One goal I had this weekend at PAX East was to make my wife jealous by playing her most anticipated game this year—Vacation Simulator. She is a huge fan of Owlchemy Lab’s Job Simulator and begged me for months to buy it on PSVR. She’d just play the demo on the PSVR demo disc until I finally snagged it during a sale. She played it for well over an hour on the first day, which is a big commitment for both VR and her.
I got to complete that goal thanks to the Oculus booth and the fine folks at Owlchemy Labs. As someone who as played my fair share of VR, I was not prepared for just how wonderfully immersive Vacation Simulator was. It wasn’t just because of the shiny, new Oculus Rift S headset I was playing on. Vacation Simulator is shaping up to be one of the most immersive VR games ever. Owlchemy Labs has kept the goofy robot futuristic humor, but given players unparalleled choice in a way I’ve never experienced in VR.
It all started with the way you interact with the robots. Rather than the NPCs just floating up to you and talking, you initiate a conversation by waving. It’s a simple, human gesture that feels warm and inviting to use as a means of interaction, even with robots. You can now walk around environments, instead of being stuck behind a counter. This makes areas feel fuller as well as larger. Activities are strewn about the different vacation spots for you to explore.
My demo took place in the forest vacation area. There was a tree house with an easel and canvas for painting, a tent with a waffle maker bar, a fire pit for making s’mores and hot dogs, plus more that I didn’t even get to. These different activity stations encourage intermingling as well. At the campfire, a bot was telling a spooky story, but his “vocal cords” were sore and he needed a hot drink to sooth them. I figured going to the convenience store to buy a soda and then heating it up over the fire would be a good idea. I walked back (Vacation Simulator implements the “teleport to move” mechanic in some VR games) to the shop, bought a soda with a wooden chip, and took it back to the thirsty robot by stuffing it in the new backpack you have. I found out after my demo I could have gone into the waffle bar and taken a hot sauce bottle and given it to the robot too, since it’s “hot drink.”
This leans into the “yes” mentality Owlchemy Labs seems to have taken when designing the game. They clearly want it to work the way you think it should and give you plenty of options and paths to make certain tasks happen. It felt like a creativity sandbox.
The biggest immersive quality I found was the inclusion of a custom avatar and the camera you always have. Earlier this month Owlchemy Labs revealed the avatar creation suite, which struck me as an odd element to add to a VR game. Why have an avatar if you rarely see it?
While I wasn’t able to create my own for the purposes of this demo, the appeal of a custom avatar became immediately apparent once I busted out my virtual camera. The ability to take selfies immediately placed me right in the world in a way no VR game had before. The closest was in Batman Arkham VR when you put on the cowl and you see Batman. That’s a cool feeling on in its own right, but seeing what could be a representation of myself was exciting.
Before diving into my demo, I spoke with Andrew Eiche, one of the developers working at Owlchemy Labs. He showed me a snapshot of the hair color selection wheel along. It looked like a color select wheel in Photoshop with an impressive amount of colors. Hairstyles alone are around 100 different styles. The studio posted a blog article detailing the avatar creator rather in-depth.
It sounds silly to point out that one of the key goals in VR games is immersion. Vacation Simulator succeeds where no other game I’ve played in VR has. It went beyond feeling like Batman or Neo or a fighter pilot. I was in the game. I solved the problems my way, I wore what I wanted to, and I vacationed how I wanted to. That was a delightful revelation and I cannot wait to go on vacation on April 9 for PC and this summer on June 18 with my own PSVR.
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