Video game makers finding their way in virtual worlds

LOS ANGELES, USA – Wizards duel and players transform into tribal warriors and fierce jaguars – welcome to the world of virtual reality at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game industry gathering.

Virtual reality games got very real at E3 this year as studios show off titles tailored for Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and Galaxy Gear VR headsets.

"It feels like VR is everywhere and dominating the industry right now," Oculus chief executive Brendan Iribe told AFP at E3 on Wednesday.

"It is the up-and-coming, fun new experience."

Video games made for old-fashioned screens remain the majority, since there are tens of millions of home consoles but only a few million virtual reality headsets expected to be snapped up by the end of this year.

At the Expo developers who have devoted their careers to build immersive fantasy worlds seized the chance to finally put players inside their games.

"It is every gamers dream to be in the game and there is an opportunity to do that for the very first time," said Sony Interactive Entertainment president Andrew House.

"It is exciting to see where it will go."

Starting small

While the dream is to let players roam inside expansive virtual worlds, games at E3 were focused on small settings like rooms, houses, city blocks, arenas, raceways, and saloons.

Insomniac Games showed off "The Unspoken," which lets players duel as wizards in mystical "pocket dimensions" of Chicago.

Oculus Touch controllers turn into virtual hands in games to let players hurl fireballs and cast spells.

"We wanted it to feel like manipulating real magic with your bare hands," Insomniac studio director Chad Dezern said after battling an AFP reporter in the game.

"We are each trying to pull another rabbit out of our hat, if you will."

There are already 70 games for play on the Rift virtual reality gear, and 30 more to be released when Oculus Touch controllers hit the market later this year, head of content Jason Rubin said.

Rubin recalls being into a virtual saloon in a "Dead & Buried" game during a gun fight so convincing he ducked for cover as bullets whizzed past.

"It is intense," Rubin said. "It takes a while before you are willing to stick your head out."

In "Ripcoil" by Sanzaru Games, hovering sleds move with dizzying speed as players transform into armored combatants and try to block discs hurled by opponents in a cosmic arena.

Keeping it short

Virtual reality games with segments lasting just a few minutes are currently the norm, as developers try to determine how far they can extend play without causing fatigue or nausea.

Insomniac lead designer Cameron Christian and his team pushed the boundary with a nearly 10-hour game called "Feral Rites," making the view third-person and building in a "spirit guide" to help players find their way through a jungle world rife with enemies.

Christian said it was challenging to come up with clear camera angles and ways of displaying maps and menus that would not ruin the illusion of being in a fantasy world.

Game makers interviewed at E3 agreed that virtual reality play is still in its early days.

Sony Interactive Entertainment's keenly awaited PlayStation virtual reality headset will hit the market on October 13 at a price of $399.

Sony's House expects that, given the interest, it could initially be tough keeping up with the demand.

Sony promised that more than 50 games will be available for the PlayStation VR within months of its launch, including zombie-shooter "Resident Evil," and games based on the "Star Wars" franchise and the "Batman" series.

Facebook-owned Oculus began selling its Rift virtual reality headsets earlier this year for $599, a price which does not include the cost of a computer strong enough to handle the processing and graphics demands of the technology.

HTC set a price of $799 for Vive, which also requires a powerful computer to handle the rich experience.

PlayStation VR headsets will work with PS4 consoles, more than 40 million of which have been sold.

And Microsoft is working on a powerful new version of Xbox One designed as a platform for virtual reality and ultrahigh-graphics games. –