Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Tale of three VR RPGs and the quest for good UI

I've been playing a bit of a VR game called Vanishing Realms over my lunch breaks. It's a VR dungeon crawl/puzzle/RPG, and apparently the guy that made it (Kelly Bailey) broke away from Valve and started a solo indie project of his own (Indimo Labs) to make the game. He's implemented a lot of changes and updates over the years and even made an expansion to the game, which as of last night, I'm ready to download.  

I've also been playing a bit of a VR MMO named OrbusVR. As I described it to one of my co-workers the other day, "It's like they slapped a Zelda Windwaker styled Mii theme over the top of VR chat and made an MMO." I'm level 8 and climbing. 

And of course, I wrote about In Death Unchained back in April. It's firstly a procedurally generated VR Dungeon Crawl and secondly a VR Tower Defense game. In other words, the genre of "VR RPG" has been on my mind in one way or another from three games, which in reality are entirely different from each other.

Vanishing Realms has two movement modes: 1) teleport method and 2) joystick movement.  

Using Teleport to Move In Front of an NPC in OrbusVR

The teleport method is very familiar in VR games, and all three of the aforementioned RPGs all use this in one way or another.  Basically you move your joystick in a direction and the camera teleports to that spot in the VR world.  In Death Unchained is extra slick because you shoot your arrow at a spot to teleport.

Overall, joystick movement just isn't something I've seen used often, so today I tried it out in Vanishing Realms and WOW! It's super vertigo inducing. Mind you, it warns you of this when you select that option, but it took me quite some time to stop feeling a bit dizzy from it, and I'd say I have pretty good sea legs. *shakes head* It was surprising. 

Eventually it was a combination of teleporting and joystick movement that worked best.  It's kind of crazy I'd inflict that upon myself, but you just can't beat the joystick movement for when you do melee combat.

Another feature you'll find, well quite honestly in all RPGs -- VR or not -- is player inventory. Right? What's an RPG without a place to stuff your myriad of collectibles? Comparing and contrasting inventories from the three games is interesting. So far I like Vanishing Realms' way of solving RPG inventory a lot better than say how they do it in OrbusVR. In Orbus, they have a hybrid stash-on-your-person inventory mixed with a standard 2D MMO inventory UI that pops up in virtual space.

Conversely, in Vanishing Realms, if you look down at your waist, you have a number of backpack slots to select from. These slots categorize your inventory into "type." There's a bag for miscellaneous items like a torch, a pick, an apple, etc; a shield bag, for . . . um . . . a shield; a melee weapon bag; a ranged weapon bag; and a magic weapon bag.  What's interesting in this system is that swapping is a bit complex. Sometimes you actually have to stash items before you select new items.

Looking down at my waist to view the inventory in Vanishing Realms

It made me start thinking about how I'd love to find a VR game that elegantly solves the RPG inventory issue. I guess when I compare both Vanishing Realms and OrbusVR to the procedural dungeon crawl of In Death Unchained, the answer really is to keep inventory as bare and minimal as you can when it comes to VR. 

For instance, if you find a new type of arrow in In Death Unchained, you slot it invisibly into your bow where you can store 4 different types of arrows. That's it. Outside of that, there really is no inventory.  Gold is just automatically put into your backpack and there's nothing else to worry about . . . no keys or torches or anything. aka Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) philosophy. 

Four Types of Arrows, Some points, and some gold . . . that's it. KISS.

The one thing you lose with a system like that of course is that MMORPG people just like hoarding and collecting stuff, lots of it, and they want it accessible at any time in any location.

I have to say that sloppy UIs that pop up in a virtual space leave me with a bad taste in my eyes. Poor OrbusVR with its chat dialogs popping up and overlapping quest completion notices. There was a wacky, running chat box floating all the way up in the air at a hard to read angle. I don't know. It felt like if there was a case study for what NOT to do with UI in a VR game, OrbusVR would be on that list. 

Just one example of the confusing Mess of UI in OrbusVR

Now as for combat, OrbusVR had all things and everything depending on which class you played. There's a gun-slinging musketeer, a gesture based wizard class, a sword and board class, a bow class, etc. etc.  Conversely In Death Unchained is just the bow and a shield, and that's it.  It's super focused and what they do, they do well.  Vanishing Realms doesn't go quite as far in what they offer for combat (no guns), but they have sword and board, two-handed axe swinging, and a wand that, quite frankly, feels freaking amazing to use . . . until you run out of mana.

Probably the coolest thing about Vanishing Realms is that the combat doesn't feel as faked as it does in OrbusVR. You block sword swings from your enemies with your shield and they attack from a number of directions. It all feels very gladiatorial.

I did a little digging after playing this combat style, and I started reading around. Apparently if you like the gladiatorial combat in Vanishing Realms, then there's another game called Gorn that may be up your alley. It's a fighting game from the advertising, so . . . might be cool, but doesn't look like an RPG. I'll have to keep it in mind.

So, there you have it. I've been playing a few RPGs with my Quest 2 headset and having some fun with it. If you happen to have a VR RPG that you would like to recommend, please send it my way. I'd love to try it out.  (It would be cool to compare and contrast the Zenith MMO to OrbusVR.)

Happy Dueling!

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