I caught it. I caught the bottle, tossed from my left hand to my right, in a world separated from the dark, PAX Prime 2015 room that my actual body was standing in. My partial juggle meant nothing to The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, Cloudhead Games’ built-from-the-ground-up virtual reality, first-person adventure game, but it meant something to me.
Maybe it was the demo or maybe it was the developer who ran me through it that gave me time to adjust to Valve and HTC’s Vive headset and controllers. I twisted my hands around while holding the PC, joystick-like controllers, watched as my character’s hands twisted around the same way in the game, sans controllers. This was the beginning of my own VR revelation.
The real point of the initial part of the demo was to showcase the game’s Blink technology, or the ability to place a cursor in the environment and teleport there. You’re essentially moving a virtual, rectangular room around the environment instead of having to walk there in real life, likely running into the walls of the room. That room represents the boundaries of your place space, its borders traced with subtle lines that duplicate when you near or cross them. In effect, it was a way to quickly move through a large space without having to walk anywhere, and, minus a few hitches, I found it effective, but mostly because I wanted to move around.
It’s difficult to talk about the game when the technology is so new and fascinating. Even what I played relied on the curiosity and wonder of VR more than the game itself, which is supposedly driven by a mysterious and fantastical story about finding your lost sister. Instead, the demo was more focused on listening to my lost sister after placing her tape into a player with both hands and then holding it up to my ears to hear the audio shift from ear-to-ear. If there’s a game here, I saw very little of it.
There wasn’t a lot of context for the portion of The Gallery: Call of the Starseed–which will reportedly begin its episodic series this year, although that might change now that the Vive has been delayed to 2016–that I played. The damp, coastal area I was in did some of that for me. It was just foreboding and full of enough scattered things, like chests, beer cans, and fireworks, to suggest that something happened here and I was going to sift through what was left behind, or, at least, that’s what you would do if you weren’t in a timed demo. I was instructed through this area after picking a few things up, testing the Blink feature, and firing off some Roman candles out of my hands. There was a joy to what I was doing that conflicted with what is supposedly a darker-toned story.
It’s that friction between the exciting novelty of VR and the game that leaves me confused at what I was actually looking at. A game like Gone Home gives you the ability to pick up useless objects and interact with them to add realism and texture to the setting. Those items rarely have a substantial impact on the game’s focused story. The Gallery: Call of the Starseed demo was like only playing a segment of Gone Home where you pick things up and admire the detail and the ability to flip them around and then stopping there, unaware of most of the context. It’s cool, but what’s the point?
What’s clear is the potential VR has for tons of different types of media, be it games or something entirely different. What isn’t clear is what The Gallery: Call of the Starseed really is. I doubt it’s a highly-detailed game that’s only about holding a flashlight to light up a cave, putting tapes in tape players, loading and firing a flare gun at bells, and catching bottles with both hands. My hands-on demo was fascinating for completely separate reasons, which might have been Cloudhead Games’ point. But I want to see VR’s unique means of interaction be something more and The Gallery: Call of the Starseed failed to show that.