clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Virtual Reality Is a Bubble -- No, Not That Type of Bubble

"If you’ve come to VR because you just want to imitate the games you’ve been playing for the last 20 goddamn years, get the hell out of here."

Shutterstock / Patrick Foto

The stuff that makes virtual reality video games different from other types of games must be protected at all costs.

That’s the word from Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell, a longtime VR game designer and academic who spoke today at Facebook’s virtual reality developer conference, Oculus Connect. He stressed that game makers will have to give up a lot of the techniques to which they’ve become accustomed.

“If you’ve come to VR because you just want to imitate the games you’ve been playing for the last 20 goddamn years, get the hell out of here,” Schell said.

The secret sauce of virtual reality is presence, the feeling of being in another place. Doing it well means tricking the brain’s normal defenses, and Schell likened it to a “fragile soap bubble” because the things that might “pop” presence are everywhere.

For example, you might play Call of Duty today while lying down on the couch. Schell said that’s a no-go, because the brain will know that the video game character who is running and shooting is not you. Pop, no more presence. Bad VR.

At the same time, he added, this doesn’t mean everything needs to be realistic. In fact, he attributed some of the popularity of Schell Games’ first virtual reality title, I Expect You to Die, to its comedic and cartoony tone.

The game’s premise of an incompetent secret agent trying to escape from an overly elaborate trap stemmed from an internal debate at the games company. An earlier attempt, a puzzle game that saw players teleporting from place to place, didn’t feel right. The goal, one person at the company argued, should be to feel like a superhero, and teleporting didn’t accomplish that.

“We said, ‘What kind of superhero gets tied to a freakin’ chair?'” Schell said. “And then we were like, ‘That happens all the time!‘”

I Expect You to Die cleaned up at the Proto Awards, an awards show for VR developers, on Tuesday night, taking home trophies for best interaction design, best gameplay and — the biggest award — best overall experience. An incomplete version of the game is available to download for developers who own Oculus Rift prototypes.

“We have an unfinished game on an unreleased platform winning major awards,” Schell said. “One day, we hope it’ll make some money.”

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.