Editorial: VR Needs Fewer Jumping Spiders And More Respect For Its Players

by Jamie Feltham • November 24th, 2017

Farpoint, Sony’s first stab at an AAA first-person shooter for PSVR, is sold to you as the action game of your dreams. Finally, a chance to feel like you’re really in the movie, unleashing a fury of lead upon your enemies. Gear up, pull your headset over your eyes and get ready to do your best Colonial Marines impression.

Unfortunately, this is a game that takes a bit too much inspiration from Aliens, and it turns out I’m more Hudson than Vasquez.

Impulse Gear’s shooter, the first to use the PSVR Aim Controller, features spider-like alien enemies. For the most part, they’re large enough not to trigger any dormant arachnophobias, but there is one common enemy type — essentially cannon fodder — that’s just small enough to creep you out significantly. Worse yet, this foe likes to leap directly at your face, Xenomorph-style. Their very presence keeps you constantly on edge, your finger running up and down the Aim’s trigger, ready to pull at the slightest sound. Developers long to create this kind of tension in traditional gaming, but it’s quickly achieved in VR with baddies like these. Just because something like this can now be done easily, though, that doesn’t mean you should do it all the time.

What I’m talking about here goes beyond simply acting tough. This isn’t even a call for less horror games; I scare easier than most, but I still bravely fought my way through Resident Evil 7. With Farpoint, though, that’s not what I thought I was buying into, and certainly not the type of experience I was hoping for. I haven’t seen these spiders in any trailers, age rating boards only warn of ‘Violence’ and ‘Strong Language’ and they weren’t as prominently featured in my earlier demo of the game (though, admittedly, I could have paid better attention to the screenshots). While I’ve managed to find coping mechanisms that are helping me to inch my way through (though still not without a steady supply of screams), the lack of confidence and trust I now feel at every point in the game is robbing many of its more interesting moments of their intended emotions and it’s not the first time I’ve felt this in VR.

While wearing a VR headset to transport to a virtual world — even one that isn’t intended to be a horror experience — even the slightest scare can completely destroy the trust between a player and a developer. With the best of intentions, a developer is essentially taking advantage of you and your relative comfort to elicit a strong reaction. But, while a loud bang might make me jolt out of my seat in a normal game, the same scare in VR can have me momentarily but very genuinely fearing for my personal safety, which is a highly unpleasant sensation when it’s so unexpected. What reason do I have to believe I’m safe at any point in a world if its creators take the opportunity to scare me like this even once?

This is something that I believe some developers need to learn to respect. Tempting as it is to insert the odd jump scare into your otherwise straight-faced FPS, its consequences can have more profound effects in VR than they do in a movie or traditional game, and when I learn that I’m in a world ruled by a god that likes to tease and toy with me in this way, I’m instantly deterred from remaining there. For many, that will be an unintended consequence and one that they may want to consider going forward (or not, if they, of course, feel strongly about what these terrors contribute to their worlds which they are entirely at liberty to implement).

It’s telling of the unique psychology we build up when in VR worlds compared to flat worlds. If I’m in the real world and I reach out to grab something and I get an unpleasant shock, I’m not going to reach out for it again. Why, just because I’m in VR, should I continue to put myself at risk to those shocks when I don’t desire them? If I’m playing an otherwise unscary adventure game and a zombie grabs my hand as I reach out for a weapon, I’m going to have unwanted hesitations about grabbing items for the rest of the game.

And so it was with great discomfort that I pigeon-stepped through many of Farpoint’s calmer, more intricate moments. I didn’t know whether to feel enchanted or threatened by a hovering light fluttering through a darkened canyon. I was too distracted by the advent of more creepy crawlies to really care. Rather than throw myself into the game’s bigger action setpieces, I have to hug the wall with my back and find a place with a clear line of sight so as to avoid unwelcome surprises. I’m fairly sure this isn’t the way Impulse Gear wanted me to experience Farpoint, but it’s the only way I feel even remotely comfortable playing it, and even then I’ve only managed it in short bursts before I have to rip the headset off of my face, and I know I’m not alone.

