Resident Evil 7 will be playable in its entirety in virtual reality, using the PlayStation VR platform. The demos shown to the press at E3 made people sick. This makes sense, because creating comfortable movement in virtual reality is hard, with a long list of best practices.
Capcom decided that moving the character with the thumbstick was OK. It’s not. That makes people sick. "Controlling the camera through head-tracking and the right analog stick wound up being disorienting, and that discomfort forced me to move slowly through the game, to avoid nausea," our preview stated.
That control scheme for movement in VR is all but guaranteed to make people feel bad, but the developers don't seem to be taking responsibility for the decision.
"[Jun Takeuchi, managing corporate officer in charge of development for Resident Evil 7] said the company overestimated the ‘VR legs’ of the gaming press, or the familiarity gained by developers of the game as they become more accustomed to immersion — similar to how passengers eventually get used to a pitching ship," Bloomberg reported. "In order to refine the game, Capcom’s Resident Evil team singled out its most susceptible member and is (sorry to be) testing the game on him."
Valve’s Chet Faliszek has often been the face of the company’s VR efforts, and this tweet is helpful in this situation. To put it bluntly, the concept of VR legs is complete and utter bullshit. The design is either good and comfortable for the player, or bad and actively harmful to your sense of well-being.
Can we stop talking about "VR legs"?— Chet Faliszek (@chetfaliszek) July 8, 2016
They don't exist.
3 years in and bad VR gets me sick as ever, more so as I am accustomed to good VR.
Indie developer John Nagle, who worked on the excellent and comfortable VR titles Final Approach and Inbound, was just as blunt when he wrote about AAA developers using VR as a selling point without understanding it. "In simple terms: you're fucking it up for everybody," he stated in a recent blog post.
The entire post is worth reading, but here’s a section that describes Resident Evil 7, along with a few other big-name games that are moving into the VR space:
You have a great IP, so naturally you thought you'd just throw a VR camera in there and be done. New users ... casual users, maybe not the gung-ho early adopters that know and understand the nuances of the experience...are going to buy your game. They totally will, your plan almost certainly will work.
Except they're going to hate it. A lot. And not only are they going to hate it, given your stature as a premier content developer, they're going to assume this is as good as it gets. Thereby, like I said, fucking it up for everybody.
How much work does it take to make a comfortable and simple locomotion system in VR? A lot. More than you think. Here’s a look at how Budget Cuts, one of the best HTC Vive demos currently available, does it. It’s a bit of a long read, but you can see the amount of time and effort that goes into moving in VR. It’s not simple, nor is it something that can easily be grafted on top of an existing game.
"Your game may have different challenges to tackle, depending on what type of gameplay you’re aiming for," Budget Cuts developer Joachim Holmér wrote in the post. The important part is to ensure you don’t trigger motion sickness while keeping a critical eye on the design of the game to see how the design of your locomotion system ties into it.
Holmer also pointed out that Valve’s own The Lab program does something similar.
"[Valve has] the arc drawn while aiming the teleporter, but they skip the physical object altogether, and only use it as a natural distance limiter," he wrote.
This stuff is hard, and it takes knowledge of VR best practices, iteration and a shitload of testing. There is no shortcut. The results are often weird as well; The Lab moves you before the screen goes black, for instance.
The Lab has the smoothest blink teleport . Camera cut happens BEFORE fade to black! We tried it out, feels great. pic.twitter.com/X8jYWaeeXG— Chandana Ekanayake (@Ekanaut) July 15, 2016
It’s counter-intuitive, but The Lab has one of the most comfortable movement systems in VR. How did they get there?
@Ekanaut was one of the first things implemented so it had the most feedback/iterations. Dave just tested the hell out of it.— Chet Faliszek (@chetfaliszek) July 15, 2016
Testing. Time. Patience. Designing for VR, instead of putting it on top of an existing movement system that’s not designed for a head-mounted display.
Movement systems, and the results of all this testing, are openly discussed in the VR community. The knowledge that people gain from developing their games is often freely shared, which is another reason larger developers ignoring these lessons is so frustrating.
"Sorry, but this angers me," Nagle wrote. "Indies did the research, crafted the hardware, did the experimentation, and launched the first popular titles. And now it's a ‘thing,’ so you're casually going to dip your toe into the VR water without even availing yourself of the groundwork we've done for you? Work that could save you (and your players) a lot of literal pain and suffering? That's just stupid."
Capcom, for their part, also brought up jet lag of all things as a possible reason people were feeling ill:
"We also discovered that the physical state of the person trying VR, jet lag for example, can really influence the experience," said Takeuchi, a 25-year veteran at Capcom who has worked on the series since it debuted in 1996. "That’s something we have to anticipate and design for."
The issue isn't the press being unfamiliar with VR, and people aren't getting sick due to jet lag. This issue is the game’s movement system is ill-suited to VR. Until they fix that, and it will take more than the incremental improvements that Bloomberg piece describes, people are going to get sick.