Radial G places a magnetic craft on a tube that snakes around a futuristic cityscape, and the effect is remarkable. You move to the left or right as the world screams by your canopy, trying to hit the green nodes that increase your speed while avoiding the red areas that slow you down.
The demo only supports one player, but the full version of the game will offer multiplayer modes and weapons, as well as a track editor.
Radial G is the sort of reflex-testing racing game we don’t often see in the modern market, and it’s made even more remarkable due to virtual reality. The game has been built from the ground up to be played in a virtual reality headset, and I found myself splitting my attention between the track right in front of me and the great world, trying to see where I was heading next and planning my next move while I played using the Oculus Rift.
It’s the sort of experience that should make players sick, especially in virtual reality, but the game is easy on your stomach and eyes. That wasn’t an easy task.
This is what they do
The project is led by Geoff Cullen, who worked on a checklist of often-under-appreciated racing games, from Extreme-G to Revolt, Pure, and Split/Second. David Lyne is the lead developer, and he brings 20 plus years of experience working in full-flight sims and virtual reality.
"The Tammeka team has a long pedigree of working with racing games and serious, high-grade VR, so the combination of the two was a natural progression, not a random chance," Sam Watts, the game's producer, explained.
I’ve played the single-player demo a few dozen times since it was released, marveling at the simplicity of the core gameplay, the comfort level of the virtual reality, and the sense of being inside the game.
These are things players take for granted when they’re done well in virtual reality, but player comfort and level design when the pilot can look anywhere and see anything at a given time, inside a craft that’s hurtling forward at amazing speeds, doesn’t happen with a high level of design and careful planning.
It begins with the fact that you’re sitting down in the game, matching your body’s natural sitting position when playing wearing a virtual reality headset. It may seem simple, but this harmony between in-game and real-world body removes a large amount of dissonance from the jump; anyone designing a game in VR where you have to walk, or run and jump, introduces a number of challenges in keeping the player comfortable. The best experiences allow you to sit down in a cockpit or enclosure of some kind.
"The ship is placed close to the track, providing the necessary grounded feeling for VR," Watts further explained, ticking off the way the game is designed. "The track itself provides a constant medium within the world for the player to concentrate and focus on, much like a horizon but it remains in place in front and stable. The world horizon is far off meaning the player has no relative guide as to what is up or down and when things are inverted."
There is no ground plane to invert, in fact. The game takes place on a tube that flies in the sky. These things are obvious once you understand the thoughts behind them and you return to the game, but during play you just know things look and feel great as you play.
There is a green or red effect that happens on the glass of your cockpit whenever you hit a boost or the red pads that lower your speed. This places a momentary distraction in the foreground, which masks the shift in speed and allows your mind to get used to the change. The ship’s UI and all the information the player needs is shown on the ship, in a way that makes sense. There is little evidence you’re in a game, everything is incorporated into the world in a way that makes sense and feels real.
There is no ground plane to invert
They were also careful to give the player enough time to get used to being inside their world. "We give the player the control of when to start the lap so they have as much time as they want or need to adjust and acclimatise once they first get placed in the cockpit," Watts explained.
"They can look around and experience the VR depth for the first time, get used to the planes of reference and take in the game world rather than being forcing into a 3, 2, 1, greenlight and begin before they are ready to do so," he continued.
The game already has the interest of the virtual reality community, but VR Kickstarters can be tricky. There is no way to buy a commercially-available headset right now, and the next-generation Oculus Rift development kit is scheduled to start shipping later this month.
"It’s difficult to message that it works on normal monitors as well, obviously we’ve tried to include as many screenshots and as many details as possible," Watts said. "But when we say it’s a PC game that supports Oculus, everyone thinks it just supports Oculus."
Shuhei Yoshida, the president of the Worldwide Studios for Sony, was also shown the game at a recent meeting, and the team has begun discussing the possibility of a version for Project Morpheus. The demo is available now for anyone to try, with or without an Oculus Rift headset.