Bethesda’s Hines on VR: “It’s something all of our studios are looking at and talking about”

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A couple of weeks back – when I also went hands-on with both Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and The Evil Within 2 – I goggled up and gave the upcoming VR version of 2016’s Doom a spin, as well as bearing witness to other folks’ flailing and giggling in Skyrim VR and Fallout VR. Bethesda’s triptych of 3D ultravision spin-offs are due before the year is out, with Skyrim only available on PSVR at least initially and Fallout and Doom only officially supporting HTC Vive, for obvious reasons. Their arrival is a pretty big event for a technology that so far has leaned far more heavily on brand new things rather than established names.

Curious about what this means for the technology and for Doom, Skyrim and Fallout, I picked Bethesda VP Pete Hine’s brains about the whys and wherefores, and what it might imply for the future of their own VR efforts. Also below: my own quick impressions of Doom VFR [official site].

Let’s do the impressions of my playtime first, as it offers context for some of Hines’ comments. Unlike Skyrim and Fallout’s VR rejiggers, this isn’t the entire game redone with a new, wavy-touchy interface, but rather a new version of Doom, starring a different character who can transfer his intelligence into various military drones in order to switch to different areas and solve the occasional navigational puzzle.

However, the core concept is the same – shoot lots and lots of monsters, and use the ‘telefrag’ leaping melee attack to both insta-slay wounded enemies and build up momentum. Crucially, you don’t get full, analogue-style first-person shooter movement: instead, it’s the 90 degree rotations and click-on-the-ground-to-teleport-forwards movement style that’s become something of a mainstay of VR games.

I must admit that I struggled with this, conceptually. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck – but what if it doesn’t swim like a duck? I was constantly having to check my impulse to use the Vive’s thumpad to simply move forwards, and most of my deaths were because I inadvertently double-clicked to ‘port to somewhere I hadn’t meant to be, like right on top of a Hellknight.

I was working against my own muscle memories of Doom – but, clearly, I shouldn’t expect to overcome that within the space of a 15 minute demo. I’m sure I’d get used to it in longer practice. The alternative to teleport-to-move, sadly, is nausea. And the benefits are what VR brings to the table: a sense of huge, wraparound scale, 3D, the freedom to look around using your actual human head and, effectively, to kill demons using finger guns. One of the things I asked Hines was whether or not this inherently makes Doom VR a better version of Doom.

doom-vr-pc

“I’m not sure we look at games we make as being ‘superior’ to other games we make,” he countered. “DOOM VFR is simply different than DOOM. You aren’t the DOOM Slayer, you can’t move the same way, double jump, etc. Still, we wanted to capture the visceral and aggressive nature of DOOM in a way that made sense for VR. The benefits of that are that you get a VR game that truly feels like a game rather than just an experience. Being able to slow time with teleportation, transfer your consciousness into UAC robots to solve puzzles, and shooting demons with all the ridiculous guns feels pretty badass. You get to look up (literally) at 8-foot tall Revenant demons.”

What about the controls, though, Why change ’em so much? “In the case of DOOM, that game was just too fast and aggressive. It doesn’t translate to VR. You can’t run around that fast and double jump and not throw up. It doesn’t work.” He’s adamant, though, that “teleporting feels good, and the combat is still a blast.”

For the record, though they both have teleportation as a movement option for those with sicky tummies, Skyrim and Fallout VR will also offer free movement, with full gamepad support. “All those buttons will feel very familiar to anyone who has played a non-VR version of those games,” says Hines.

For me though, the overarching question is whether these presumed VR big-hitters are happening at the right time. There are many arguments and counter-arguments about the health of the VR industry, whether the current tech is good enough or not, and whether it was ever realistic to expect these new and still somewhat experimental platforms to have found wider mainstream success by this point. If a headset had shipped with, say, Fallout VR last year, things might be a bit different. Do Bethesda believe that their gogglevision triptych could turn the ship around?

“Our focus is on doing things that we think are cool and that we’d like to play, and we think other people will too,” says Hines. “We aren’t really focused on steering ships or guiding the industry. The cooler the games, the more of them there are, the better the experience you have on that platform, the more people will want to play on those platforms. It’s not rocket science.”

Nonetheless, he feels Bethesda’s VR RPGs are a bit of a landmark. “With Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 VR, nobody is doing a game that offers hundreds of hours of gameplay; entire AAA open-world games with so much content. So it gives folks a chance to play something they’re probably familiar with, or at least heard of, and see how VR can really change and evolve the experience of playing those games.”

