Wot I Think: Time Machine VR

If I had a time machine, I’d travel back to 2014 and convince Oculus and Valve not to release consumer VR hardware until both the technology and the market was truly ready for it. But first I’d have to travel forwards in time to get print-outs of all the VRpocalypse editorials we’re going to see in early 2017. I’d also remind myself to bid on that eBay listing for a Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Knight which went for a song last Friday. Sadly, the only time machine I have access to is Time Machine VR, an underwater pod from which I can examine various aquatic dinosaurs, and occasionally even swim inside their mouths.

Time Machine VR, bewilderingly, comes from the folks behind thoughtful/harrowing platformer Papa & Yo, and though its story makes a few nods to environmental issues, it’s by no means a message game. It’s a Looking At Dinosaurs In Virtual Reality game. I’ll admit to some degree of burn-out on VR games’ gimmickry and frustrating movement controls, the image quality and cable annoyances notwithstanding, but Time Machine VR just about manages to break from of what are already becoming predictable handicaps.

A big part of that is that it’s slow-motion, underwater Descent rather than trying to pretend what you’re controlling is your own shambling meatbag of a body. Movement in, particularly, Vive games has struggled to feel natural or responsive in the way that looking around or reaching out to ‘touch’ something has – we’ve had awful step-by-step clicking on the circular touchpad, we’ve had ‘teleporting’ across the floor by selecting tiles, and we’ve had bumping our noses into the wall (be it the real one or the virtual one designed to protect us from said real one) when we try to physically walk around the room.

Gamepads have reliably remained a superior means of navigating around a virtual space, even if they can’t hold a candle to the Vive controllers’ hand position tracking when it comes to interacting with that space.

So Time Machine VR has you controlling a ball-shaped pod you’re supposed to be sat inside, with one Vive wand acting as its joystick and the other controlling a sort of gun which fires probes and scanner beams.

The limitations, the mechanical imprecision of gusting left and right and up and down, fit the fantasy far better than playing as person could – you’re controlling a big chunk of metal under the sea. Of course it’s going to feel clunky. And that clunkiness becomes effectively terrifying when you’re trying to quickly hide under a rock before a bloody great Pleiosaur eats you, or escape from inside a dino’s mouth before your temporary time-freeze effect wears off.

Time Machine VR is a game about going ‘ooh!’ at prehistoric underwater lizards, yes, but it’s also one about swearing violently as you battle to make your iron orb move where you want it too. In a normal game, it’d be out-and-out frustrating, but here’s it’s part of the drama. Even the lack of peripheral vision makes thematic sense, given you’re squatting inside a metal orb.

This is not to say that Time Machine VR entirely escapes from being a limited and repetitive affair, which has been the sad fate of a great many VR titles so far. Wobbly jetting around a prehistoric ocean is pleasant enough in itself, and there’s tension to dino-escapes, but the meat of the game involves repeatedly scanning various bits of the thunder lizards’ bodies for nebulous scientific data, which does become a bit of a grind.

As does returning to the ‘present’ after every mission to sit through a nugget of unconvincingly-performed, baleful plot about some virus that’s dooming humanity, which apparently can only be cured by you going back in time and looking at something’s lungs or whatever. And despite the grand scope the title suggests, what it really means is repeatedly seeing a few bits of reasonably-rendered Norway over and over again – the excitment of new places and new species dissipates all too quickly.

All told, there’s a great deal of time-wasting (ho ho) in Time Machine’s various attempts to inject a simuacrum of cod-science and narrative, when all it really is at heart is one of those VR ‘experiences’ like The blu: i.e. being a tourist in a prehistoric ocean.

It is, then, a little bit boring, which is not an adjective one would hope to apply to a game about travelling through time to meet dinosaurs. It suffers too for striving for as photoreal as VR games can manage, rather than for multitude-of-sins-concealing stylisation, which means it looks a bit original Xbox in both fidelity and jaggies, so don’t expect a dropped jaw for long. A resolution scaling option can make at least make things cleaner if you have the top-end graphical grunt to support it – bring on the GTX 1080 and AMD’s riposte to it.

Yet Time Machine VR gives me glimmers of hope that, perhaps, an effective middleground could yet be found between unsusscesfully trying to ape trad. game controls in a new arena and Wii-style gimmickry. It’s found a decent thematic solution to movement, and further confirms my suspicion that seated rather than walking VR is by far the better fit for this wired generation of the hardware.

