"NOTHING LIKE A 2-BIT BEACH, 8-BIT SOUNDS, AND REAL SAND TO GET IN YOUR SHOES​"

Caty McCarthy, Kill Screen

The concept for Virtua Walker '87 was developed as a response to the Global Game Jam 2017 theme 'Waves'. The first experimental prototype was created over 2 days of development time. Further development is currently under way.

 

The prototype was designed and developed by Robin Sloan (game and controller design, engine development, 2D/3D art, audio) and Paul Robertson (programming, controller design and development, engine development) with support from Grant Clarke (Gear VR development), Dayna Galloway (2D art), Gordon Brown (3D modelling), and Sonia Fizek (audio, controller design). All of the developers are academic staff at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland.

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW

The Virtua Walker 87 prototype is presented as an imagined 1980s  VR walking simulator, which allows users to ‘visit’ and ‘walk’ along famous beaches.

 

Movement is restricted along a set path. The player has no ability to set or change the path. The player cannot move backwards, only forwards along the set path.

 

Movement is executed through a physical player step. The player walks on the spot inside a box controller, filled with sand and other materials sourced from the real beaches that are represented in the game (see Fig. 1). Two pressure sensors under the player’s feet detect a shift in player weight, and send a signal to the game on the device (see Fig. 2). Each step corresponds with a single step in the game, which is presented to the player in VR (see Fig. 3). The player must continuously step on the pressure sensors to move through the game environment.

 

Using the VR headset, the player can look around from their current position.

 

The player has no other input or controls.

PLAYER EXPERIENCE

Virtua Walker 87 is a game about walking on virtual recreations of reach beaches. It does not seek to shorten the walking experience, and instead seeks to emulate the actual distances and walking times on the corresponding real beaches.

 

For much of the time, the player will be walking along a repetitive beach with few points of interest.

 

Virtua Walker 87 is conceived as an ill-thought out 1980s virtual reality prototype, developed by an ambitious startup that had grand ideas about virtual reality and the creation of a full sensory user experience. Neither the technology of the time nor the overall product design matched this ambition.

 

Virtua Walker 87 was driven by hype, but in actuality it is an uncomfortable experience to endure.

 

The graphics are limited to 2-bit colour, rendered in 3D but using a dither map technique that can unsettle and confuse.

 

The audio is limited to an emulation of 8-bit audio. This is accompanied by a jarring synth voice-over for narration.

 

The player must also walk barefoot on sand and gravel, to add to the full sensory experience. This makes the game more about physical endurance than a typical walking simulator controlled by a thumbstick.

PRODUCT BACKSTORY

The concept for Virtua Walker '87 is predicated on a fictional history of games technology. In addition to the main game and controller, a backstory of the product and company behind the product forms part of the overall game design...

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Virtua Walker 87 is an experimental VR walking simulator prototype, developed by the secretive Silicon Valley startup AGL.

 

Virtua Walker 87 had a limited beta release in September 1987, but early hype faded when reports came in from selected journalists and industry insiders that the technology did not match high consumer expectations.

 

Following a catastrophic live demonstration in San Francisco, the project was cancelled.

 

Only 10 beta prototypes made it into public hands.

 

Until recently, only one of these prototypes was accounted for. This non-functioning unit has been on display in the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, England, as a curiosity.

 

In January 2017, a functioning beta prototype was discovered in a garage in Dundee, Scotland…

TECHNOLOGY

The initial prototype was developed using Unity 5.5 and tested on a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Gear VR R323.

The experimental controller uses two force sensitive resistors, buried in a sand box, and connected to an Arduino. The Arduino ises a wireless connection to communicate with the Unity build on the Samsung device.

DEMONSTRATIONS

Global Game Jam 2017. Abertay University, Dundee, UK, January 22 2017.

IGDA Scotland Game Jam Play Party. Dundee, UK, February 9 2017.

Scottish Parliament. Edinburgh, UK, February 21 2017.

ICGJ 2017. Github HQ, San Francisco, CA, February 26 2017.

Create Converge. VIA Film & Transmedia, Filmby Aarhus, Denmark, April 21 2017.

Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth, UK, May 20th 2017.

PUBLICATIONS

Sloan, R.J.S. and Robertson, P. 2017. Virtua Walker ’87: Technostalgia for a walking sim from an alternative past. International Conference on Game Jams, Hackathons, and Game Creation Events 2017, San Francisco, CA, 26 February 2017.

PRESS COVERAGE

CREATE CONVERGE

Virtua Walker has been developed and presented as part of the Interreg-funded project Create Converge:

www.createconverge.eu