Wot I Think: Job Simulator

Spring is tentatively Springing. The outside world is becoming more and more appealing. Yet I eschewed sunshine and the joyful company of my capering 2-year-old for what? Why, for performing menial chores in the dark, with an LCD screen mashed directly onto my eyeballs. Job Simulator [official site] is a cheerful satire of a possible future in which robots rule the world and recreate the boundlessly mundane human jobs of yesteryear for their own entertainment – but this cannot come close to the fundamental absurdity of what I am doing with a VR headset today. The future is here, and it’s bloody ridiculous.

It’s hard to say exactly what is the headline act for the Vive, whose first major foray into public availability began today, but Owlchemy’s Job Simulator is certainly one of the biggest hitters. With its physics-based buffoonery and playful cartoon style it’s tempting to call it the Wii Sports of Valve’s VR platform, but I think that honour will ultimately go to something else, something I haven’t tried or perhaps don’t even know about yet.

Wii Sports was the game you used to demo your console and delight relatives with, yes, but it’s also the one that you actually went back to time and again. Job Simulator is a hoot, make no bones about it, but it’s an inventive and funny showcase rather than something I’m going to repeatedly check in on.

The Vive usually gets talked about as a virtual reality headset and as one that turns your room into a navigable playspace, but there’s a third string to its bow, which is its wireless motion controllers. These are key to the whole experience, because they let you use your hands. No finger control, no, but you can pick up, move and throw objects which do not, in fact, exist, and this is a big part of why the humble brain quickly settles on ‘sure, this is basically real, why not?’

Job Simulator is almost more about these controllers than it is VR. While the initial awe of finding yourself standing within a visually enormous cartoon space filled with robots and big chunky vegetables or coffee machines or cars doesn’t dissipate as such, it quickly ceases to be what your attention is focused on. The 360-degree and enormous surrounding become taken for granted.

Your attention is instead focused entirely on clumsily picking up an egg and trying to crack it open on a worktop counter, or cack-handedly pushing a new tyre onto a boxy car, or waving a hexagonal donut somewhere near where your mouth is. In other words, you’re grappling with the comedy physics of so many Wii titles, or even something like Goat Simulator, more than you are existing in whole new form of reality.

It works. It feels entirely as though you’re there, stood behind that Quick-E-Mart desk or in that greasy spoon kitchenette, frantically responding to orders – make sandwich, scratch lottery ticket – and fumbling your way through believably tangible objects to do so. The patter, from in-game billboards and robot observers, is often very funny, and there’s a rich seam of inventiveness in the challenges asked of you.

The robots don’t know what ‘burning a CD’ meant in the ancient human vernacular, so they tell you to put one in a toaster. Pizza is made by putting bread and cheese in the microwave. Bananas are stuffed up malfunctioning car exhausts. The radio station reassures you that everything is fine, just fine, and the robots are definitely not killing all the humans.

Loads of stuff like that, and a deft blend of the background or spoken gag and the player-driven pratfall: things fall over, things catch on fire, things can be turned into hood ornaments, things can be thrown at robots who then frown at you… Just taking it all, just mucking around in it is a good time. It’s not the most dramatic use of room scale-VR – you’re mostly taking small steps and doing a lot of turning and reaching – but it all feels so physical. A virtual reality, without a doubt.

Then the question creeps, unbidden and unstoppably, into your mind.

Why? Why am I doing this?

Once you have clumsily made one disgusting sandwich by waggling a motion controller into the fridge and onto the breadboard, what is there to be gained from doing it again? How many times can drinking a virtual cup of coffee remain delightful? Each of Job Simulator’s four mini-games lasts around 20 minutes – with an option to dick around endlessly if you so wish – and once done the only reason I can think you’d do it again is because you wanted to show your Vive off to a friend or a relative.

As a demo of what VR+motion control can do, I can’t think of much better. It’s charming and it’s clever and its comedy is responsive to your actions, and most of all it demonstrates that this technology really does work, but I just can’t see any reason to go back to it solo.

Right now, none of that matters. Job Simulator is a showcase – one that comes ‘free’ with a near-£800 Vive kit. Makes sense, works very well as a first port of call. But it’s also being sold seperately for £30, and at some point the ‘free’ offer will apparently expire so that’s what later Vive owners will have to pay for Job Sim. I generally hate getting into value arguments, but this one’s off the charts. Tilt Brush, another showcase launch title, is one I repeatedly fire up, for the sheer pleasure of abstract and ambient creation, but this does all it sets out to achieve all too soon.

It’s delightful, but it’s delightful for about 90 minutes – with the very important exception that you might very well bust it out every time someone new comes around your house.

The Vive floodgates opened up today: I’m hoping that, somewhere in the sprawl of new titles, I’ll find something that answers the lingering question: what kind of games am I going to play in VR in the longer term? The witty and inventive Job Simulator is an excellent shopfront display for Valve and HTC’s technology, but it is not by any means an answer to that question.

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13 Comments

  1. Wisq says:

    what kind of games am I going to play in VR in the longer term?

    If we were talking about the Rift, I’d say it’s easy: The simulators. That is, not the goofy things that call themselves simulators, but the real simulators. The ones that put you in the cockpit of a plane, or the cab of a truck, or the bridge of a (space)ship. The ones that already strive for immersion and (some degree of) realism, and don’t require that you walk around.

    But since the Vive seems designed to turn your living room into a 3D playground … I have no idea. Fantastic Contraption looks pretty good? Or maybe the Vive will just end up being a Rift most of the time, and a Vive on occasion when it’s interesting to do so.

    • TheMightyEthan says:

      “Or maybe the Vive will just end up being a Rift most of the time, and a Vive on occasion when it’s interesting to do so.”

