"Look here," the demo says. When you gaze at a dot in the middle of a screen an indicator pops into view. When you touch the two dots, a second prompt appears. "Are you sure?" You have to look a bit to the right to select it, and then the game begins.
Land's End, the latest game from Monument Valley developers Ustwo, teaches you how to play it in around 30 seconds. It's the sort of subtle design that feels simple when played, but is the result of over a year of iteration and experimentation in virtual reality.
"Developing a new vocabulary, and a new set of techniques took a lot longer than we expected, but I think it's really paid off," Peter Pashley, technical director at Ustwo Games told Polygon.
After playing the first two levels of the game, I can confirm that Land's End is one of the best uses of portable virtual reality to be shown to the public. But is there a market for it?
The state of the art
Land's End is a beautiful game, with the levels I've played taking place on and around the cliffs near a beach. You gaze at a floating white dot to move to that location, and soon find yourself moving rock formations and connecting patterns by drawing lines with your gaze to solve puzzle. There is no controller required, nor is there text explaining what's going on. The game simply shows you what you need to do, and than begins to ramp up the complexity.
Soon you find yourself floating from place to place, and the game's movement gives you enough time to look around and enjoy the environment. You play at the game's pace, which forces you to slow down and relax. If you're a fan of Monument Valley, Land's End will likely appeal to you for very similar reasons, although the fact you're now completely inside the game amplifies the effects of the graphics and sound design.
There are sections of the game where you must pick up and move large hunks of rock to repair what seem to almost be temples. If you move too quickly, you break connection with the rocks and they'll tumble away. You have to learn to move at a steady, deliberate pace to solve these puzzles. There's no rushing the game.
While Monument Valley was a hit, the team isn't looking for the same monetary rewards from Land's End; the virtual reality market is embryonic.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity really, to be able to influence the development of a new medium," the developer told Polygon. "Whether we succeeded or not will be reflected not so much in total numbers but in how many people who have a Gear VR have played the game. Or more importantly, how many people who know someone who had a Gear VR have played the game."
Land's End was designed to be a showcase for virtual reality. You don't need a controller. The game itself teaches you what to do. There are no jump scares or moments designed to give you a sense of vertigo. It's an evenly paced, enthralling game that anyone can pick up and try. I was able to show my demo build of the game to a few friends who had never tried VR over the weekend, and Land's End was one of their favorite pieces of content.
It's not about money ... yet
"Our motivations for doing this are not financial," Ustwo told us and, while that's a nice position after the success of the first game, creating something as welcoming and inventive as Land's End does bring with it some opportunities. If the virtual reality market takes off, it's developers like Ustwo who made early gambles who may find themselves with one of the first hits on the new medium.
They described most virtual reality developers as being both "speculative and hopeful." The art form will likely see a good amount of experimentation and interesting ideas in the first few years. "We want to be leaders in that innovation," Ken Wong, lead designer at Ustwo Games told Polygon.
The full game will be released on Oct. 30, only for the Gear VR.