Doom, meanwhile, may be a separate fork of the base game rather than a straight adaptation, and I may personally have found the teleportation-based movement unsatisfying, but there’s no denying that it’s a technical tour de force for VR. So far it’s a technology that’s often (and not always fairly) been associated with reduced graphical wow compared to non-goggle games. Doom looked like Doom to me, not some cut-off-at-the-knees version – though given the fact they’ve also got that game running well and looking good on the Switch, there must be a few magicians on staff these days.

Question is, can we expect to see them work similiar juju on taking other Bethesda games to VR – looking at you, Dishonored, Prey and Evil Within – or does that hinge on Skyrim, Fallout and Doom VR doing well enough in an uncertain market?

Unsurprisingly, cards are kept close to chests here, but Hines does let on that “It’s something all of our studios are looking at and talking about as far as projects they’d like to do.” The focus for now, however, is on “what’s coming out this year as opposed to some point down the road.”

Doom VFR is due for release on Dec 1 and Fallout 4 VR is due Dec 12. Skyrim VR is currently only due for release on PSVR, though rumour has it that it’ll come to PC later. If you can’t wait until then, find something nifty to tide you over from our round-up of the best VR games for PC.

44 Comments

  1. MrLoque says:

    I have a bad feeling about VR. I bet it will end like 3D movies. Cool, fun, etc. But it will eventually fade away. I’ve tested it a couple of times between 2015 and 2017 (stores, workshops, friends) and while I can say it is cool indeed… I can’t see myself “using” it more than a few hours here and there.

    • Scraphound says:

      Until a VR game can give me the full range of motion I get from my keyboard and mouse, and until VR games evolve beyond awkwardly manipulating objects with disembodied hands, it’s little more than an overpriced novelty.

      I have a feeling the bottom is going to drop out of VR–again.

      • geldonyetich says:

        Personally, I find the fidelity with my Touch controllers to be quite good, equally on par with a mouse. Maybe your sensors are encountering interference.

        As for keyboards… well, lets face it, a keyboard is really something you need tactile feedback to use well, and trying to type with a touch controller is like typing on air.

        But lets say we have applications that replace the need for a keyboard with good voice recognition. What then?

        I guess what I’m trying to assert is that the bottom need not fall out of VR. The hardware is only going to get more accessible and, as an accessory, you would be hard pressed to find one that can give your computer as much capability as making polygons as big as life.

      • LordTacoSupreme says:

        I get more of range of motion with my touch controllers.

    • milligna says:

      A hot take direct from 2012.

    • Xzi says:

      Nope, nothing like 3D movies. VR has been under-performing for sales expectations, but that’s only because it’s a fantastic product on the high-end. The controllers and the HMDs continue improving, and there are tons of fantastic games already (I own ~80 on Steam). IMO the issue is that demos and budgets are limited, of course. Not enough people get to experience Vive, Pimax’s new dual 4K panel HMD, or full 360 1:1 motion tracking.

      Superhot VR and Rez Infinite VR blow my mind every time I load them still. Steam’s own VR UI has been upgraded considerably since launch, and it’s very customizable. The in-HMD analog clock on the wall matches real-world time, tons of cool little details like that.

    • LordTacoSupreme says:

      but a large portion of movie ticket sales are for 3D showings. VR and 3d tech isn’t going anywhere its a definite part of our future. You sound like the old man saying kids these days.

    • LordTacoSupreme says:

      MObile VR doesn’t count PSVR isn’t bad but Vive and Oculus are a lot better.

  2. Menthalion says:

    If the free first person movement nut can’t be cracked, VR will mainly stay a novelty. The only exception might be a market as big as trackIR use in simulations.

    • Faldrath says:

      Yeah, I’m fairly sure that VR will be the unavoidable way forward for two genres: racing and flight sims. Less nausea issues, relatively standard and easy to memorize controls, and an undoubtedly improved experience compared to non-VR.

      For the rest, though? Unless something changes dramatically, I don’t see VR becoming a big mainstream deal.

      • grimdanfango says:

        I think VR would do just fine, if people would stop expecting that it needs to go mainstream immediately, or die. There are other paths… and to be honest, rushing to be the “next big thing” seems to me to be about the best way to ensure it crashes and burns. So many people are waiting for “VR’s first killer app”, and completely missing the point.

