We’re really, really close to the launch of the Oculus Rift and the first wave of consumer virtual-reality games. VR makes a lot of big promises, which often seem like grandstanding. Live your power fantasies…in VR!
But because of this, it’s lovely to meet the people like the team behind P.O.L.L.E.N., who are brimming with genuine excitement about what they can do with virtual reality. With P.O.L.L.E.N., Mindfield Games is trying to weave familiar science-fiction elements into a totally immersive virtual-reality experience.
At PAX Prime I played the demo and spoke to Olli Sinerma, the Project Lead on P.O.L.L.E.N.
Sinerma said that Mindfield had been mostly working on mobile games when the Oculus Rift was first pitched on Kickstarter.
“We wanted to do something different, something weird and new. And when Oculus came out we went, this is really awesome. We definitely believe in this thing. So P.O.L.L.E.N., from day one, has been designed for VR.”
The game has been in development for two years. Mindfield Games, a Finnish company, hopes to launch in early 2016, along with the Oculus Rift. P.O.L.L.E.N. takes place on a base on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Titan is one of the only other bodies in our solar system where life could possibly exist. The game opens with your character in a job interview.
“An employee has gotten lost in a work-related accident on the Titan moon-base,” Sinerma said. “And that’s how you enter it.”
The whole team is enamored with old sci-fi aesthetic, something that really came through in the spartan living quarters that I played through in the demo. I moved through the space with the joystick and looked at objects that I wanted to grab. Then I could pick them up and turn them over in virtual space—even throw them across the room if I wanted. At one point Sinerma guided me to a basketball court, where I shot a few hoops (well, I made one eventually).
It had a clean, minimal aesthetic similar to the space station sequences of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The visual references are not a coincidence.
“Old science fiction is something we really like,” Sinerma explained. “So we wanted to combine the old science fiction with the movement mechanics of first-person exploration, and then add a bit of virtual reality on top of that to make it more immersive.”
The segment I played is just part of what we’ll see in the final version.
“The area of the crew quarters, where the game happened, is about one seventh of the whole gameplay area.” The player will need to explore the space station and eventually go outside as well. This caught my interest, because Sinerma said that the experience of low gravity will be part of the game.
People who haven’t played VR games before often get a little nauseous from the sensation of being transported somewhere. I’m still curious about how Mindfield will achieve an authentic low gravity feeling when making players comfortable is already a challenge.
“It’s slower movement with bouncing and all of this that creates that feeling,” said Sinerma. “They find it weird because it’s authentic. I don’t know if you noticed here at PAX, but we do a lot of audio. Because audio is about 50% of the senses we can capture. So one of the things is when you’re outside on [Titan], you can hear the wind blowing, and the crackling of thunderstorms. It creates a really weird feeling, that you’re actually there.”
Inside the base, all was peaceful (save the bouncing basketballs). In PAX’s crowded expo hall, I wasn’t able to totally experience the sound immersion that Sinerma was so enthusiastic about.
That said, I can tell the sound is going to be a big part of the game. P.O.L.L.E.N. uses binaural audio, which creates a 3D soundscape and lets players pinpoint exactly where the sounds they hear are coming from.
“So if you hear a bee flying somewhere you can instantly spot it with your ears,” Sinerma said. A clue? We’ll see.
See, there’s a little bit of a mystery when it comes to what’s going on in Research Station M. The name of the game is part of the mystery—Sinerma wouldn’t explain it to me, saying that it’s related to the story.
“You open up the story by exploring and experimenting with things,” he said. “It’s related to the story, so it’s part of the things to figure out. Why did they build this huge space, what do they research, and what did they find?”
P.O.L.L.E.N. also takes inspiration from Fullbright Company’s Gone Home, another game that sets players loose in a large, unfamiliar space and asks them to examine what everyday objects mean when people are removed from the equation. I’m really interested to see where the story in P.O.L.L.E.N. is going.
P.O.L.L.E.N. will be released for the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the PC without any VR components. The game was developed with the Oculus Rift in mind, but Mindfield is making it available to as wide an audience as possible.
I want to see more of P.O.L.L.E.N., especially its story. Games like this are hard to get a handle on in such a short demo, but it’s clear that there’s more to P.O.L.L.E.N. than I got to see. For me, as a new Oculus Rift player, it was an interesting demonstration of how to move and interact with objects in virtual space.