Gamers Run, Jump and Swing through Virtual Reality at Showcase

Young developers took their video games outside of the box Thursday night and into the user’s mind with virtual reality at the NYC Arcade showcase in the New York University Game Center.

Local developers presented more than 120 games and interactive projects at the showcase, with virtual reality represented along with other new media. In the same way different people have different personalities, each of the virtual reality experiences was distinct.

Scott Tongue, who is completing a master’s degree in digital game design at the Post campus of Long Island University, created a game where the user controls a human character navigating around floating platforms. He calls his game “Vistics,” a combination of the words visual and tics, which refers to the frame rate of an image.

“The whole world around is trying to kill you,” Tongue said, describing the gameplay. “So the way is to look around, figure out what is going on and how to navigate that space.”

While the world sounds violent, the game takes place in a room with colorful lights pulsing around the edges. To play the game, users sit in a chair with a virtual reality headset, headphones and an Xbox controller.

After trying the game, Pace University student Jaiwatruk Vhatt said he felt like he was running.

“It’s a good way for people who don’t like running to actually run,” Vhatt said, laughing. “So you get the idea of exercise and it could help your brain feels like it’s actually doing some work.”

Jaiwatruk Vhatt navigates the "Vistics" obstacle course designed by Scott Tongue.
Jaiwatruk Vhatt navigates the “Vistics” obstacle course designed by Scott Tongue. (The Ink/Maya Earls)

After spending a year developing the game, Tongue said the most difficult part was optimizing the frame rate of the game in order to keep users from feeling motion sickness.

“You cannot drop the frame,” Tongue said. “The human eye can tell when things are starting to get too slow, and the perceived motion becomes quite a problem.”

After playing a virtual reality demo at a previous industry event, Tongue said he was completely sold on the technology, known as VR.

“VR is new and no one’s really solved it yet,” Tongue said. “I wanted to take a crack at it.”

The technology of virtual reality has been available since the 1960s when headsets designed by scientist Ivan Sutherland were large enough to be attached to a ceiling. Now, headsets such as the Oculus Rift are small enough to wrap around designated Samsung cellphones.

Another game designer, Andrew Garrahan, said he wanted to create a new genre of video games through virtual reality. Working with the studio Computer Lunch, his team’s concept, titled “Swing Star,” involves a character attaching to various objects and swinging to a bell to complete the level.

“This game is basically a virtual reality, rope-swinging simulator,” Garrahan said. “It’s a little like Spiderman in a game. Wherever you look, you can grab onto something and swing on it.”

To play the game, users wore an Oculus Rift headset. The game’s character was a boy with an extendable hand able to grab objects. To move, the user would look around, press a single button on the side of the headset and make the character grab objects and swing.

“Whenever you have a new technology, new genres of entertainment come out,” Garrahan said. “Our game is all about swinging, and we think there’s going to be a genre where you move by swinging.”

Garrahan said the biggest challenge in the six months he spent developing the game was figuring out how to move when the headset only provided one button. Through swinging, the user would only need to press the button to attach to any desired object.

In contrast, Parsons graduate Julie Huynh designed her game with as little movement as possible. Titled “Anamorphic Agency,” the game induces the feeling of sleep paralysis. The user moves only their head to turn on various lights to practice for the “big monster” causing the sleep paralysis. While playing, the user wears a suit that reacts to brain waves, inflating whenever the user is not focusing enough.

This project was the first time Huynh used virtual reality, but with a focus on not moving, she said it seemed fitting.

“It feels like a dream,” Huynh said.

Student Calvin Cheang experiences sleep paralysis through  “Anamorphic Agency.” (The Ink/Maya Earls)

For Tongue, is does not matter what a game looks like, as long as users have fun.

“A good game should feel good,” Tongue said. “If the game’s not fun, it doesn’t matter how good it looks.”