Tunnel Vision is a fortnightly series about VR gaming.
In space no-one can hear you no no no do not start an article about an Alien game that way, Meer. You're better than that, dammit.
Straight to business instead: as mentioned in the last Tunnel Vision, it didn't take long for folk to work out that a simple ini tweak would reinstate Alien Isolation's missing Oculus Rift support. I say 'missing', but the reality is that it was only ever an experimental mode left in for internal and promotional mucking-about-with.
Disclaimer - a couple of friends of mine now work at The Creative Assembly, and for that reason I have not published my opinions of CA games for quite a while now. This post is purely to discuss Alien Isolation's unofficial VR support, not the game itself, but please seek alternative coverage if you are concerned.
The Oculus Rift DK2 support works. There are surprisingly few issues that concern the game's support for VR, though there are many concerning the limitations of the DK2 hardware. The Oculus and the game feel like a natural fit, and I really hope someone's able to finesse the VR support a little more.
Hell, I'm just going to do a list for this. This is what worked best:
- Leaning. Physically leaning to see what's going on - and what might be approaching you - is a hell of a thing for a stealth game, and I'm almost more excited about this aspect of wearable gaming tech than I am the supergiant 3D image side of things. Alien Isolation is a game about hiding, and hiding almost always involves trying to surreptitiously peek out of that hiding place.
- Just looking around the environment. I'm talking particularly about the earlier section of the games, before the beast makes itself known, where there's a great deal of opportunity to simply soak up what's around me. The initial ship is based heavily on the Alien's Nostromo, and it's a peculiar thrill - a sort of near-physical, sustained deja vu - to wander around something that is so familiar. It's like someone made an Alien exhibition. Then you look out through the window into space and you're not in Museum Kansas anymore, Toto.
- Legs! Alien Isolation already did legs of course, but the act of moving my head downwards and seeing my own legs - albeit in a very different position to my actual legs, is thrilling. I kept on doing it. I do the same thing in Elite: Dangerous. I really hope the VR age means more legs in games. Legs as far as the artifically-manipulated eye can see.
- Darkness. It's darkness with depth now, and that encourages so much more worrying about what might be at the end of that poorly-lit corridor.
- Face-munching. Yeah, it's pretty horrific when it seems to loom at you from a 3D rather than 2D plane. There's that sense of something massive springing towards you at speed, and then...
What didn't really work:
- The VR mod is incompatible with several of the graphics settings, so some of the prettiness - in terms of lighting, ambient occlusion and anisotropic filtering - is lost. You can turn it all back on, but it massively ramps up the shimmer and judder, and gave me a right old sore head. To be honest the DK2's image quality handicaps to some degree mask this anyway, but it seems a shame.
- There is shimmer and judder whatever, and I couldn't play for more than 20 or 30 minutes without feeling pretty ropey.
- You need to hack the FOV too for anything like a comfortable experience, but as A:I uses vertical rather than horizontal FOV there's not far you can go in this regard until the screen looks really messed up.
- Certain UI stuff - like the health metre and buttons on the computer terminals - either display incorrectly or require too much squinting to deal with on a longish-term basis.
- I've started seeing the DK2's ever-present screen door effect in my dreams. A higher resolution is needed.
However, it is playable, and not just on a 'if you really, really force yourself' basis. I reckon I could play the game through this way, if I took regular breaks/lie downs, and if it wasn't for the fact that looking after a toddler when you've got eyestrain and motion sickness is about as much fun as a theme park on a hangover, I probably would do it. As it is, it's a massive disappointment to go back to playing the game on a flat surface. It feels so damned wrong. There's a hell of a lot of distance left for VR to cover, but I cannot wait for it to be the default way I play 3D-rendered PC games.
For the record, here's what I did to get the Rift support working:
- Go to your Alien Isolation install folder, find the DATA folder, open ENGINE_SETTINGS.XML in Notepad or whatever, change/add this:
<Setting name=”Stereo Mode”>
<Quality name=”Rift” precedence=”4″/>
- Set your Oculus DK to Extended mode.
- Pause the Oculus Service.
- Put your monitor, not the Rift, as your main screen.
- Load game.
Best played with a gamepad, both because it's easier to find the right buttons and because you can hit Left Bumper + Right Bumper simulataneously to recentre the view at any point (it falls out of whack fairly often).
This is what I changed (again in the engine_settings file) to sort out the FOV. Again, you can go higher, but you'll lose the character's body.
<Setting name="Field Of View">
<Quality name="70" float="43.0" precedence="1"/>
<Quality name="75" float="47.0" precedence="2"/>
<Quality name="80" float="51.0" precedence="3"/>
<Quality name="85" float="55.0" precedence="4"/>