This week is Melbourne International Games Week, and as part of a huge series of events spanning PAX Aus 2016 to GCAP, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is holding a free one-day virtual reality festival showing state-of-the-art VR experiences on HTC's latest Vive headsets.
ACMI director Katrina Sedgwick told Kotaku that Game Changer's timing was fortuitous, both as part of MIGW and as the tech itself — everything from new, more powerful and energy-efficient graphics cards to polished, mainstream-ready VR headsets — matures. "VR is no longer a future technology — it's here, and being harnessed as a dynamic platform, across the creative industries and beyond."
The event is being sponsored by and run in collaboration with both Nvidia and HTC, which have contributed multiple Vive virtual reality headsets and powerful gaming systems to run them. Other VR systems like Sony's PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift are being demonstrated throughout Games Week, including at PAX Aus's dedicated VR Freeplay area.
Game Changer will run this Thursday from midday until 8PM during Melbourne International Games Week, at the ACMI's centre at Federation Square. We spoke to ACMI producer Emily Siddons, one of the brains behind Game Changer, to get an idea of what VR experiences the organisation had chosen to demonstrate the technology to passersby.
Part of ACMI's rationale in running Game Changer is to show the public — both the gaming public and the mainstream who might not have tried VR at all before — where virtual reality tech is at right now, and what it can do. "As the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, we definitely have a privileged opportunity to present the latest technology and platforms that engage with the moving image. The aim is to inspire people to continue their VR journey!
"Game Changer will give the public the opportunity to test out in particular the HTC Vive, which is one of the most exciting advancement in VR technology we have seen lately, as well as introducing audiences to the full range of VR platforms to try out."
Most of the titles that ACMI is showcasing at Game Changer are shorter vignettes rather than traditional linear games, but that doesn't mean they're not the most immersive experiences available today. Siddon told Kotaku that the most important thing was that the virtual reality shorts be great examples of the current state of the art. "Certainly many of the titles are experiential, but the conscious choice for us was more about wanting the key titles to highlight leading examples of VR content that embrace full immersion and can transport audiences to new places.
"The day will also be showcasing the breadth and diversity of VR content right across games, film, simulation — and also the more research based and serious side to VR that has transformative applications to different industries."
Similarly, the experiences — including Earthlight, which puts VR participants on the International Space Station and that was demonstrated at PAX Australia in 2015 — are mostly grounded in reality. It's not to make them accessible to first-time users, though, but to offer experiences that are different to everyday life. "It just so happens that at the moment there's an abundance of really strong reality-based VR titles that showcase the immersive and transportive potential of VR, which results in these powerful experiences.
"But along with those VR titles, we will also be featuring game-based VR titles such as Mercenary, a first person shooter game created by KUKRGAME where you can experience full body immersion as you duck and dodge enemy bullets; other fun titles such as Genesis by Opaque Media Group, that presents a VR interpretation of the God Game genre; and Nvidia’s VR Funhouse, a virtual carnival style funhouse."
Game Changer will be open along other long-running ACMI exhibits like Screen Worlds, the $9 million gallery that spans over 110 years of film and television and video game history, and Games: A Family Affair.
ACMI's Game Changer will run this Thursday 3 November from midday until 8PM at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square in Melbourne.