      This is what I think is most likely to happen. Rift doesn’t support room-scale stuff, and PSVR kind of does but they recommend against it, but all three of them support seated-facing-forward experiences so looking at it from a dev perspective (I am not a dev) it seems to me the obvious thing to do is make your VR game so that all three platforms can use it and thereby maximize your potential market. Because let’s face it, the VR market as a whole is going to be pretty niche for a while, so for the most part you’re going to want to get at as much of it as you can.

    • jellydonut says:

      But you can do all the Rift does with the Vive, in *addition* to room scale.

      • Spuzzell says:

        The thing is though.

        I only want to use VR seated, so I really want all the money I spend on my VR setup to be focused on making it be as good as it can possibly be at what I want to do with it.

        I don’t see much point in motion controls that aren’t mapped to your fingers, and I don’t want to waste money on room mapping when I’m almost never going to use it.

        I expect the vast majority of Vive owners will spend the vast majority of their time in VR gaming sitting down, and I’d expect almost all cross platform games to focus on that.

        If the Rift is better at doing seated gaming, then I don’t see things ending that well for Vive.

        • Xzi says:

          The Rift isn’t “better” at seated, though. The hardware overall is a little worse. Lower FoV, harder to use with glasses or a big head, no camera so no easy way to see your keyboard, etc. The only thing the Rift has is some exclusive seated games that aren’t reviewing well.

          • Spuzzell says:

            No, come on.

            The FOV on both is 110 I am informed, and Rifts method of having a gap between the base of the Rift and your face so you can simply look down to see where your controller and keyboard is is elegant and preferable in my eyes to intruding them into your VR vision.

            Games have certainly reviewed better on the Rift than the Vive too.

            I don’t care. I’ll wait till the dust settles and a clear best seated option is declared, but I’m expecting it to be the Rift… and that’s also much cheaper.

            Can we please fight the urge to fanboy over hardware? This isn’t Eurogamer.

      • Poolback says:

        You can do Roomscale with the Rift as well. Roomscale is just a marketing buzzword that actually means positional tracking with the volume of your room. Only thing that exists in the Vive and not in the Rift is the Chaperone system. However, early in the DK2 developpers where adding a grid that appeared when you were close the the edge of the volume tracked.

        • Spuzzell says:

          Sure, the Rift can have room tracking, and it can have motion controllers and all that jazz, but those are options that cost extra and are so ancillary that they happily released without them.

          The Rift is clearly more focused on the headset than Vive is, which means I’m more likely to get a Rift.

          Unless the Vive is also better at seated gaming. Which is perfectly possible.

    • nootrac4571 says:

      I could imagine a pretty decent first person spacial puzzle game I guess? Something with the depth and creativity of Portal or Antichamber. Of course it’d have to be something that’s based around being confined to a fairly small space, but that doesn’t seem insurmountable. In fact – Antichamber’s impossible geometry would be pretty amazing to experience in VR I imagine.

      I suspect a major problem is going to be that few publishers are likely to spend the time or money required for long-form or significantly deep games for the tiny niche audience of Vive owners. Unless Valve is working on something themselves? That would be nice.

  2. Clavus says:

    The Gallery is the first game that looks like it’ll show how longer narrative-driven will work in room-scale VR. Vanishing Realms (made by ex-Valve dude Kelly Bailey) is also interesting.

    I’m really enjoying the Oculus Rift line-up in that regard. Generally more complete and polished titles. Playing through Chronos right now and it’s a blast, going to be slightly disappointed in a few weeks when Dark Souls III hits and I can’t play it in VR. :P

  3. syllopsium says:

    Personally I’m hoping No Mans Sky is half decent, they add VR support, and I can upgrade my system to play it.. It’ll be in a room far too small to do any sort of moving around, though, and I’m not about to put it in the lounge, so I’ll probably be plumping for the Rift.

    Also, hopefully Sixense will actually ship their controllers..

  4. lhl says:

    I’ve been using the Vive for the past 4 months (49 SteamVR titles in my library right now). There’s tons of fun/interesting stuff I’ve tried out (and a whole bunch of new stuff that I’ve barely touched that came out today), but so far the only room-scale “killer app” that I find myself returning to over and over to isn’t a game at all, it’s Tilt Brush, a 3D drawing tool that’s just amazing.

    For sitdown experiences, I think @Wisq is right – if you’re into space/flight/driving/other cockpit sim games, even w/ first generation resolution/performance limitations, the VR experience is a quantum leap and the monitor experience just doesn’t compete.

    One of the most surprising experiences for me was how great Pinball FX2 was for the Rift CV1. The micro-parallax (and 90fps) was pretty amazing looking at the pinball tables (be sure to check in on Jeremey@Tested’s PinSim controller he built if that sounds intriguing).

    One other thing that I saw that I think is going to be huge is stuff like Dota 2’s VR spectating. I can also imagine diorama-like spectating happening not just for MOBAs but for FPSs like CS as well. The diorama/miniature view is amazingly compelling in VR.

    One other thing I think that will be really popular is environments that you can hang out in. Sadly, Oculus’ Dreamdeck is timed and kicks you out – being able to just hang out in the low-poly forest would be awesome. I hope that titles like The Climb will simply allow you to hang out. So far, the best thing I’ve seen like that is theBlu – as far as I can tell, you can just hang out in the reef indefinitely, and it’s pretty amazing (much, much more compelling than Ocean Rift, which sadly seems like a straight GearVR port).

  5. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I love the look of VR, but crikey those controllers for the Vive look bloody stupid.

    I cannot understand why they didn’t create a mo-capped glove; instead we are to lumbered with immersing ourselves in to the life of a cacky-fisted idiot with no dexterity whatsoever!