        Would video gaming as a medium ever have gotten off the ground if back in 1980, everyone had decreed “If they can’t manage big-budget 3D games right NOW, then it’s a pointless gimmick and we shouldn’t bother”. Luckily nobody had anything to make baseless comparisons to at that point.

        VR will thrive as a highly experimental niche, not by suddenly taking the mass-market by storm. That’s pretty much the best way to stifle progress, not encourage it.

        • Premium User Badge

          alison says:

          Well, to be fair, 1980 saw the release of Pac-Man, which is one of the most successful games of all time. Space Invaders had already been out a couple years and was immensely popular. I was but a bairn at the time, but i don’t think that many people were still thinking computer games were just a gimmick.

          Don’t get me wrong, i would love to be able to jack into the matrix like all the books i read growing up had me hoping i would be able to do, but after 20 years of hype it still hasn’t happened. Much like video phones, now that the technology exists it turns out to be far less convenient than we expected. I have no doubt VR tech will keep improving, but like the parent commenters i tend to think it’s unlikely to ever see the ubiquitous usage we thought (or hoped) it would.

          • grimdanfango says:

            That’s rather my point – most people seem to regard it as an all-or-nothing technology… either it takes the world by storm overnight, or it’s useless and not worth bothering with.

            The reality is, it’ll likely (and hopefully) remain an experimental niche for quite some years yet, and it will be better for it. If it happened to be successful in being the next world-conquering fad… it’d disappear just as quickly. How many news outlets are still talking about Pokemon Go? :-)

            As a niche technology, it will gradually build up a basic design language, and over time will become ever more impressive – just the way PCs have.

    • Stevostin says:

      Same here. Apparently Skyrim & F4 will be playable with standard move. My only try at this (in a museum, a nice app to visit Lascaux cavern in VR) showed me immediately the motion sickness thing so I don’t know if they really can do it significantly better, or if one can get used to it. If after a few hours of unhappy camping in VR your brain rewire and you get used to it, that will be worth the effort. After all WSAD and mouse did require some effort to some, and many ppl just can’t even play regular FPS without motion sickness.

      Also, they need a simpler setup for the VR stuff.

      • Premium User Badge

        Severn2j says:

        You can get used to the nausea, to a point.. Games like Adrift (where you are floating in space) still make me green, but I handle “walking” movement as opposed to teleporting without issues now.

    • dragonfliet says:

      The worst thing is: games like Onward already have essentially solved the free first person movement issue, and games like Lone Echo have solved it in a different, more unique, way.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I get the feeling they’re crow-barring their existing properties into VR skinsuits mainly as ammunition for their ongoing lawsuit: “See! We can do VR without Carmack! He wasn’t our only guy working on VR! Our lawsuit really does have solid foundations! HONEST!”

    If they really were that interested in developing for VR, they’d realise that most VR consumers don’t want hundred hour experiences; VR in its current state is far too uncomfortable to use for extended periods of time and lends itself more to briefer, more focused experiences.

    • Turkey says:

      I think they’re just trying to profit off of early VR adopters who are desperate for anything AAA at this point.

      • Mordaedil says:

        If you adopted early into VR expecting AAA titles, you must have been a dumbass. Even the studios making games for them said that wasn’t going to happen. I went into VR for the tech demos mostly, and to see what kind of potential for new gameplay could be found in it.

        Surprise! I found it! In the demo for “Budget Cuts”. If only they’d release a full game already shit would be swell. Expecting anything past that is a big pipe dream of disappointment.

        • Stevostin says:

          … or you simply paid attention to Bethesda announcing very early that they’d be porting Skyrim and F4 to VR, which is happening now, and be totally right, while ppl not expecting AAA title despite explicit announcement proving it wrong being, predictably, entirely wrong :P

    • Chaz says:

      Yeah, I seem to remember not so long ago, them saying that they had no interest in developing for VR. Cue the Carmack lawsuit and a sudden change of heart re VR, especially when said lawsuit has the potential to make them millions.

    • Stevostin says:

      Or… maybe… Big publishers don’t care about actual VR user base, which is not remotely a market but instead care about potential VR user base, ie the one who’s waiting for “real” games to come to VR.

