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What it feels like to headbutt a soccer ball in VR

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Part puzzle game, part reflex challenge.

Like many VR games, Headmaster starts with a simple concept. The game throws soccer balls at you, and you move your head to hit them back. It’s wrapped in a story where you visit a center for soccer players who need help, but it’s really all about the feeling of a soccer ball hitting you in the head.

There’s a nice sense of timing when the ball flies in, a satisfying suction cup sound effect when it hits you and a quick bounce when it flies away. And you don’t have to move your head to the point of discomfort — you can slowly lean in and still get a pretty accurate shot, as long as you approach it from the correct angle.

Similar to something like Portal, the game is primarily a series of challenges, with bits of story and humor snuck in around the edges. Your main goal is to aim the soccer balls at specific targets. The more difficult the targets are to hit, the more points you get for them. Then as you progress, the game throws in obstacles and twists on the concept, with an excitable employee named Carl mixed in.

“It’s not wacky,” says Frame Interactive CEO Ben Throop. “It’s more like dark humor. The guy that runs it, you never see him. ... Let’s just call him the headmaster. ... He’s kind of only half paying attention, because he’s got a lot of other stuff going on. He hired Carl to do stuff, and Carl gets a little bit excited to make the challenges for you.”

Headmaster

Carl is the center’s only employee, and isn’t allowed to talk to you, so he leaves notes behind to tell you what’s going on and add some flavor. The bulk of the game, though, lies in the challenges he creates.

In the demo version on display at GDC, this plays out initially in a realistic sense, but soon ramps up. In one challenge, you get a giant beach ball that knocks over multiple targets at once, making aiming easier. In another, you get soccer ball-shaped bombs, which you use to blow up wooden crates and clear a path. One stage puts a forklift carrying an outhouse in your way, making you aim around it to hit your targets. And in the final stage before the GDC demo fades to black, you see the outlines of a rock concert stage, hinting at something more elaborate.

The developers are also planning a multiplayer mode called the “group session” where players take turns wearing the headset and pass it around, competing for score. “It’s kind of like you’re all visiting a football improvement center together,” says Throop. “You’ve all been bad players and got sent there by your club to improve.”

Frame is planning Headmaster as a PlayStation VR launch title to ship in October, exclusive to Sony’s headset because Sony funded the game.