With virtual reality fast approaching consumers, it was no surprise that the technology was a major focus for developers, both big and small, at GDC 2015. With an Oculus Rift development kit at booths all over the Moscone Center, managing editor Andrew Fitch and reviews and previews editor Ray Carsillo came up with a list of the best games and demos that made them feel the most immersed in these beautiful virtual worlds.
1. Back to Dinosaur Island
Dinosaurs have been the subject of many demos since virtual reality started to seem viable a few years ago. The idea of visiting a time period that no longer exists—and one that’s long been romanticized in other forms of media—is too good an opportunity to pass up to demonstrate what VR can do.
Crytek, using the latest model of their gorgeous graphics engine, allowed me to feel what it would be like to be a baby T-Rex as I played with my momma, swatted at some dragonflies, and nudged some nearby eggs in the hopes of having some brothers and sisters to soon play with. I just wish that when I looked down, I had legs of some kind! —Ray Carsillo
2. Time Machine
Minority Media’s Vander Caballero, of Papo & Yo fame, is one of the most enthusiastic, positive developers I’ve ever met. He’s a man who left the Army of Two franchise to pursue a higher purpose in the industry, and with Time Machine, I think he may have found it. Even the game’s premise showcases Caballero’s optimism. “It’s 2070, and humanity has conquered climate change,” he enthused during the demo. Instead of a dystopia, this is a more positive look at the future, where time travel isn’t used for war but for knowledge—specifically, to research dinosaurs for a museum. The demo included the expected thrills and chills of charging dinos but also clever game controls, such as slowing time to scan the creatures. —Andrew Fitch
3. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
This game was a perfect example of how virtual reality could be used more as a tool than an immersion device. A two-player only experience, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes requires one player to try to disarm a virtual bomb, while a second person with a set of instructions must listen to how the headset-wearing player describes the virtual bomb and look up how best to defuse the situation. With several levels of difficulty that add a variety of extra options—like additional wires to cut or buttons to press—this race against the clock was terrific fun, even if a successful game lasted only about four minutes. —Ray Carsillo
I saw the diving suits and thought BioShock, but this deep-sea adventure isn’t about some neo-Randian idealist rejecting the “parasites” above. Instead, this is all about creating an authentic experience in this kind of environment, complete with the deliberate movement and interaction that comes with getting stuffed inside a helmet and suit. What’s interesting is that, like a lot of VR, the game isn’t based on fantasy—it’s designed to be a realistic undersea experience that has no need for the fantastical. There’s no need to invent the horrors that lie under the ocean, in fact. What’s there in real life is intense enough, as Narcosis shows. —Andrew Fitch
One of the least-intensive VR demos we played, Nebulous is a puzzle game that relies on “gaze targeting” to advance through each stage. By looking at an object in the given space, I was able to move pieces around in order to complete the Rube Goldberg–like path that would set Dash Johnson, the story’s protagonist, free and onto the next set of obstacles.
If puzzle games don’t seem like they’d float your VR boat, however, rest assured that the game is also coming to PC, Mac, and PS4, where you can just as easily use a traditional controller to get Commander Johnson to the next wormhole. —Ray Carsillo
Honorable Mention: Thief in the Shadows LOTR Demo
Why does this incredible experience only gets an honorable mention? That’s because the Unreal 4–powered Hobbit demo from Epic and WETA Digital was an exclusive GDC 2015 experience. So, as much as we loved it, no one else will be able to see Smaug surf his sea of gold, or listen to his taunts, bellowing how he can hear panicked breathing, and smell a stench on his precious coins.
Smaug was such an intimidating character in VR that Andrew couldn’t help but cower in fear, trying to hide behind an in-game treasure chest before being roasted by the dragon—signifying both the end of the demo and of Andrew’s clean underwear. —Ray Carsillo