Heck, even if this was the feeling Farpoint wanted to inject into me, the box should have come with a warning along the lines of “Featuring: Half-Life’s Head Crabs Really Trying To Eat Your Face Off”. If you’re just going off of trailers alone it’s frankly unfair that you might spend $75 on a game and controller only to find out you can’t bring yourself to play it.

I’ll come away from Farpoint not with the same set of gripes we laid out in our review earlier this year, but instead a gnawing frustration that I wasn’t able to experience the game to its fullest because of this one enemy type. VR scares can be compelling and memorable, but they can also work to undo everything else you’ve carefully crafted over years of development. The next time you’re making your monster closet, think about the type of world you really want to create, and the trust you build with your players.

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  • Ryan

    This is why I prefer games like XING and Call of the Starseed.

  • MowTin

    If your complaint is that it’s too scary and keeps you on edge then you’ve sold me on the game. Too bad it’s not available for the Rift. I like that VR has the ability to scare the s**t out of you.

    • ivan

      Oculus has much better games

      • MowTin

        I know but I still wish we had Skyrim VR and Resident Evil 7 VR. The PSVR exclusives make no sense because PSVR is not in direct competition with PC VR. No one who can afford and accommodate PC VR would opt for a much weaker PSVR.

        • ivan

          Resident and Skyrim VR will comte to PC next year

          Oculus Rift now costs 350 full bundle. And it provide with best quality/cost ratio. If I had both PC and PS4(and I have even PS4 Pro) I would undoubtfully buy Rift.

        • @_world1

          PSVR more convenient and portable try Towing your computer around

        • drd7of14

          Some parents feel much more comfortable letting their teenage kids using the PSVR as opposed to PC Gaming Rigs with Vive/Rift.

          Also…SONY is a games publisher. Quite a good one with dozens of game devs under their wings. That alone is a reason to get a PSVR, if not for the affordability, as you have said.

          But it’s important to not knock out the “much weaker” PSVR. It’s minorly weaker than the Rift, and a mid drop from the Vive. The main issues with the PSVR are tracking and the lack of proper analog/touchpad movement on the Move controller.

          That’s it, cause when it comes to performance, despite the specs, PSVR holds up quite well. Clearly…Raw Data *wink* *wink*…Isn’t everything.

  • iUserProfile

    Next time check out a review first. If you don’t like certain content in a game better avoid it. No need to cut the fun for other players.

  • drd7of14

    It’s an arcade Shooter in VR…This type of stuff happens all the time in those Arcade shooter games, where enemies will jump on the screen.

    The only difference is that you’re in VR. I mean, I don’t recall these specific enemies in the trailer, but I did get the exact feeling of what I was going into before playing the game myself.

    It’s not scary, it’s just frantic and fun. Shoot all the enemies, reload, doge their projectiles a little bit. So I just don’t think this should give people the wrong expectation, cause I’d argue it’s not really “scary” at all. Startling perhaps, frantic (as I said before), and even frustrating to a degree, but it’s still a video game. This is no where near as scary as scary VR games in atmosphere and tone, such as Resident Evil 7, The Brookhaven Experiment, or Here They Lie.

    Just don’t go in expecting something along those lines. This is a shooter through and through.

  • ivan

    it is tech demo for aim controller

    • Tony

      No, it’s a full fledged game with interesting characters, a compelling story and an outstanding controller that creates an incredibly immersive experience.

      • ivan

        Medicore game with 70 rating on metacritic…

        • Graham

          80 rating by the users. Have you actually played it?

          • ivan

            without aim controller, yeah

          • kool

            Then you haven’t played it!

          • Tony

            Then you haven’t played it the way it’s meant to be played.

          • ivan

            As I told. It is medicore game and benchmark for Aim controller.

        • Tony

          … And a more than respectable 8.1 user rating.

