This has been a major year for virtual reality. Sony sold more than 2 million Playstation VR units, Microsoft released their mixed reality headsets, we saw many great game releases, and much more. Though some of the biggest VR games to release this year all came from Bethesda, who ported Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout 4 to VR.
These ports, while highly anticipated, did lead to some let-down under players who were expecting AAA quality games in virtual reality. And sure, the publisher did bring their AAA games to VR and succeeded in becoming the first publisher to fully port a AAA title to VR. They will always have that. But they will also always have the negative backlash from fans on the internet immortalized too.
Now don’t get me wrong, personally, I still think it’s great that Bethesda decided to do this because it’s a healthy boost for the VR industry as a whole. However, there’s some debate as to the quality of these ports. Sure, the amount of excitement and hype people have been building up for these releases are definitely influencing the general consensus. Which makes sense of course, because these are some of the most beloved games out there and people have certain expectations from a publisher like Bethesda. Which honestly might have set them up to fail from the start.
Because VR is an entirely new platform and just like all the indie studios and other relatively major studios out there who have worked on VR games, Bethesda has had to learn how to successfully translate their games into this new medium. Which isn’t exactly an easy feat, if I’m not mistaken. So this article explains what we learned after Bethesda’s major VR releases this year.
Bethesda Can Learn a Thing or Two From Indie VR Studios
If what I’ve seen of Doom VFR, Skyrim VR, and Fallout 4 VR has taught me anything, it’s that Bethesda probably could have learned a thing or two just by keeping up with the strides indie developers have been making with VR. Because while playing these games, I got the distinct sense that the developer/publisher was still stuck in the beginning, trying to find their own path of what works in VR and how to implement it, instead of keeping tabs at what other games have shown to be true and tested. While indie developers have been making strides with VR, creating delightful games like Job Simulator and Superhot VR.
Looking at those as an example, what makes VR so great is the ability to interact with your environment. But instead of actually being able to touch and pick things up in Fallout VR or Skyrim VR, you have to work through a series of menus just like in their originals. Which brings me to my next point: because these are ports, it makes changing the object and environmental interactions to something that would work well in VR just that much harder. Because, for instance, adding hands into the game that can interact with the hundreds of objects in the game, as well as new animations, would have been extra work. But for reasons unbeknownst to us, they decided to not spend the time, money, and effort to do this. So instead, the question becomes; should games be ported into VR?
To Port or Not to Port?
This exact question has led to a lot of debate on sites like Reddit. Obviously, there’s merit to both sides of the argument and Bethesda’s ports will certainly add more fuel to the fire. So I’m going to voice my opinion on the matter too because I just love getting into internet arguments. They always show what kind and considerate beings people are.
Now with that out of the way, let’s dive in shall we? The obvious answer against porting, which Bethesda’s work on Fallout 4 VR and Skyrim VR also shows, is that the game becomes stuck in the middle of both worlds. It brings the excitement of the flatscreen game to a whole new level in VR because of the scale and immersion but falls a little flat in terms of controls and interaction. The other issue is movement of course, but I believe that if developers just work on implementing this correctly, then it shouldn’t be a big problem.
All that being said, porting a large open-world game to VR is a huge undertaking and requires a lot of work. So after playing these games, it seemed – to me at least – that Bethesda tried to cut a few corners instead of making the experience unique to VR. Which would arguably have taken a lot more time and effort.
Then there’s the argument in favor of porting. Which, I’m going to be straight-up with you here, I do support. Because we’ve also seen some impressive ports to VR like Rez Infinite, and more recently, Overkill Software’s Payday 2. Both of which work amazingly well in VR and brings that sense of immersion we all crave. Payday 2, especially does this well when considering that there’s also a lot of object and environmental interaction, controls that needed to be reworked for VR and the need to implement movement and general gameplay systems that translate well in virtual reality. Yes, Payday 2 isn’t an open-world game and can’t entirely be compared to Bethesda’s titles. But it shows that a good port is possible.
Plus porting games to VR seems like a great option at the moment. AAA games take years to make and the return on investment with VR won’t be as big at the moment since the player base isn’t as large. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds – we get the games we like in VR now, which helps the industry as a whole too, and developers don’t spend millions on a game that won’t put that type of cash back in their pockets.
The Final Verdict
I firmly believe that Bethesda porting their games is a good thing for many reasons, but mainly because it shows that AAA companies are taking an interest in the industry and this injects more confidence into the success of VR as a whole. However, I also strongly believe that people shouldn’t just look to AAA companies to deliver awesome VR content because, right now, companies like Bethesda are still learning the ropes of this new platform.
Instead, we should keep looking to indies who are paving the way until bigger titles start getting developed, which takes years. Virtual reality is exciting but its still in its infancy as a platform. It will grow through the continued support of indies and through AAA studios porting their beloved games to the platform.