Opinion: Experience Points

Opinion: Experience Points
Jem Alexander

By Jem Alexander

April 20th 2017 at 11:00AM

2017 is shaping up to be one of the best years in gaming history, but there’s something on the horizon that's getting Jem Alexander even more excited than the recent slew of fantastic games

I've spent the last month talking to people in the industry about VR's ptential and its continued momentum over the next couple of years; the fruits of which can be found in our big virtual reality feature that we published last week.

As someone who bought into the concept of VR at an early stage, I’m eager to see what happens next. I played Resident Evil VII through entirely in VR and absolutely adored it. It’s the best way to play the game, as long as you can overcome both the intensely intimate fear that only the VR experience offers and any potential motion sickness. It’s also the very best virtual reality experience I’ve ever had, full stop.

But if the best VR game out there is a ‘port’ of a ‘traditional’ game, what does that say about the technology’s potential as a whole new gaming medium? It’s difficult, because this is such a stellar year for ‘traditional’ experiences, it almost feels like we don’t need VR to get us excited.

The last few years have been relatively lacklustre, when it comes to traditional games. Sequels and remasters and a distinct feeling of "I've played this before", which is fine. Nostalgia is great. We all had formative games that we’re happy to replay (and, indeed, repay). Comfort gaming is never going to go away and VR can never be a replacement for that. Although in 20 years time maybe I’ll be writing wistfully about Resident Evil VII and its recent re-release on the Holodeck 4.0.

My point is, I think, that this year’s screen-based games are doing more to reinvigorate my love of gaming than anything else in the last few years. Between Zelda, Resi VII, Mass Effect, Horizon, Persona 5, Yooka-Laylee, Nier Automata, Thimbleweed Park, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Yakuza 0 and others, 2017 is offering an embarrassment of riches. We’re three months deep and we’ve already got a strong top ten list right there. It’s frankly ludicrous and I love it.

I can’t explain my excitement around out-of-home VR, escape rooms and the possibilities of a mixture of the two 

NEW EXPERIENCES

But the conversations I’ve been having around VR are getting me excited in a whole new way about potential new experience that aren't taking place in my living room. I've been noticing a definite increase in the number of escape room games opening in London over the last year or two. It feels like every month a handful of new escape rooms open in the capital and it’s getting tricky (and expensive) to catch up with them all.

For the uninitiated the idea of an escape room is that you and your friends are physically locked in a room with a series of themed puzzles to solve which will lead to your freedom. Funnily enough, a piece of Resident Evil VII DLC, ‘Bedroom’, is a perfect example of an escape room brought into the digital realm. 

They speak to a growing (or perhaps long-dormant?) desire in people to participate in team-based experiences with real, actual friends and surely it won’t be long before this coalesces with the world of VR. Or perhaps it will be AR. The important thing is that these games require presence.

Not interacting on the same digital server, but in the same meat space. The addition of a digital layer will allow the storytelling and puzzle solving to be expanded and improved, in much the same way digital card games like Hearthstone and Hex improve on their paper versions.

I’ve discovered through the writing of this article that I can’t really explain my excitement around out-of-home VR, escape rooms and the possibilities of a mixture of the two. I’ve been banging this drum ever since GDC, when I spoke to escape room designers and VR tech providers who fanned the flames of desire in me and now it’s all I can think about. Even while I’m playing some of the very best traditional experiences I think our industry has ever seen.