Last week, following a GDC demo for The Gallery, I wrote about the weirdness of vertigo in Virtual Reality. A few days later, I experienced an even more intense sensation of height-fright while playing Marble Mountain.
Like most early VR experiences, The Gallery is a first-person game, Marble Mountain makes use of a third-person camera. It's a Marble Madness-style platform game in which the player rolls a ball across landscapes and through obstacles, taking care not to lose control and plunge over cliff faces.
I played it on Vive with a regular controller. Against the advice of the developers, I played standing up. The giddy sensation I had felt with The Gallery was even more pronounced during Marble Mountain. The camera swings through space in arcs that are predetermined, and which follow the Marble's moves from a variety of directions. It's these arcs of movement that really unsettle the player's sense of balance.
I was swaying like a drunk, especially during sequences when the camera is behind the Marble, careening down a steep slope. It was clear from my conversations with the developers that this is a perfectly normal reaction. You can avoid it by sitting. And yet, I didn't want to sit. The physical sense of place is a big part of what makes VR so fun.
You can get some small sense of how this works from the trailer (above) which features a few shots which take the player high above the action. If anything, the lack of detail on some of the lower parts of the crevice structures diminish the effect of vertigo. Developer Shannon Pickles said that he had cut out some details for that exact reason, smoothing the lower reaches of the world to a fog.
Marble Mountain is a launch title for Vive on April 5, and will also be available Oculus Rift as well as non-VR platforms Linux, Mac and Windows PC via Steam.