      • Graham

        Ignore Ivan – he’s a PC or nothing type

  • Graham

    Ha ha – I hated those spiders! I know where this article is coming from but for me, that adrenaline rush when the little s*ds came on screen made the whole thing more impactful. It didn’t detract from the rest of the game for me. With the Aim, it’s stiill my favourite vr experience on psvr.

  • rabs

    Well, maybe you wouldn’t like Serious Sam 3 VR then. It does have a huge variety of monsters that jump at you: spiders, sneaky space monkeys, skeletal antlers, huge bulls…
    Or better be ready for that, at least it’s advertised well enough (which was the point of the article).
    And there are good audio cues, so we know what and from where something is
    coming, even if we can be surprised around a corner for example.

    I found that I was more careful and nervous in VR than when I played flat screen version. But in a good way, became hooked to that game… finished the campaign a few days ago, and still want to come back to it (their are challenges and a good replayability anyway). Awesome game.

    • Hammerspace

      You make a good point with Serious Sam. I’d say that’s the biggest offender for exploiting advertising “You’re a badass action hero” and then
      thrusting you into an environment where sudden startles with nightmare fuel are forced into your comfort space.

      • rabs

        Well no, I thought that was *well advertised* (no surprise).
        Trailers shows frantic action and monsters jumping at your face from everywhere (usually shot at the last time). That’s also the core gameplay of the flat screen version, and all that category of arcade shooters. The player is supposed to move all the time or he’s dead, so everything is rushing at him and he get surprises around corners or when flipping switches.
        For Farpoint, it’s less obvious from my point of view (didn’t play the game).

        But yeah, in VR the sensation is different. For me it’s more visceral, makes the body release more adrenaline and may be more addicting.

  • @_world1

    You right this game is tuff asf I wish I could get into it but it’s too much shooting you never have a break sometimes I wanna explore the world I hate killing big bugs while the little chase you at the same time it’s annoying but I do love the game can’t wait till they fix it

  • C850

    You’re making some good points. I don’t know Farpoint, I have not played it. But my main reason why I bought VR was to be wow-ed. I don’t want to fight monsters, but just gasp at landscape or space and possibly do some puzzles, explore, race, fly or play an adventure game. Pretty much in a nonthreatening environment.

    The moment you are doing just that and the game “surprises” me with a scare, it’s over. At that stage I will box the game and not bother with it anymore.

  • Well, I think that their error may be that they didn’t highlight that. But having fear in VR is great, if you like the genre. VR is awesome because it fosters emotions and fear is one of them

  • Hammerspace

    I’m glad this article is exploring something I wholeheartedly agree with. Some of us have a proximity anxiety for things – even just people getting within our comfort bubble in VR can feel threatening or trigger discomfort. In a sense it can sometimes be helpful with how some games will get people close to you, focused on you, and that can help conquer social anxiety because it’s within safety.
    But so often I see that proximity being exploited for the sake of intensity, which has the opposite effect.
    I hope VR games find a way to be more informative about comfort levels beyond motion sickness.

  • Marco Dena

    To respect VR players, devs should create better AI. No more spiders or zombies.

  • It really amazes me that someone will play a game in which they are immersed in the role of defending their life on a hostile world, and then get upset because something in that game scared them. If the game had actually triggered a heart attack or had even made you piss yourself, I might sympathize, but it didn’t.

    [this post was edited to the nth degree to tame down my initial anger]

    If you have a problem with a game being too intense, stop playing that game. But don’t tell us or the developers that it shouldn’t be published just because you’re too much of a coward to handle the game as it was designed. That’s on you, not them, so don’t put it on us.

  • Filmgeek47

    I have to agree with this article. It’s one thing if a game is marketed as a fear fest, like Arizona Sunshine, or traditional games like F.E.A.R. Not personally my thing, but I respect that lots of people are looking for that.

    I don’t have PSVR, but I’ve had a similar experience playing Arktika 1. Fun game, but some of the jump scares have stayed with me FAR longer than they would in a traditional game, to the point where they’ve affected how fun it was to play overall. Devs need to keep in mind that the psychology of playing in VR is very different, and that can work for them or against them.