Steven Spielberg may be just starting on the movie version of Ready Player One, but the book about virtual reality’s obsession with retro gaming is already coming to life. Classic games are getting VR makeovers, giving players a new experience from some of their old favorites.
The field of revamping retro games is still new, but there are already several to choose from. Look Both Ways is a first-person take on the classic Frogger game, only with more blood if the player gets hit. One developer built a faithful VR recreation of Duck Hunt for Global Game Jam 2016. Oculus Rift has even created its own playable arcade museum called Oculus Arcade, although Digital Cybercherries’ upcoming NewRetroArcade: Neon for HTC Vive looks a lot more promising. You can even play Quake in VR using Sideload on the Gear VR.
“If you can actually put yourself in that world, and play that same game but from a new perspective, that’s an entirely new game,” said Tony Scherba, President and Founding Partner of Yeti, the company behind Tiny Eye, a VR take on the hidden-object puzzle game genre, such as I Spy. Tiny Eye released earlier this month and utilizes a 360-degree VR environment for players wanting an immersive game of hide-and-seek.
“As we were developing and learning the VR technologies and community, it became very apparent that, since it’s a new platform and a new experience, it could rehash so many old games,” Yeti’s EVP of Tech, Rudy Mutter, said. “A lot of those games that people of all ages are familiar with, it could bring back some nostalgia.”
Another recent example is Marble Mountain, a VR reimagining of the 1984 classic Atari game Marble Madness on Oculus and HTC Vive. Lightning Rock CEO Shannon Pickles said his team was inspired to recreate a game several of them grew up playing at fish and chips shops in Australia.
“We’re all 80s babies,” Pickles said. “We’re all in our mid 30s, so we grew up on the arcade.”
Nostalgia is definitely one of the key reasons why both companies revamped their chosen classic games, and it’s no surprise. Nostalgia is huge right now, with gaming one of the biggest markets for sequels, reboots, and spinoffs. However, when it comes to retro gaming on VR, it’s not just about throwing on a new coat of paint and hoping people like it. After all, hidden object games have been around for decades, and Marble Madness was only four-minutes long when it first came out.
Pickles said they tried to make sure Marble Mountain combined the predecessor’s retro feel with modern graphics and improved physics for more complex puzzles. Pickles is especially proud of how they were able to use the VR environment to give the game unique challenges.
“On one level, there’s a waterfall,” Pickles said. “We sit the camera just outside the edge of the waterfall, so to see inside you literally have to move your head forward into the waterfall to see the cave behind. It’s really an amazing feeling to do that sort of thing.”
With Tiny Eye, Scherba said it’s all about the details. They combed thrift shops and team members’ houses to find perfect-sized objects that would look right in a 360-degree environment, giving the player the feeling of being a “toy soldier.” And they’re not done yet. Mutter opened up the possibility of turning Tiny Eye into a user-generated game in the future, where players could use 360-degree cameras to create their own levels.
Beyond the nostalgia, they all agreed that bringing retro games to VR is also about diversity and accessibility. Not only are the graphics easier to look at, especially for those prone to motion sickness, they’re also more approachable. Pickles noted that a lot of VR games coming out are more serious releases like first-person shooters, and those may not appeal to casual players. Families can enjoy retro games together, which slowly introduces new players to the VR gaming experience.
“It’s something bite-sized,” Scherba said. “Some of the success of Angry Birds is that it’s a super simple game, but it’s something people can pick up and it’s got universal appeal.”
Mutter wrote a blog post for Yeti about how VR could revitalize retro gaming, and that he would love to see first-person versions of some of his favorites like Punch Out! and Asteroids. Scherba added he’d be curious to see what Tetris would be like if the player had to move the pieces manually. Yeti and Lightning Rock want to release more VR games in the future, though both of them are waiting to see what the market is like in a few months, possibly after Playstation VR comes out this October. Still, they say it’s a great time to be in games.
“To be one of the forerunners of a new technology in terms of virtual reality is really exciting,” Pickles said. “To bring what we consider one of the classic games from the 1980s into virtual reality is just amazing.”
Article contributed by Beth Elderkin. Beth is a freelance writer with work appearing in outlets such as Daily Dot, Kotaku, and GamesRadar. You can follow her on Twitter:@.