      Or in short, they don’t care about you, they care about me. Sorry bro :)

  4. Kefren says:

    I only get nausea from rotating with a thumbstick. Moving forwards is fine. Turning my body is fine. Games that let me physically turn my body then use forwards are okay, so I don’t know why this hasn’t become standard. And yes, I walk on the spot sometimes. My body then feels like it is walking. Exercise too, compared to being sat in a chair for hours.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I find that roomscale + thumbstick moving forward and back, as well as reorienting when I get to the edge of the playspace works very, very well. I played through all of Doom 3 that way with no issues, and I’m very much looking forward to playing Half-Life 2 that way.

      I also walk in place when I move. It looks stupid, but it entirely eliminated what little motion sickness I was getting.

    • Stevostin says:

      How do you strafe ?

  5. geldonyetich says:

    Fallout is a fairly exciting prospect just because there’s not really a full-fledged open-world narrative RPG on VR yet.

    However, I won’t be getting a Vive for awhile, so I’m pretty much reliant on fanworks that unofficially port the game to the Oculus. We’ll see how it works.

  6. Songbearer says:

    It’s important to note that a lot of VR games now support analogue movement and incorporate it well into gameplay without any real sense of nausea.

    It’s something you adapt to. VR FPS Sairento even features double/triple jumping, wallrunning, sliding and backflipping as well as allowing analogue movement (with a variable, player-set top speed) and dashes – most modern VR games benefit greatly from giving players every movement option they can as long as it fits into the gameplay.

    I think a lot of people are under the impression that teleporting is still the preferred way to play VR games and that’s just not the case for people who spend more time in it than a casual glance.

  7. Vandelay says:

    I saw a video on YouTube of someone who also played Doom VR and came away with a much more positive opinion of it, particularly the movement system. It actually sounded quite different to how it was described here, with teleporting being for reaching higher platforms whilst regular movement was some kind of hybrid between analogue and teleporting, kind of like a dash. Here is the link, relevant movement bit starts around 4 minutes link to youtu.be

    His impressions on Skyrim were less impressed though. I’ve not tried PSVR, but it sounds as if it really isn’t up to much (this YouTuber also contradicts Alec here by saying it is teleport based in Skyrim. Fallout is analogue though.)

    I would be interested in seeing some actual stats on nausea related to VR. Personally, I’ve had only a couple of experiences were I have had motion sickness; once from Albino Lullaby (notoriously bad implementation and just bolted together from the 2D version,) and from Doom 3 when I didn’t skip cutscenes (a mod and only a very avoidable part of it.) Moving around in zero-g or moving a character with full analogue motion in games made for VR are fine and I haven’t seen mentions of nausea from any of the hundreds of user reviews next to these games. Mods and bodge job implementations of non-VR games do, but that is inevitable and not a sign that such things as full movement are not possible for the majority in VR.

    Are there any studies of whether it is actually an issue for any kind of significant proportion of players?

  8. noxohimoy says:

    I have ZERO interest in 3D, and graphics is already good enough. I don’t even need better graphics.

    What I want is better physics, better gameplay, and better single player campaigns.

    They are wasting the money for products that I don’t ask and don’t want to buy.

    I want Half Live 3, Valve. You adventures in 3D will take not a cent from me.

    • grimdanfango says:

      VR is not “3D”, as in stereoscopic TV gimmick.

      Something tells me you haven’t tried it… if not, I’d suggest doing so before you write it off. For one thing, if you want “better gameplay”, VR is pretty much the cutting edge of experimentation into new and interesting ways to play… and because of the added sense of physical presence, it pretty much requires developers to give more thought to improved physics simulation, as it’s very glaring when they use the same hacks conventional games often fall back on.

      The point of VR isn’t the 3D graphics (unlike most conventional AAA games), the point is that it places you inside a tangible world and lets you interact directly with it.

    • klownk says:

      “What I want is better physics, better gameplay, and better single player campaigns.”

      What you want is subjectiv, apparently. So we really don’t care.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      I have wanted virtual reality ever since playing a Virtuality multiplayer game in the Trocadero in London around 1993. The low-fi laggy NT based software was amazing then, but well before its time.

      I bought the Oculus DK1 and was amazed. I bought the DK2 and was further amazed. Due to the whole Facebook thing I then bought the Vive and was yet further amazed by the precision of the controllers. You play something as simple as the archer game in the Valve freebie and you forget you are using controllers. Everyone I have shown the tech to has also been amazed. Even non-gamers.

