There’s something magical about interacting with and talk to another person in the same VR environment. When I sit on my couch on PSN party chat talking to friends while we play games together, it doesn’t feel like we’re occupying the same digital space. Even if we’re playing the same game and are shooting enemies side by side, it never makes the jump from being pixels on a screen to an immersive world. Not really, at least.
But VR is different. If I have to physically stand up, move around, and engage with the world around me as if I were really there, it’s a whole new avenue of interaction. Put other people there, doing the same thing, and you’ve tapped into something that was little more than a science fiction fantasy for decades. Cowbots and Aliens isn’t the metaverse, and it’s not even the most feature-rich multiplayer VR environment on the market, but it is an excellent example of multiplayer done well inside of a headset.
When I first played Cowbots and Aliens at PAX West this year, the whimsical setting, tongue-in-cheek tone, and focus on silly, yet fun, multiplayer shooting was very eye-catching. But that demo was only a single game mode — 1v1 tavern shootout — making up a small chunk of an otherwise much more robust experience.
“For Early Access, when you enter the game there is a town social lobby area with up to 10 people together in the social lobby,” said Matthew Paxman, CEO and Creative Director of Wizard Games. “You can join game modes or you can hang out and goof off there, smash up the saloon, throw tomahawks, or chat and meet. From there you can join different game modes.”
Other game modes include team deathmatch style brawls, free-for-all fights, and even a variation on capture the flag about stealing gold bars. Each game mode will have a single map for now, but there are of course plans to add more maps in the future. You can see some gameplay and other details in a livestream mixed reality interview UploadVR hosted on Facebook last week, embedded below.
“When we were first coming up with the idea, the strengths that we saw in VR were twofold,” explained Paxman. “First, it gives people the ability to interact with the world around them. We wanted to create an environment that lets you interact with pretty much anything you’d expect to be able to interact with. Secondly, we want people to feel together in a space. We designed the game so that people that have a lot of space for roomscale VR can take advantage of that. There is a lot of cover to use in the game, things are tightly packed. Level design is different from something you’d see in a game like Onward that’s spread out, this is much more intimate and things are close together.”
But Paxman was clear to emphasize that even if you only have standing-room only space, you can still enjoy the game. You’re free to teleport around the world using the game’s locomotion system and you can still duck and crouch behind things.
Which, for what it’s worth, is what makes Cowbots and Aliens so special. In similar games like Hover Junkers or Dead and Buried, you’re able to use cover and shoot guns, but the environment around you is entirely static. That’s far from the case in this western-themed shootout.
While playing, you can flip over tables for cover, pick up chairs and bottles to smash over someone’s head, toss random objects at them, peek out from behind swinging saloon doors, and generally interact with the environment more than you can in most VR shooters we’ve seen. More than just existing in a world with other people, you’re affecting it as well.
This is just the beginning for Cowbots and Aliens though, as there are many more plans to expand and improve on the game going forward.
“One thing we plan to add is avatar customization, which doesn’t exist right now, it’s just random outfits,” said Paxman. “But the intention is to have a functional General Store in the town area. It will be similar to the dorm room in Rec Room, where you can grab things and try them on to choose an outfit.”
Wizard Games is currently made up of only four full-time employees. Matthew Paxman, the CEO and Creative Director quoted in this article, Jamie McDougal, the Lead Programmer, as well as Carl Bossler and Scott Douglas, both artists. Before Cowbots and Aliens, Wizard released Hoops VR, a simple arcadey basketball shooting experience. Naturally, this current project is much larger in scope.