You look left and see a giant alien behemoth. You look right and see your spaceship. And then you re-adjust your virtual reality helmet to account for all the head turning you just did. That’s the dream, right? At least that’s what Kirk assured me and Jason on this week’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen when he recounted No Man’s Sky’s latest VR improvements.
First up, we talk about what we’ve been playing. In my case, that’s been Gears of War 4, while Kirk and Jason have been playing more Fire Emblem: Three Houses. We go over some Gamescom announcements, and now that we’ve all beaten Outer Wilds, we get into a brief spoiler-filled discussion (35:34). We close out the show with off-topic discussion (1:15:45) about Heaven’s Gate (yes, the cult), Billions, and Succession.
Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.
Kirk: After the Beyond update, I finally played some No Man’s Sky VR, and it’s pretty amazing once it works. That could be the tagline: “VR: It’s pretty amazing, once it works!”
Jason: Unless you throw up.
Kirk: I’m playing on PC with an original Oculus Rift, not a Rift S, and the touch controls, and it was a pain in the arse to get it working. It’s not optimised very well for VR, though it’s better; they’ve been patching it. I actually didn’t have too much trouble once I got all the VR stuff working with optimisation. It runs ok. It’s a little bit weird, like the frame rate gets a little weird, but generally it runs pretty well. It’s more that VR itself is a little bit of a different kind of an experience for a game like this.
But, man! First of all, the Beyond update is crazy. They’ve added so much stuff. They’ve made it so that a lot of the stuff you’re doing is very clearly sign-posted: “You should do this, you need to do this.” If you’re trying to build a thing for your base, you can go into your menu now and it’ll just show you all the steps you’re going to have to do, all the items you’re going to have to collect, how to make those items.
There’s a lot of little stuff that just makes the game more clear and easy to tell what you’re supposed to do, because in the next update, they added all this other stuff, like bounties and all these new things for you to go do. I think they added the new story. They’ve added all of this stuff over the years, and now, this ties it all together and adds a multiplayer hub that I haven’t even seen yet. There’s so much shit in this game. It’s crazy.
Jason: Such an interesting phenomenon, by the way, in video games. So many games wind up having more development time after the release than they actually had before the release. But yeah, go on.
Kirk: Subnautica and No Man’s Sky are so similar in so many ways. It just goes back to a thing we said a million times, that if No Man’s Sky had been released as an early access game and had spent three years in early access—Next feels like the final release, but this does too. I kind of want to start a new game, except that I did all of this grinding for all these sweet items with my one save. When I start it up, I’m like, I can’t do this again and get all these S class things that I saved up for in this one week where I just put on podcasts and did a lot of grinding in the game. So, I’m sticking with that save.
Anyways, that’s all cool. The VR thing, though, is incredible when it works. I think that it’s that I know the game. I’ve played a ton of No Man’s Sky, so then the experience of being in the game in VR is really amazing, because it isn’t like playing a VR game that I’ve only ever played in VR.
It’s this game that I’m very familiar with, but then suddenly I’m standing there, next to my ship, or next to a big alien plant that’s this weird bulbous thing, and everything feels huge when you’re in VR. You realise how small your character is, actually, in the game, and how big everything around you is, and it really feels like you’re standing there in that way that VR feels. And it’s really cool! The just overall feeling of the game is really, really neat.
Also, I’m very impressed with how much work Hello Games put into the VR version. It’s totally not half-baked. It’s not optimised perfectly; it needs a little work. Going by their track record, they’ll probably get it there. It seems like they just keep working and working on this game. But they’ve redone the whole UI.
To get to your inventory, for example, if you’re using touch controls, you’ll pick up your hand, and then you’ll point and a floating screen comes up above your hand, and you point at it, and your inventory comes up as a big floating screen. Then you use your right hand to point at what you want, then you pick it up with the trigger and move it around. It’s all completely redesigned from the ground up. The whole UX and everything is designed to be accessible within VR, which is super cool.
To fly the ship, it’s a little weird. You use touch controls, so you pick up the stick and the throttle with your motion controllers, then you move them with your hands — motion control flying, instead of using the thumb sticks to do it. But it works, actually. And then you land, and to get out, you’ll reach over and lift the cockpit with your hand, and then you get out. This is all new stuff; that stuff doesn’t even exist in the main game on the screen. They’ve built a whole VR game, basically, that’s their game but in VR.
Maddy: So, wait. When you say you’re flying the ship with your hands, do you mean there’s a throttle that you’re actually holding with your own hand, within the game?
Kirk: Yes, there’s a virtual throttle and a virtual stick in the game. You’re just holding these controllers in your hand that have triggers on them. When you’re sitting down, you move your hands over those things, and then you press the grip buttons on your controllers, and your virtual hands will take the stick and the throttle, and then you move your hand forward or backward and the throttle will move up and down. You move your stick hand around, like you’re moving the hand around, and the stick in the game will move. You’re not actually holding a stick and a throttle, you’re just holding the motion controllers.
Maddy: That sounds cool.
Kirk: It works surprisingly well, considering that motion control is always a little bit weird. The feeling of walking up to your ship, getting in it, and lifting off and flying into space—it really feels like you’re doing that, and it’s pretty sweet. I’m impressed just that they did it and made it as good as it already is. I hope they make it better, but I’m guessing they probably will.
Jason: Kirk, I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy VR, but I’ll always enjoy your enthusiasm about VR.
Maddy: Yeah, I’m like, great! I would throw up immediately if I tried to fly the ship in that way! But it sounds great.
Kirk: We’re still so far out on it. But when you’re actually doing it, it’s like, yeah, this is the future of friggin’ entertainment. I always have that feeling when I’m actually there. If I could have shown this to myself when I was 13 or something, I would have probably died and then not exist now, because my 13-year-old self would have had a brain aneurysm from how awesome it was.
Maddy: Yeah, holding motion controllers to take off in a ship into a series of alien worlds that are procedurally generated — that is the dream, right?
Kirk: And you’re standing in it. You’re literally looking around, and there’s like a giant alien creature walking past you. It is very cool to look at it that way.