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Thunderbird brings a series of room escape challenges to VR

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Walking around sells the experience.

You start the Game Developers Conference demo of Thunderbird standing on a cliff facing the sky. There’s a statue to your left, but you can’t interact with it. You stand there a moment, waiting for something to happen. You realize you should turn around. Then you start walking, and things begin to feel different.

I played through about 15 minutes of Thunderbird yesterday, and the base mechanics were pretty straightforward for an adventure game — grab an item, place it in a slot, rotate a lever, aim a light. The ability to walk around each room, though, sold the experience. I was hesitant about where I could go. I was excited to do something as simple as stand on a platform and see it inch forward. Being able to walk around the room gave everything an added sense of importance.

The game is essentially a series of room escape challenges connected by a story in a fantasy-looking setting. And in the GDC demo, the challenges were all easy to solve and designed to show how the game works, so it’s hard to say how they will play out as the game gets more complicated.

But as a basic idea it works very well. You just have to be careful with the wires.

Thunderbird

During one part of the demo, demonstrated on HTC Vive, players need to rotate levers on two ends of a room, so they walk back and forth multiple times in the room. Each time I did that, I felt the headset cord wrapping around my legs. After the first couple of times, I learned to step over the cord, and after another couple times I trained myself to rotate away from the cord each time I turned around. That ended up being pretty successful, though it seems like it will be difficult to absorb yourself in the game if that’s always on your mind.

"There’s not a lot we can do about it," says Tony Davidson, founder of developer Innervision Games. "People seem to — after a few minutes of play — they adapt and they become pretty conscious of the cord. A lot of people are very sort of sketchy and walk around VR with a sort of blindfoldedness, and you can tell they’re still very much aware that they might walk into a wall. So people tend to be very slow at first and they take their time, and then they sort of adapt and they learn to kind of get by. We haven’t had anybody trip out of the hundreds of people we’ve demoed with."

Davidson says he’s been experimenting with a space of about 13 feet for players who want the full-room experience, but that he’s also designing a mode with a teleportation mechanic for players to play the game without any walking. That will be the default mode for the PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift versions of the game, he says, and Vive players will have the option to choose which way they prefer to play.

Davidson is currently working on the game with his son Kai, and at this point the pair is about seven months into development. Tony says making the full game the way he envisions it will require staffing up to 10 people and working on the game for about 18 months, which he is currently trying to make happen.

In the meantime, though, he’s also considering releasing the game episodically and putting out the first episode, at about an hour in length, this summer.