Minority Media is the studio behind reflective indie game Papo & Yo, so it may surprise you just how far creative director Vander Caballero. is straying from that path for his next game.
For the past 10 years, he's been unable to shake the memory of the first time he tried virtual reality technology. "I got to experience it in real time with a motion capture system attached to me. That was amazing. Then the VR never picked up. The content was never picked up. It flattened," he explained.
But after the Oculus Rift Development Kit Kickstarter took off, Caballero. saw an opportunity to come back to the technology. He claims Minority Media is betting its entire future on virtual reality. "I believe this technology is going to take over. It’s going to be the platform of the century. It’s going to take television and kick it out the window."
If you’re interested in rolling the dice on virtual reality, this would seem a good time to do it. "We’re talking to a lot of investors, and I can tell you that a year ago people would think you are crazy [for getting into VR]," he said. That changed after Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus. "Right now everyone is opening the door," Caballero said.
Minority Media’s first step through that door is a game called Time Machine.
Quiet, we're scanning dinosaurs
"When I was a child I was addicted to going to the zoo," Caballero said. Time Machine brings that love to virtual reality with one rather impressive twist: You’ll be interacting with dinosaurs, not lions and tigers.
Virtual reality does many things well, including giving the player a sense of scale. In Time Machine you fly in a sort of amphibious hovercraft that allows you to zoom around the levels.
Your virtual body moves with you as you look around, thanks to the positional tracking of the Development Kit 2. It’s a neat trick, and it helps to ground you in the idea that you’re there, doing these things. You're looking for dinosaurs in a sort of hovercraft-style spaceship. I instantly felt like a kid.
We played a two-part level, in which we flew to a marker in a beautiful valley, zooming a hundred feet or so above the grass and rocks. The marker rests on fossils, and on those fossils is a portal that takes you back in time to when that valley was completely underwater. You’re hunting underwater dinosaurs.
... Or, more accurately, you're studying them. The characters in the game explain that it’s up to you to avoid making ripples in space-time by harming anything in the past, so you can’t hurt any of the creatures you’re trying to understand. You have to get close enough to scan them, using a device that allows you to stop time for a short period. This ability runs out quickly, meaning you have to get close to a swimming dinosaur, stop time, scan them and then escape before the ability runs out and they eat you.
Your scanner and flying machine will be given different abilities that mimic weaponry from a first-person shooter. Your long-range stun dart will operate like a sniper rifle. You’ll get grenades that allow you to track creatures. But you’re not killing anything, you’re trying to learn in order to return to your own time and create an accurate picture of these dinosaurs for tourist in the future.
There's a rhythm to the game play, and I spent much of my time trying to survive and stay safe rather than to hurt anything around me. It's a nice change. Caballero explained that there has to be breaks to calm down and enjoy the world between the action sequences, or players get overwhelmed.
The game is being written by Corey May of Sekretagent Productions, who you may recognize as being the lead writer on many of the Assassin’s Creed games. Caballero wouldn’t give us many details about the main story, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that at some point something goes wrong, and your interactions with the dinosaurs is likely to get a bit more scary.
The demo shown at GDC was already one of the better things I’ve seen in virtual reality. The feeling of being up close to these giant beasts wouldn’t be nearly as strong on a standard screen, and even just flying your device around the world is exciting. It felt like being a guest at a version of Jurassic Park with no glass or barriers, with all the danger that entails.
I took a few moments to ignore the marker at first to enjoy the environment and flying physics. There is a later level where you must stop time, go inside a dinosaur’s mouth to scan something, and then escape before time begins again and you’re swallowed.
We weren’t given much information on release date or platforms, since those details depend on who in the virtual reality world ships a product first and when they do it. Minority Media is also keenly aware of the power needed to run most VR games, but Caballero claimed that if your computer can run the latest Call of Duty well, it will be able to run Time Machine.
I took the headset off and was a bit out of breath. I had died a few times, and also enjoyed just being in that space, "flying" underwater around the huge beasts while the voice in my ear talked about what we would study next. I felt like Indiana Jones, but with a cool vehicle and a focus paleontology instead of archeology. That more academic approach to the game, along with the lack of guns, helped give the game a unique tone and feel.
Caballero nodded when I told him I enjoyed the world itself, and often ignored the objectives in order to spend more time relaxing within it. "It’s exploration. It’s everything. All yours senses are there," he told me.
"Just being there is cool."