      But for me the most amazing experience has been Elite Dangerous*. To be honest the game is pretty dull played on a flat screen. But every time I put on my cyber goggles I am amazed at how good it is. The familiarity with my cockpit surroundings is uncanny. It feels like coming home. All it needs it better resolution, a simpler setup and wireless. All of which will be here within a few years.

      Screen = watching a game.
      Cybergoggles = being IN the game.

      * as an aside I have seen VR user complain that the UI is blurry due to the resolution. Guys, you CAN lean in to get a closer look!

  9. Moonracer says:

    My fear is that these titles will not do well and that will be used as an argument “AAA VR titles aren’t viable”. I’m a VR enthusiast. I played a ton of FO4 and Skyrim. I’ve gotten a little tired of Bethesda’s design directions. I don’t want to pay $60 to replay the vanilla version of either of those games again, despite how cool it probably is in VR. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this way.

    • grimdanfango says:

      I think AAA VR titles are entirely viable… I just don’t think shoehorning existing non-VR AAA titles into VR will work out well in the long run.

      A lot of devs are so preoccupied with how to make existing game mechanics work with VR, but the ones that will ultimately rise to the top are the ones that realise it’s a unique medium, and needs a radically different fundamental design language to work well.
      For one thing, currently nobody can walk any significant distance in VR… so all the talk about whether to allow free-movement, or emulate it with teleporting, and the endless side-picking and idiotic fighting is a huge discussion that’s absorbing attention away from the obvious – the best VR games won’t involve walking at all, and won’t for the foreseeable future. VR clearly works best when you’re interacting directly, 1:1, and not by some awkward proxy control method.

      Take a look at Lone Echo – there are devs who used their imagination and came up with something completely new, that isn’t even remotely possible outside of VR.

      I’m not saying Bethesda shouldn’t bother… there’s always room for alternatives. But Bethesda are never going to be a company to break-the-mold and deliver a unique, polished new idea, and it would be sad if *this* is the sort of stuff most people obsess over, when there’s already so much more interesting stuff happening in VR.

  10. Monggerel says:

    “VR Gaming” is a contradiction in terms. To me. Theory of mind disclaimers. Etc.
    VR seems to me like it is its own thing, and that own thing is *not* videogames.
    When I play, I don’t give two tits about immersion. I care about the game’s own space, which my brain inhabits, usually with little hesitation, and minimal concern with the graphicky side of things. “Immersion” in a “realistic world” simply does not register to me as a possible sort of experience, not even when playing something like Skyrim or Crysis or what ever have you open world pretty-em-ups. When I do stop to adore some unusual vista, like a sunrise or Amazing Chest Ahead, it is a game-break of sorts, pulling me out of the experience, not directly adding to it.
    So then I get a VR Set slapped on my face, half my sensory apparatus gets transported into another reality *and* I’m also tasked with performing game-like interactions… okay? That’s a thing? It doesn’t smell like “game” to me, but it is certainly an experience that can be had and might be enjoyable, certainly interesting. Terribly disorienting, but so is large quantities of alcohol.
    BUT IT AINT A GAME
    GOD DAMN
    HOW CAN THIS
    WHY EVEN
    WAKE UP SHEE-

  11. racccoon says:

    VR = A conspiracy to blind you all! lol

  12. ffordesoon says:

    Aren’t Skyrim and Fallout 4 still full of bugs? I don’t own a VR headset, but it seems to me that the potential for motion sickness would be tenfold in buggy games.

  13. Peppergomez says:

    Bethesda don’t have the talent required to pull this off well.

  14. aldricchang says:

    Thank you for the article, but personally I am slightly disappointed at how conservative even the renowned game developers are with VR.

    “It doesn’t translate to VR. You can’t run around that fast and double jump and not throw up. It doesn’t work.” – I respectfully disagree with what Hines is saying here.

    Our game – Sairento VR (link to store.steampowered.com) – not only allows players to do double jumps, but also triple jumps, wall runs, power slides and even back flips. We basically said “yeah ok” to people who said that it is a barf machine in the making but went ahead anyway.

    The result?

    Players say that they are amazed that they don’t barf and keep coming back for more. Sairento’s reviews speak for itself.

    In my humble opinion, if game developers are so dainty with VR, then perhaps they shouldn’t be tinkering with VR because gamers may think that is all there is to VR. We need bold VR games that go the distance to take advantage of what VR as a platform accords them.

    We are just an indie, but we want to show the world what VR gaming is all about.

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