#266: Tim Sweeney on Three Major Modes of VR Gameplay

Tim-SweeneyTim Sweeney is the founder of Epic Games, which has been collaborating with Oculus over the last two years creating a number of different tech demos with their Unreal Engine 4. I had a chance to catch up with Tim at the VRX conference, and ask him about the evolution of VR at Epic, cinematic VR, whether Epic is working on a full VR game, and where he sees the biggest potential of VR is going to be.


Tim says that after John Carmack and Palmer Luckey were showing some of the early demos of the Oculus Rift, that people at Epic Games started to investigate VR. He had a conversation with Michael Abrash, and then ran some numbers to see that there was a confluence of both the hardware being ready in combination with some design inspiration that pointed towards the time being now for VR to really take off.

Whenever Oculus has revealed either a new iteration of their head-mounted display or touch controllers, Epic has been there with a new tech demo that pushes the limits of what’s possible within VR. The most recent tech demo for the Oculus Touch controllers was the Bullet Train demo, which explores using motion controllers to have gun fights with some teleportation locomotion techniques.

When asked whether Epic was working on a release title for the Oculus Rift, Tim said that he is not able to reveal any secret projects. However, he said that if you look at the history of Epic when it comes to new technologies that they have a history of doing a number of different experimental tech demos that usually lead to a full game of some sorts. So it seems very likely that Epic is indeed working towards a full game based upon some of the Bullet Train game play dynamics.

Tim said that Epic has been experimenting with different gameplay modes, and that they’ve broken it down into three major categories.

  • first-person and full immersion that feels as if you’re there, but it’s also the most constraining due to motion sickness issues.
  • Tabletop experiences like Couch Knights where they’ve only scratched the surface with input control and what’s may be possible with finger tracking with force feedback
  • an experience where you’re surrounded by a “badass 270-degree monitor” that can deal with rapid motion.

The last gameplay mode is the one that’s the most vague and on where there hasn’t been a lot of public demos of it yet. Tim said that it’s feels more immersive than a screen, but perhaps is more tolerant to motion than the full first-person perspective type of immersion. Tim believes that VR will have a much larger dynamic range of experiences than the traditional video game market and screen-based media has so far supported.

The sequencer within Unreal Engine has also picked up a lot of traction within the cinematic VR community as Oculus Story Studio has adopted it as their primary toolset and have started to extend that toolset. One of the more incredible cinematic tech demos was when WETA Digital did the Smaug demo at GDC.

Finally, Tim sees that any chicken-and-egg dilemma that VR has faced so far has been due to a lack of clear business opportunity, and that we’re well past that point now. He’s looking forward to how the multi-user games will blend aspects of social media and move towards the visions of the metaverse. He cautions that a lot of sci-fi visions of the metaverse were created before either the world wide web or the gaming industry had fully taken off. He foresees that the metaverse will look a lot more like the current Balkanized gaming platform ecosystem than any unified Internet. VR will eventually be indistinguishable from reality, and that now is a great time to be a part of the industry.

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