I shoot. They shoot back. I stop, and a bullet suddenly just hangs in the air before me. I decide to run to the right, for a better angle on my opponent in this gunfight. I start to run, and the world springs back to life, that bullet now missing me and my enemy lined up in my sights.
When it was released on Steam in February, Superhot garnered attention for its unique premise: a first-person shooter where the world only moves when you do. It brought a degree of strategy and planning to the action genre — and some very tense moments. But even before the launch, Team Superhot began working on a version for virtual reality. There were demos of Superhot running on Oculus Rift with an Oculus Touch prototype in 2014.
“It’s absolutely critical for Oculus Touch to be there. Using VR with a controller or a keyboard is not doing it justice. You can’t involve yourself totally because you still feel that you are holding something. I was playing Edge of Nowhere and I had this feeling that I wasn’t this guy. I’m just controlling a puppet. I couldn’t feel terrified or involved because I’m just looking at a borderless screen. It’s not the experience I want from VR,” said Superhot game designer Cesary Skorupka.
With the demo shown so long ago and the PC version launching over six months ago, fans have wondered what happened with the VR version.
Obviously, the developers need to wait for the release of Oculus Touch, coming in the last quarter of this year, before they can release a game that uses it. But the larger issue is that Superhot VR isn’t just a straight port of the original game.
Skorupka said, “We are doing every level from scratch. Every level will be a new level. You can see glimpses of our style and of locations we used previously. We still don’t want to make it a totally different game. If you played Superhot, you will see things that are similar, but you won’t see any level that looks the same and plays the same.”
Anyone who has played a first-person game in VR knows it’s quite a different experience than playing from that POV on a monitor. With Superhot, that actual movement is integral to the gameplay. You have to carefully stop walking forward or turning so you can assess how the enemy layout in the gunfight has changed.
It is one thing to just halt your hands on the keyboard or your controller. It is quite another to try to keep your entire body still, your arms pointing forward with a virtual gun in your hand, unshaking.
“Time moves only when you physically move and when people first try the game, most of them feel really stressed. You’ve got these towering red statue things that want to kill you. So you are nervous and you move a lot. You want to grab something and hit them. And then you die,” said Skorupka. “You have to calm yourself. Then and only then will you succeed. It’s like this Kung Fu Zen experience. Then you look at people who start playing as little moves as possible, and it looks like they are doing Yoga or Meditation.”
When played in VR, Superhot does make you feel superhuman. I am walking forward, but I suddenly stop and punch the crystalline enemy before me. I pause, spotting his discarded weapon flying up in the air. I catch it. I stop once more and see a bullet just inches from my chest.
I take a breath with the world completely still around me, and then I quickly sidestep, the bullet just missing me as it continues on its path. The tense flow of the game is even more gripping when you are actually moving yourself, and not just nudging an analog stick.
The controls of the game require adjusting for VR. Like other FPS games, you control the camera with your gaze. Like other motion control games, you aim your weapon with your actual hands. Moving and dodging in place with your actual body is a big part of the moment by moment gameplay of Superhot, but what about traversing levels, such as the early subway station level?
Many first-person VR games are using an instant teleport or a sudden rush mechanic, ala The Gallery or The Assembly, and Superhot is no different. But Skorupka promised that it wouldn’t be quite as you expect.
“We are exploring some things with teleportation, but not in the way that others games are doing it. We’ve discovered it plays into the theme of Superhot. Rapid change of scenery adds to the feeling of being thrown into an action sequence and then you just resolve the conflict. Bam, bam, bam — and then you are somewhere else. This is something we wanted to do in the original Superhot. We tried again and again, and in the end it didn’t play well. Here, we got better tools. I don’t want to spoil it.”
Part of the conceit of Superhot is that you’re a guy on his computer, interacting with a DOS-like operating system and then logging into a computer game. The result is the simple, colorful style of the game within a game. But that flat DOS menu interface would not work within the three-dimensionality of VR. Or would it?
Skorupka would not reveal all the details, but said it would be something like you are at an actual desk and rather than selecting “Launch Superhot” from the DOS menu, you would physically grab a diskette and put it into the computer to start up the “game.” The trailer for Superhot VR shows a realistically rendered room covered in old computers, which is the likely location for these interactions.
And what about the larger “meta-ness” of the game? You are a person who pirates a game from a company’s server, with these strange glass graphics, get into chats about it with your friend, and interact with your computer in the fore-mentioned menu. The developers are figuring out how to be meta in VR, but that brings its own unique challenge.
Skorupka said, “The biggest issue is that VR is very young. With the original Superhot we had years of things connected to PC gaming and the shooter genre. It was this deconstruction of FPSs. Right now we don’t have much to deconstruct. So we have to build everything ourselves. We have to build on these little discoveries that people have made recently. It’s not that deep of a well that we can bring something from. But we will do something interesting with the meta-narration and the whole world of VR.”
This VR version of Superhot will be out for Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch by the end of the year. The developers will then work on releasing it for other virtual reality platforms in 2017.
And whatever Team Superhot comes up with, if it matches the ingenuity of the original, the result will be a mix of action, strategy, and surreality. And Superhot VR will be an exploration of what being virtual means.
“We want to use the original story as much as we can, but of course we can’t use the old tricks we used in the original Superhot. Still, the medium is the message. So we want to use as many things that come out of using VR,” said Skorupka. “When you use VR, there are certain things that happen to you. You might feel them or notice them. And sometimes they are kind of scary, like the way you can involve yourself, be lost in this VR experience and not notice what is happening around you. We want to play with that. We are trying to explore immersion as deep as we can.”
Kevin is a freelance writer with work appearing in outlets such as Geek & Sundry, Kill Screen, and Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @khohannessian.