There are moments in this where I’m just cheerfully jetting around, my hands moving me and my head gawping at dinos, and it feels like a natural and pleasant way to pass the time. As opposed to battling controls or being acutely conscious that my boxed head is wired up to a PC.

The right software may yet save VR gaming, and while Time Machine VR is not a revelation, is does offer some promising signposts.

Time Machine VR is out on Steam and the Oculus store now.


  1. milligna says:

    The market isn’t going to be “ready” until you start releasing hardware that developers can target. I’m glad they started, I’ve had a lot of fun over the past few years and more developers are popping up all the time. It’s a godsend for sims!

    • Synesthesia says:

      Is it already being applied for sims? I would honestly love some good writing about dcs/xplane/dirt rally with VR.

      • Ethaor says:

        In DCS, the resolution is still really low, to a point where you just about see ‘most’ of the cockpit. Whatever happens outside the cockpit simply becomes a pixel mash very fast. At the normal AI distances for exemple, you can’t see your wingmen, it’s only a few messy brownish pixels. I don’t see it being used for missions or pvp in any serious manner. In terms of performance, with everything on low it gets a bit laggy around towns on a GTX 970. 980ti reports lags around towns as well.

        The 1080+ new VR features won’t be supported either for quite some time. SLI is also completely not working for VR. So software-side it’s still premature too, just like the hardware.

        That said the feeling that you’re actually in the cockpit is tremendous and feel like it’s worth every penny, but the low resolution ugh the low resolution!

        As for P3D/FSX, well, at 1080p with SLI 980ti you’re happy when you reach 30fps so there has to be incredibly massive graphical & weather concessions to be made within a completely AI-free world to reach 45+ fps in these. Forget about 90fps. Not sure that’s worth it.

        4K per eye, more lightweight headset and wireless with ‘affordable’ GPUs that can support that and the tech will shine. I think we’re a couple of years too early.

        I love the Vive and bought it for seated sims only (DCS, P3D, ACorsa, ED, Iracing, ETS2/ATS and Dirt Rally) but I’m thinking of selling it, I’m still waiting to try ETS2/ATS, Iracing, Dirt Rally and Assetto Corsa, when they decide to officially support it.

        • Ethaor says:

          Oh and for the record, I’ve had the chance to try the Rift at a friend’s in DCS too. The two HMD are very similar and still way too low resolution.

          Most people on sims forums are vigorously spreading that idea that the Rift is the absolute-best-crips-screen-more-comfy-I-don’t-care-for-roomscale piece of hardware for simming.

          I actually much preferred the slightly more open FOV and much brighter and vivid screens of the Vive.

        • Bum Candy says:

          Resolution in full releases at the moment is pretty low. I don’t mind that so much. I’ve been playing Asseto Corsa on the Vive with the Revive Injector and it’s great fun. I think issues with resolution and image quality are going to differ game to game and user to user so it’s difficult to quantify. I tend not to notice it after a few minutes. ETS2 is very rough beta stage implementation at the moment, everything in the cab is great, gets very jaggy outside however. Though I haven’t messed with any of the settings. Minecraft with the vive mod is great, the art style works fantastically well and the sense of being in your creations is incredibly fun.

          The games designed specifically with this generation of headsets in mind work great, mostly look great and play well. I disagree with the main thrust of the article, I think the authors expectations have been a little unrealistic about what this generation of HMD will bring, I bought my vive knowing fully what to expect (except the experience of VR itself) and I haven’t been disappointed. To me, this generation of VR needs to be looked at in the same way the first generation of home computers were. The experiences will mostly be quite basic at first, as is evidenced by the software available at the moment. It’s a return to the simple arcade titles because both the developers and the users need to acclimatize to a whole new idea of what games can be. I have no doubt however that the games will come, that VR is here to stay and that this is the start of it.

          • Ethaor says:

            You’re absolutely right. It’s a matter of expectation and… perspective. Personally, after trying it, what blew me away was as much the VR potential as much as the low resolution. It is indeed in its infancy.

      • TheCze says:

        Project Cars already has Vive and Rift support and is amazing in VR.

      • Reapy says:

        Got my rift last week and I do have to warn out of motion sickness. I have this normally in cars pretty bad, and it shows up in things that ‘move’ the camera for me.

        I’m 100% good for hours doing something with a fixed camera, 3d movies, virtual desktop, vfx pinball etc. It is when the camera starts moving on its own that I start to get sweaty all over and really uncomfortable.

