SuperHot

April 10, 2017

Developed by: SUPERHOT team, assisted by Oculus
Release: December 2016
Platform: Oculus Rift, adapted from PC

 

SUPERHOT is a fighting game where time only moves as fast as you do. Each level places you in an untextured 3D environment and pits you against one or more low-poly red humanoid enemies which you must kill to progress. There are a wide array of weapons in the game which can be used by both the player and the enemies. The catch is that when you don't move, all the enemies, glass shards, thrown objects, and so on stop moving as well. Bullets crawl slowly through the air. When you move slowly, so does the environment. This innovative mechanic turns what would otherwise be a frantic frustrating brawl into a satisfying well-choreographed fight scene where the player alternates between action and planning.

 

All this is wrapped in a vague meta-narrative where the action takes place inside a VR world; after some levels, the protagonist will take off their headset and the player will find themselves in a much more realistically-rendered environment akin to the Oculus intro demo, where they will have to change a floppy disc to access more levels. This adds a level of immersion to the game by providing an intuitive reason for the low-poly untextured world in which the action takes place.

SUPERHOT was originally a non-VR game, but the VR adaptation was impeccable due to the combined efforts of the SUPERHOT and Oculus teams. The core concept lends itself well to VR, as the core mechanics (moving, aiming, shooting, throwing, punching) are all things that can be directly physically emulated with touch controllers. Entirely new levels were constructed for VR such that the player would not have to move more than a few feet in any direction, and the timing and position of enemies did not guide the player to turn around repeatedly in the same direction in a way that would be hampered by the headset cable. My one complaint was the way throwing things was handled: as I let go of a thrown object, the motion of my throwing hand would stop and so would time. This meant that thrown objects would hang in midair immediately after being thrown, which was a jarring and unsatisfying phenomenon. To fix this, I would treat it similarly to the firing of a gun: even if the player is not moving when firing, time starts running at full speed when you pull the trigger and transitions to a stop over the course of a second. This would make thrown objects stop as though they were being thrown into a viscous fluid, not as though they had immediately hit a wall after leaving my hand.

 

The UI was also well-ported from the PC version. Rather than virtual buttons, the minimal controls (progress to the next level, load new levels) are presented as objects that the user must grab to activate. All text appeared in large fonts at least a meter away, so I didn't have to refocus my eyes on it. When the UI had audio, it seemed to come from the appropriate place in the virtual world.

 

The takeaway from this overwhelmingly positive experience is that the ideal VR game makes full use of the affordances of the system - in this case, the motion-tracking ability of the Oculus headset and touch controllers - and provides a world that encourages interactions that are able to match the player's natural expectations.

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