Oculus Games: VR Karts
VR Karts is a forthcoming virtual reality title brought to us by Viewpoint games. I recently had a chance to catch up with some of the team behind the game to see what it’s about, and I found VR Karts to be rather nostalgic.
VR Karts has a ‘cartoony’ art direction that gives quite a healthy nod to the classic Super-Nintendo title Super Mario Kart. You may wonder how this style comes across in virtual reality; I think it translates well. The scaling in the game feels good, even given the stylised environment, so you soon buy into the VR Karts world.
I entered the VR Karts world via the title screen, after taking a quick look at the control set up I was ushered toward the games tutorial to see them in action. Right trigger makes the Kart accelerate, and Left trigger brings you to a halt, as you would expect from racing game mapped to an Xbox controller.
The Viewpoint Games developers, consisting of 4 people in total, also added an aiming system that utilises the extra input control available in VR. Holding the ‘A’ button brings up a crosshair in the center of the screen that you aim by facing your gaze toward your opponent, I found this to be an intuitive way of locking on to a target. Holding the ‘B’ button on the controller allows you to power on your boost juice (I have no idea why I just called it that), giving you a speed boost to catch up to your opponents, that’s if you have any in the tank of course!
The developers at Viewpoint decided to build the GUI into the dashboard of the Kart to maintain the immersion factor of the game, which is a tidy way to embed the meters and feedback displays into the world. The developers from Viewpoint explained that this was done to avoid having displays attached to your head as you look around the environment, which is a bit of a taboo in VR game design.
The most notable thing for me about the Kart was the wing mirrors. Wing mirrors in traditional 2d racing games are usually pretty obsolete, even in Hyper-Real approaches like Forza. In VR, however, they come into their own. Mainly because your ark of sight is limited to how much you can physically twist your body while still maintaining a steady course – much like driving in the real world. On that note, the bountifully sized wing mirrors on your VR Kart help to give you a great spacial awareness, which you can access at any point with a quick glance, or in the background of your peripheral vision.
Lets talk about Guns.
There is a variety of weapons available, to get your hands on them you need to aim your Kart into the drops found throughout the track. There are two types of drops available, one of them regenerates your boost bar, the other gives you random weapons. The latter of which displayed as a spinning crosshair (shown below).
Weapon drops consist of Landmines, Homing missiles, a cool weapon that inverts the other players controls – creating hilarious moments where you go flying into the barriers and crashing you off of the course – and my personal favourite, the Bee Hive! The Bee Hive is a fun use of VR. You can use the aiming mechanics to fire a Bee Hive at other players, if you get a lock on your target, the Hive will plonk itself on the target’s head, giving them limited view, best described as tunnel vision. The only way to shake the Hive off of your head, is precisely that, by shaking your head rapidly from left to right. So make sure you have your headset on tight! Otherwise, you end flapping around frantically trying to shake it off, as I found out when I got stung by the Hive!
All of the projectile weapons in VR Karts will home in on their targets if fired when the crosshair is locked on, so listen out for the audio queue’s and remember to chuck your shield on at this point if you have one.
There is also some customization options that allow you to personalise your Kart, including a variety of colours, helmets and a selection of horns that you can sound off to let players know your coming.
Players can currently race in two playable modes, single player and multiplayer mode. In single player mode players can compete in a variety of cups against a roster of AI opponents. Multiplayer allows up to 8 players to compete against each other across VR Kart’s circuits. I had a chance to play a few ‘one on one’ matches against Technical Director, Neil Campbell. I found myself smashed into the wall on some occasions, as barrages of projectiles fired towards me. So I can imagine that it will be an even more exciting and fast pace race to be in once you have a lobby full of players.
One of the thing’s that sprung to mind when playing VR Karts was a memory of battle mode in Super-Mario Karts. I asked the developers if they had ever toyed with anything like this and Design Director, Neil Wigfield smiled and said that they could have something up our sleeves for that one, so it could be something we see in future updates.
At the moment, VRKarts doesn’t support other gaming peripherals such as steering wheels. However, Neil Wigfield explained that they plan to support others at a later date. He expanded by explaining that they just wanted to get the core controls in and functioning smoothly first.
The team at Viewpoint Games wanted to put an emphasis on the multiplayer aspects, bringing focus to the social elements that a game like this brings. VR Karts is fun and playful by nature, so I can see it being a great game for getting together with a few friends and playing against others online.
It’s also a very comfortable experience, it rendered smoothly through the Oculus Rift CV1 displays, with no noticeable latency throughout. I asked if the team at Viewpoint took any different approaches when building a game from the ground up for VR and one of the most significant points, mentioned by Neil Wigfield, was that the tracks used fewer ascending and descending parts in the design.
While down at the London venue, I also had a chance to play the sister game to VR Karts. VR Karts: Sprint. The sister title is ported to Samsung Gear VR and plays very similarly to its brother. However, it did lack the defined clarity of its Oculus counterpart.
I tested VR Karts: Sprint, using the GearVR controller – purchasable as an accessory to Gear VR (pictured below) – and found that the left navigation input (left stick) isn’t very well suited for racing games. It has a kind of awkward feel to it; that led to my thumb slipping off of the control, which did become a little bit jarring as it knocks your head back slightly. That’s said, the game did run a lot better then I anticipated on the Gear VR. Especially given the fact that I went straight from the super smooth Oculus version of the game.
I would recommend VR Karts to those people beginning to get into VR, or those looking for a good social game to play. VR Karts is billed as an Oculus release title and will be available for purchase at $19.99 (approx £15.00). Head over to the VR Karts website to try out the Demo. Alternatively, VR Karts is also available on Steam, currently priced at $12.99 USD.