        I lasted maybe 3 minutes in lucky’s tale and maybe 10 minutes in eve. I tried war thunder and, well it was so awesome, I was sitting in that plane for real, there was a fighter duel happening around me, for real. But one bank of that aircraft and my world exploded, instant sweats and chills, my brain just didn’t like what it was seeing at all (I didn’t check my framerate, am on a 970, newish cpu) so it might have been both those things.

        I’m going to try project cars next with the ‘fixed view to horizon’ setting to see if that helps, it might be in a car the turning is less violent too, we’ll see. I’m going to try to work up a tolerance, it is just too awesome an experience to give up on.

        That all said, I think fixed camera will work well for a lot of games. The world axis whatever game with a miniature platformer world was great to look at and was no problem as long as I’m doing the walking IRL.

        I haven’t tried chronos, but it looks to use alone in the dark style fixed cameras. The main issue with that camera view back then was that action would take place just off camera, I think if I could move myself around to bend the camera angle with my head from that fixed position, it would solve that issue as well.

        • Reapy says:

          My life for an edit button. First sentence is unclear. I have motion sickness in real cars, reading, or looking sideways/backwards when not driving.

          In VR, any camera translation that isn’t driven by my body movement seems to start causing motion sickness for me. If you are okay in cars now, you will probably be just fine in VR.

          If not, be prepared to have trouble with some types of content (which is a shame since I was mostly looking forward to using VR for sims), but there is still good content out there.

  2. Vivian says:

    None of the things you’re talking about are dinosaurs. If there’s mosasaurs involved you could say there were some lizards, but no dinosaurs. Would it kill people to at least open wikipedia? It’s like calling a frog a type of fish.

    • Catterbatter says:

      Lizards? No, they’re definitely isometric roguelike metroidvanias.

    • thelastpointer says:

      You are completely wrong. Dinosaur means “fun scaly animal” (or “John Walker” in some contexts), it has clearly nothing to do with wikipedia or lizards. They are characterized by hunting humans (though they are only capable of inflicting flesh wounds), getting stuck between things and scaring people by appearing unexpectedly and making silly noises.

      Check your facts, dude.

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      gritz says:

      Agreed. It’s high time RPS respects currently accepted cladistic taxonomies!

      • Vivian says:

        Wellll if by ‘currently accepted’ you mean ‘no-one has ever said marine reptiles are dinosaurs’, then yeah sure.

    • badmothergamer says:

      And just where the hell are the feathers too! SMDH!!1!1!!

  3. ryryryan says:

    I don’t agree with the first line of this article.
    With any new technology the Market is never ‘ready’. It’s expensive, there is very little content, and there is of course lots of room for improvement. Look at HD TVs (both 720/1080p HD and 4K) – when they released they were super pricey and barely any channels supporting the format.

    The mainstream market may not be ready, but early adopters accept the limitation that these bring, and without this early adopter phase then the product can’t launch. It’s a normal part of a new technology’s process.

    Right now the software works fine (not great. fine.), the price is reasonable for what it is, there are some great (though still not enough) experiences available, and everyone I have demo’d the Vive to have been blown away by it (even my mum, who has never touched a gamepad in her life! She was painting a pink and purple 3D tree in tilt brush like a pro).

    There’s still a long way to go with it; the lenses need improving, the resolution needs upping, the cable need to be lighter and so does the headset, but this is the way early tech is.

    I think it’s launched at just the right time, where the graphic cards to be able to run these are starting to become affordable and developers can get right on board to ensure that when it is mainstream – there is enough content available (providing it succeeds as a platform).

    Without this early launch phase, there is no release. And VRs future is still very uncertain, so the more people who experience the Vive (as apposed to the Gear VR or similar) the better – to understand the true potential of it.

    Sounds like you should have gone back in time and just convinced yourself not to buy it?


    Time Machine VR doesn’t interest me, the locomotion that comes from not walking is very dodgy. Good that you got on with it better, but I find the best experiences still come from the room scale ones.

    I did surprisingly well in Elite Dangerous mind, but other demos I’ve tried have made me feel a bit weird. Truck Sim was a disaster!

  4. Rutok says:

    Why do you keep torturing yourself with vr? You did not like the set up because it was somehow too much work to do, you dont like the game (even after admitting that this was was almost tolerable, you still have to mention how VR is going to fail more than once) and you dont seem to like the headsets very much either. Its ok, you dont have to.

    But why not give the new technology a little break? You probably remember the start of pc gaming. How where the graphics back then? How was the writing, the dialogue?