At this year’s Gamescom, one of the show’s highlights was hidden away in Hall number 5 – away from the big Sony, Activision, Nintendo, EA and Ubisoft booths. Vertigo Games, working with Boston (providing their Roamer MU-VR hardware for a wireless experience) and Alternate (hosting the experience), showcased their Location-Based version of Arizona Sunshine in VR.
What we know
Adapted from the existing console and PC versions of Arizona Sunshine, this is a LB (Location Based) virtual reality experience. The term ‘location based’ is a bit deceptive in that you’re not actually bound to a spot in front of a TV, since you’re actually walking around freely in an open area/room that transforms into a zombie-infested industrial (rocket) facility when you put on your headset.
An experience that’s not meant for home use, Arizona Sunshine LB VR constitutes a brand new kind of arcade experience, where you and up to four friends can engage with the game world simultaneously by sharing a (real world) space and interacting with each other and the game inside a virtual environment.
What we saw
During Gamescom, I got to play a 30 minute session of Arizona Sunshine LB VR alongside three other members of the press and gaming industry. It was powered by Boston’s Roamer MU-VR tech, which allows you to walk around a room wearing a headset without any kind of wires attached to it. In the real world, our room was just an empty space with camera’s/motion detectors attached to the tops of the walls, and just a tiny corner of hardware that powered the entire experience. Besides (HTC Vive) headsets, we were also handed a pair of modified controllers – handguns, which strongly resembled NES-era Duck Hunt guns for some reason. Also present was Nick Witsel, one of the game designers at Vertigo in charge of porting the Arizona Sunshine experience to a Location Based version.
What we thought
Although two of the three people I was playing with were strangers, cooperation was instant as zombies started swarming in from all directions and it was clear we had to divide our attention and cover different corners of the room to keep ourselves safe. This cooperation with other (real) players inside a space was part of what made the experience so good, but the real magic came when the first wave of zombies ended. Physically walking to a button to call a moving platform, seeing the other players get on the platform with you, and then physically bumping into them when you get too close was a transformative VR experience – especially when you consider that all of this walking around was without any kind of immersion-breaking cable tugging at your head.
The level design has to make use of the available space, which is a challenge in and of itself. As long as you’re bound to a single (in game) room this is no issue, but things become interesting and clever when you start using moving platforms and elevators. Having to get on and in these means that all the players gather together in one part of the room, and once the platform stops moving it will allow you to move in a different direction again. It makes great use of the (limited) space available in the real world this way, giving you the illusion you’re walking through a sprawling complex.
Being a multiplayer experience, the game also has a few fun little puzzles that require cooperation. Imagine being stuck in front of a locked gate, with the lever or crank to open it being above you. One player has to get in a small service elevator, go “up” (virtually), and open the gate while others keep fending off zombies. It’s certainly thrilling, especially in that “hurry up over there!” sense.
Is it perfect? No, there’s definitely still room for improvement, as with all new technology. I would have loved to have voice communication with my squad mates, for one. Cooperation was intuitive and instant, but figuring things out and strategizing verbally would have made the experience better. There was also no death or damage, so theoretically a player could just get overwhelmed with zombies while others pick them off. For dramatic effect, it would be great if people got taken out and had to be revived – though this probably doesn’t translate well to the real life room you’re playing in.
We also had a few weird experiences with more than one player trying to get into a small elevator and one player kind of clipping through the walls and getting left behind – this is where better verbal communication (or different level design) could have helped. Despite these small niggles, however, the LB VR version of Arizona Sunshine was quite possibly my favorite hands on demo at Gamescom this year. It raises the bar for VR and makes it a social experience, even if it means the experience can’t be had inside your living room.