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Re-imagining the Retro for VR gaming

doomvfrBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Videogamers can belong to one camp or many. I love the idea of what virtual reality can bring to the electronic world of gaming. I have played enough demos and product to know what I like. This medium is absolutely perfect for simulators and first person shooters. VR gaming is here to stay, and it’s not likely to go away.

At the same time, I miss the simplicity of the older games found at arcades from the late 70’s to 90’s. I played many translations of these games on the PC or gamer consoles. While the low resolution and technology from a decade ago were not able of making VR come alive, the devices we have now are more than capable! Not every game needs photo-realism. To play these products will offer some exercise to those rarely flexed biceps and triceps. Before chiropractors can cry foul, I suggest all games have a fixed time limit so physical injury can not result.

My imagination is running wild at the idea of fine-tuning fond retro classics for VR gamers to marvel at. A few titles have been redesigned and instead of paddles or trackballs, players can use either motion controllers (like Sony Playstation’s Move) or a traditional gamepad. I still wonder if the original mold can be used though.

Some of the titles I like to see get re-imagined are grouped together than given its own entry.  I offer my thoughts on how each of them can work with either Mobile VR or standalone (Oculus, PlayStation VR or HTV Vive). While the former can fully render the classics in their original form, the latter is more about redesigning the game for a modern gamer to enjoy.

Tempest (Atari 1981)

Instead of a PS4 style of controller, to have this game played with motion sensors tracking hand motions will definitely tire many players out. To play it on a traditional controller will be easier, and the main reason why I feel this game deserves this VR treatment is in the fact it was designed with 3D in mind. A modernized version is in the works. Sadly, no word is said if this update will be designed for VR.

In what makes the experience special is when the geometric play field zooms in carrying the player’s ship (named The Claw) to the next level! To watch this pull you in like the wormhole sequence in Stargate SG-1 (or film) will have me at least squealing in delight like Starbuck launching out of the Battlestar Galactica!

Battlezone (Atari 1980)

This game exists for the Playstation 4, but to have a less intensive graphical version to play on mobile systems is needed. Not everyone will own this console. The objective of this game is simple, and the point of view is that of the tank pilot, trying to position their tank for that shot to wipe up an opponent. A more challenging version is Space Paranoid (from the movie TRON). To emulate the graphics quality from the 1984 movie should not tax smartphones by much.

Missile Command (Atari 1980)

Many ports of this game have existed for various 2D game systems in the past. With no surprise, a few 3D variations exist, like Inbound VR (for the HTC Vive) and VR Missile Control (for the Gear VR and Oculus). An early experiment on Atari Jaguar showed even back then developers were interested in VR gaming. Sadly, this version never fully materialized.

While a version for the PS4 is unlikely to happen (their Move controllers are ideal for this game), no platform is likely to offer the definitive version. Fans of this game may well have to own each type of VR headset to get the best variety of retro games reimagined to play with.

Star Wars (Atari 1983)

Faster than R2D2 projecting an image of Princess Leia, the idea to bring this franchise to VR arrived sooner than later. Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission can be considered to be a spiritual successor to the original vector graphic arcade game. Rogue One: Recon – A Star Wars 360 Experience is another example, but players have yet to find a game to recreate the fabulous Trench sequence (Battle of Yavin) from A New Hope. The arcade game, Star Wars: Battle Pod thankfully fulfills that niche and offers a lot more in an arcade cabinet sans headset! (i.e. no 3D)

The thrill of experiencing this classic moment is a must. While vector graphics will be out and a fully rendered environment is in to make the experience feel real, the big question many fans will have is if this idea is even in the pipeline? Outside of this need, the crowds are rejoicing for Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, an augmented reality game where fans can enjoy fighting Kylo Ren with Luke’s original lightsaber. Actually, that’s Anakin’s first lightsaber …

Pole Position (Namco 1982)

Many racing games developed after the release of the 1982 original is basically an improvement of — or a re-branding. The window dressing can be also be changed to any vehicle. Other games within this genre include Afterburner and Hang-On delivers a different style of experience; the cabinet is designed so players are can feel like they are in an airplace or riding on a motorcycle! Since VR successfully demonstrated the ability for people to feel motion from a roller coaster, to translate that for any style of vehicular chase or race game is easy enough.

In what makes the improvements of later products better is the added depth offered by factoring in real world physics in either the mock up vehicle or within the game so those bumps and sudden plough through the sand can offer. To get down to the basic code which Pole Position offers, a VR version is feasibly possible for mobile devices. It will not be a game to play outside of the home. But inside, at the relative safety of not jostling people beside the player, it’s all good.

Space Harrier (Sega 1985)

To see a variation of this game in VR will no doubt be even more challenging than the original. According to Sega Nerds, Game Designer Yu Suzuki believes the idea to port this game over is a good one, but nearly two years later, no official word is made if this idea will happen or not.

To offer to players the ability to hover around instead of running (like many Zombie VR games) will make them feel like Superman. This game has the player either running on the ground or jetpacking, all while shooting down enemies! To put that into a true FPS mode (or in its original mode) can be quite the experience. Out of the games I have played from this genre, (namely Doom VR), this game at least offers a correct illusion of moving around over how other games requires the player to stare at a specific space and press a button to get there.

Subroc 3D (Sega 1982)

This game, along with many others in this sub-genre of games (including Terminator), has opponents flying horizontally across the screen and missiles (or grenades) going for your face! On higher end VR systems, to move your head to dodge them versus trying to shoot them down (with a controller by point and aim) can make for some great fun. Two options exist with this game, to attack opponents by sea or in space.

Last Starfighter (Atari 1984)

To get the license to make a version of this game for VR may well be tougher than in getting the Graphical User Interface to float in three dimensional space. To have these Heads Up Displays indicate where the enemies are is easy enough to render, since the player will have to turn his head slightly to view. The core engine will simply be that of another flight simulator engine. However, to offer to gamers the experience Alex had when dealing with the Ko-Dan Armada will depend more on if a market exists for this series to make a comeback.

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