“Swing Star” is the kind of virtual reality game Facebook probably doesn’t want to promote to the masses for the Oculus Rift because it will probably make some people sick. And from what lead developer Andrew Garrahan of New York-based Computer Lunch told me, it has. But because it breaks what could be considered some of the “cardinal rules” of VR by hurling and swinging you around at fast speeds, it’s actually one of the best VR games I’ve played so far.
Motion sickness has been an ongoing concern for Facebook, Sony and other companies hoping to please the masses with their expensive VR headsets. So while some of the games they’re promoting have explosive, kinetic experiences, they’re generally making sure a majority of the games give people a safe experience that don’t cause them to puke.
“Swing Star” is on PAX East’s exhibition floor this weekend, and Garrahan said it’s the kind of game that will be enjoyed by a subset of VR fans who aren’t as susceptible to motion sickness. Like me. On a range from “comfortable for everyone” to “comfortable for some” to “comfortable for few,” Garrahan said his game definitely falls in the latter category.
“I think all the VR headset manufacturers right now are concerned with making sure people have a very good first-time VR experience,” Garrahan said, adding that it may take a year or so before more people are open to fast-motion experiences. “The exciting thing is, we’ll see much more extreme VR experiences where they’re not so much breaking the rules, but just discovering new ways of interacting with space that no one had really thought of.”
I think it’s safe to say “Swing Star” is one of them.
In the game, you play as a boy who swings from floating object to floating object using a grappling rope that’s attached to a special hat he wears. Every time you grapple onto to one object, you use your head to swing the boy’s seemingly lifeless body around so that you can get closer to the next object. Once you do, you must use your head to look at your next point and hit the grapple button again. Fall to the ground and you lose.
It can be a very dizzying experience because the floating objects are unevenly arranged in a three-dimensional space. Most of the swings I made were pretty easy to manage, but there were times I started ramping up the boy’s acceleration to a point where he was flying around an object like a rocket ship at full blast. It was so fast that it became very difficult to aim my head at the next object, and it definitely put me at greater risk of falling to the ground.
While these were the most intense points of the game, it’s also when the game became the most fun and absurd. When I was swinging around objects at high speeds, I started saying things out loud on the exhibition floor, like “oh my god” and “I’m going too fast,” and it was clearly an amusing spectacle for anyone who saw me with a headset strapped over my eyes and a separate computer screen showing off my high-speed acrobatic feats.
After learning to deal with these fast-swinging moments, I was able to swing from object to object more confidently under situations that became progressively riskier. It felt more natural over time, almost as if I had awakened my inner spider monkey. And it was incredibly rewarding to master a control system that mostly consisted of me moving my head around.
At no point did I feel motion sickness, but others have. The game moves really fast at times, and while that may go against the conventional wisdom for developing “safe” VR experiences, “Swing Star” is a better game for taking such a risk.
Booth photo by Seth Hardy. “Swing Star” image courtesy of Computer Lunch.