Back in 1992, when most of the world was playing Street Fighter II or Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Tom Hall was exploring the world of virtual reality.
The game designer, who’s best known for his work on the original Doom and Commander Keen, was leading a team at id Software that assembled a VR version of Wolfenstein 3D. It was, according to Hall, “fuzzy, but fun,” and it was enough to spark an interest in the field that has spanned almost 30 years.
Now Hall is bringing that experience to Resolution Games, the VR studio behind such games as Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, Bait!, and Acron: Attack of the Squirrels!. The company announced Wednesday that it hired Hall as senior creative director.
“Virtual reality has gotten past the ‘gee-whiz’ phase that all technologies experience,” Hall told Digital Trends. “Now the real work begins – the harder work of what is this as a new medium? And how is this going to be important for telling stories and setting up interesting experiences for people that are more powerful than other forms of media?”
The strength of VR, says Hall, is in its story-telling ability. And recent advances in the technology’s hardware — such as headsets being freed of the long, heavy cord tying players to a PC or console — make it a more accessible technology.
Resolution has been one of the leading companies in virtual and augmented reality, and it’s betting on an expansion of the marketplace. CEO Tommy Palm says there are currently seven or eight games in the production pipeline (including the recently unveiled Blaston), and it recently added Mike Booth (creator of Left 4 Dead and Counter-Strike: Condition Zero) to its board of directors and to work hands-on with the company’s teams.
“This is the time to see what emotional experiences we can deliver [in VR] besides fear and vertigo,” he says. “I like games with characters. I think you can have a personal relationship with characters. [VR] is a virtually unexplored tableau with the potential for storytelling and allowing people to have experiences they could not have in any other way.”
While virtual and augmented reality are more widely accepted than they ever have been before, the platforms are still relatively small in the overall video game space. The excitement that was bubbling over in 2016, when Oculus Rift hit the market, has cooled considerably.
Oculus has gained ground, though, with the Oculus Quest, an untethered, light headset that doesn’t cause the headaches some early users complained of. And other fundamentals have improved as well.
“VR is at a tipping point,” says Hall. “There’s reasonably simple hand tracking that works. And it has left the clunky, hobbyist phase. … Now that you can move around, it’s a lot more friendly and approachable for people to weave into their gaming and business use. I think it’s a very exciting time, and VR is just going to get easier to use.”
Hall says he’ll also be working on games in progress as well as launching new projects. And he’s especially eager to open up new emotional areas for the medium.
He’s also excited about possible non-gaming use cases, such as his for father, who passed away years ago due to Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago. Hall envisions a scenario where he could have provided some comfort by recreating a room or area he was familiar with from the 1940s. The experience, he says, would have been a tremendous one for his dad.
Working on VR games is a lot different than working on something like Doom, though – or any traditional title, for that matter. The biggest difficulty, says Hall, is recognizing that the player is the director — and the developer has no control over the camera. That makes it an entirely different storytelling experience.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
“That’s difficult, but it’s also freeing because it’s a constraint that breeds creativity,” he says. “You can make special things happen. It makes you think of new experiences. … And, as a designer, it’s a great way to have lots of little sneaky secrets. You can guide the player with obvious clues, but for those who look around and explore, you can offer some good rewards.”