Virtual reality gaming is just a fledgling industry, but indie studios are already pushing the boundaries.
For the first time at the PAX Australia conference in Melbourne, the indie "PAX Rising" section of the convention floor was filled with people boxing, fighting dinosaurs and solving puzzles in game demonstrations that no one else could see.
While there we many to choose from, here are five of the best Mashable spotted, as well as insights from the developers on their baby industry and the challenges of building games in VR.
Created by Sydney's Blowfish Studios, Siegecraft Commander is a fortress-builder game that's been adapted for VR.
Using HTC Vive hand controllers, walls and buildings can be launched with a satisfying slingshot motion.
"We haven't done much to change Siegecraft Commander — the way it was for console and PC — to adapt it to make to work for VR," Ellen Jurik, Blowfish Studios producer and game designer, told Mashable.
IMAGE: BLOWFISH STUDIOS
Planning to release the VR game next year, the team are still working through the mechanics.
Jurik described the game's approach so far as a touch screen-style of interactivity — moving the two hand controllers to zoom the world in and out, for example.
For those developing in VR, there is still plenty left to work out. "How do we make the controls accessible for people?" she asked. "What's the best way to translate that ... when they don't have the mouse and keyboard that's traditional for realtime strategy?"
Symphony of the Machine
Symphony of the Machine made the most innovative use of VR mechanics of all the experiences at PAX.
Created by Perth-based Stirfire Studios, the game's challenge is to solve puzzles and bring rain back to a parched world. It will be available in early 2017.
Lisa Rye, creative director at Stirfire Studios, described it as a "mechanical rain dance."
Using a mirror to change the direction of a light beam, the game's motions feel quite natural — something the studio worked hard at.
"We've been playing around with cardboard and various objects to try and get our heads around how the puzzles would work in physical space," Rye explained. "One really cool thing with working with VR games is everything is about motion ... you can visualise it in the real world."
The developers also wanted to create a more meditative style of game with no time-based puzzles.
In Rye's view, many virtual reality games are intense, with zombies and sharks in cages. "Those games are amazing, but you get so worked up by them," she said. "They're not a great place to enter VR."
While the PAX demo was more about experience than actual game, Kept still charmed with painterly graphics.
Using an HTC Vive headset and controllers, the player can explore a forest environment while trying to catch a firefly in a jar.
Designed by the Sydney creative media company S1T2, it will be their first foray into video games. "We're really interested in interactive narrative and we feel like VR is a new opportunity," Jack Condon, lead developer at S1T2, told Mashable.
S1T2 is planning to release Kept episodically, with the first chapter coming out in about six months.
At PAX, he noted the divide between more puzzle-based VR and "shoot 'em up" VR.
"I think there's still a gap in the market for storytelling experiences," he suggested. "There are so many new concepts that the medium brings that we haven't had to play with before. Like presence, like immersion, even just the haptics of touch.
"We really wanted to create the feeling of catching a butterfly in your hands when you were a kid. That's something we could not do in another medium."
A Township Tale
Unlike most of PAX's VR demos, A Township Tale will be a sandbox, online multi-player game.
Created by ALTA in Sydney, the trial lets you explore a town while collecting items like a backpack and shield, as well as being able to mine stone and shoot a bow and arrow.
Boramy Unn, one of the cofounders of ALTA, told Mashable they hope to launch in 2017. In the future, players will be able to choose between roles — a blacksmith, a woodcutter or a farmer, for example — and work together to get things done.
A multi-player VR game relies on people owning the hardware, so is there enough critical mass out there?
"We're hoping by the time we release, there will be quite a huge number of headsets out there," Unn said.
He also thinks this style of game could help convince people to make the investment. "We're really hoping that as players see our game, they can see something that they could spend hours and hours in to justify them buying the headsets," Unn explained.
Primal Carnage: Onslaught
Created by Melbourne's Pub Games, Primal Carnage: Onslaught is filled with, well, dinosaur carnage.
Pick up a gun or knife and fight off various prehistoric creatures, as they try to eat you.
Chris Murphy, director of Pub Games, told Mashable the team leveraged a previous console game, Primal Carnage, to make the VR version.
"Our aim for this game was really simple: Make a really contained action loop that was short and sweet," he explained. "The kind of thing that if you were showing a friend VR, you would be able to pass between you and beat each others' scores."
The studio is going to be pushing the game out in a month's time to early access on Steam and the Oculus store, he said, so they can figure out what people enjoy and any pain points.
"VR itself is in early access," he said. "As a technology, it's only now that we're able to hit 90 frames per second and get an action title that's fully able to track as we duck under velociraptors."