs2) can go head-to-head across several short rounds. In this early demo which Pillow’s Willow VR Studios said was around version 0.3-0.4, the games consisted of either stepping on green floor tiles in quick succession – almost like DanceDance Revolution style videogames – whilst avoiding red tiles that dropped the score. Another involved a red wall of tiles interspersed with a few green that you had to fit through.
The design of each game was clearly focused around movement, shifting around the 3m x 3m area as quickly and fluidly as possibly. Like a lot of prototypes still in production there was work still to be done to make the system truly accurate and user friendly.
On the hardware side they were using the new HTC Vive Focus standalone headset because it offered complete freedom of movement – whilst being ideal to demo at an event like Gamescom due to lack of external sensors. The software did struggle at points with drift, as while the highlighted area in VR seemed fixed and never stepped out of, at times it was easy to find yourself way off the original starting location.
The same goes for the tracking suit as it never felt 100 percent accurate. Quite a contraption to put on involving a back and waist pack, then straps around the arms and legs, it’s not a quick job to put on. It may have been a bit finicky to step into but it easily adjusted to my larger frame – which usually stops me from demoing haptic suits – and was perfectly comfortable.
The inaccuracy made trying to hit the green floor tiles whilst avoiding the red extremely difficult, caused by the digital leg not quite being in the same place as its physical counter part. These issues of course are all things Pillow’s Willow VR Studios are currently in the process of solving. One aspect that worked very well was the two player networking. There was a mode where both could team up and attack several challenges together with minimal lag between the two.
Just like home consumer VR in the early days, LBE VR needs continual innovation in both hardware and software to succeed. While the industry can still rest on the first time ‘wow’ factor for a little longer this won’t always be the case, with developments like those between Pillow’s Willow VR Studios and VRee essential in the long term. Finesse is still needed yet the potential is definitely there for full-bodied VR experiences that really get players involved in the virtual world.