I’m standing in the middle of a shipping platform in the sky with a
lightsaber energy katana in one hand. My other hand is giving off some other kind of radiation. There’s an unknown force inside of it. Out of the darkness droids are coming from either side.
I lock my legs into a battle stance and size up my opponents. I’ll go for the ones on the right first. As a couple droids approach I sense (they are outlined in yellow) that a few of them can be thrown, so I reach out, grab one with this mysterious energy, and toss one of them effortlessly into the abyss below.
Now it’s slicing time. This is in VR though and my energy blade is really just a Vive controller. It doesn’t actually pass through a robot when I swing left to right. The robot shook when my blade passed through, so I know it is damaged. But rather than making an equally large swing right to left, my brain knows it is in VR now because I didn’t feel anything solid when I hit the robot. Instead of trying to beat the robots now, my brain tries to outwit the programmers. I place my “energy katana” in the middle of the robot and give it some little wiggles back and forth. The robot doesn’t really react though so I have to resort to big swings to make the robots go flying again.
Raw Data is an incredibly ambitious title for the first generation of consumer VR, with multiplayer and a wide range of weapons planned for inclusion as well as a wide range of gestures and body movements being recognized by the software. It’s in development by Survios, the Los Angeles-based startup with roots in the same mixed reality lab Palmer Luckey worked at before starting Oculus. I’ve had an early demo version of the software on my Vive at home and it’s an oft-requested experience from visitors, who find the energy katana and robot fighting to be both satisfying and intense. When I first tried it at VRLA in January I was back-to-back in VR with a player who was physically located somewhere else.
What I saw of the game at E3 in the Vive was much improved, with the biggest change being the addition of a new movement mechanism to warp around the virtual landscape and get to spots in the battle that are outside your physical play space. It’s not quite a teleport, but a super-fast shift to a new location. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Star Trek’s warp speed, with stars streaking past the windows. In VR, the effect obscures full view of the world during the warping transition from one virtual spot to another.
Similar techniques are used by Ubisoft in Eagle Flight, which gives players the perspective of a bird in the sky. While Eagle Flight shrinks the field of view of the world to a tiny sliver during intense movement, wind effects also streak past the player as well, helping obscure the world in the same way as Raw Data. I felt no discomfort warping from place to place in Raw Data and the technique seems to make it easier to remain aware of my surroundings even when suddenly warping in front of an intimidating robot.
The game designers also appear to be trying to cater to different play styles, like a loadout that pairs a slow-motion mode with an overdrive machine gun mode. I was essentially firing out a rapid-fire wave of bullets at a slow-moving horde of robots. Unleashing that melee on the Terminator-like robots with a Matrix-like move was an incredibly satisfying moment of the demo that brought a big smile to my face. The full game promises multiple different player classes, such as a Gunslinger that specializes in dual-wielded pistols, or a Ninja-type class that uses the energy katana and other abilities. They promised the return of the bow and other staples from the previous demo as well.
I’m curious to see how the moments I saw in the demo come together when the game is ultimately released. Raw Data has always been an ambitious title, with the developers listing nearly a dozen different weapons planned for the game alongside all its other features. There’s even the ability to place defensive turrets around the map to help you out. You can play a lot of different ways with all these weapons and tools, but stuffing all that functionality — cooperative multiplayer included — into a finished game that introduces players to it all is going to be tricky task.
There’s no price yet, but Raw Data is coming to early access on Steam for the HTC Vive on July 14, with additional platforms “coming soon.”