Your mech is also the ball.
In one of those rare paradoxical moments, I was glad for a crash in the middle of a demo. After waiting in line for over an hour, following a briefing on how the controls of RIGS: Mechanics Combat League, the new robotic suit e-Sports title from Guerrilla Games, they added the caveat that the game was pre-alpha. And if it crashed, they’d get us back into the next session. I was halfway through a match when the controller suddenly stopped working.
This gave me the chance not just to play the game a second time (with a mech more suited to my playstyle) but also to talk to one of the game’s developers, Lucas Van Muiswinkel, a Senior Producer at Guerrilla Cambridge, Sony’s first-party development team working on the game. We talked in general about the state of VR development and about his upcoming VR game.
To provide some background, in RIGS you pilot one of three mechs: a fast and small mech, a large beefy machine with a double jump, and a machine with a hover ability that splits the difference in size. RIGS is a sports game but an odd one. Your challenge is to power up your mech, and then jump through the hoop in the center of the map to score goals.
You can power up your mech by either finding energy orbs on the lower part of the map (RIGS features highly vertical gameplay) or destroying opponent mechs and gathering the energy that bursts out of their machines after they’re dismantled. From there it’s a dash to the hoop and down through it which drops the player through several levels of the map in the center.
The three-on-three matches we played were short, maybe three-to-four minutes (with about the same time for set-up of the hardware and matchmaking). This was perfect for the VR experience, which gave players enough time to figure out how the controls worked and really figure out gameplay.
The headmounted Project Morpheus display—upgraded heavily since I last saw at E3 last year, with Muiswinkel saying that the game was running with a refresh rate at 120Hz—would turn whatever direction the player turned their head to look in, and the center provided a pair of targeting lines for both right- and left-handed weapons. Since direction was provided by the head movement, only the left analog stick was required to move the mech forward, backwards, or strafing, while you locked on to opponents by looking at them and blasting them with your particular weapon set.
RIGS also featured the ability to switch between three modes: Fast, Attack, and Repair when in regular combat. Switching between these provided a slight tactical element to the game, since the added speed or attack gave definite advantages towards gathering orbs, but at the cost of having your mech half-blown-to-bits. Switching to Repair mode allows it to fix itself at the cost of attack power or speed. However, when your mech is fully powered up by orbs, all three modes are activated until you either score a goal, are destroyed, or the energy runs out (about 90 seconds).
One thing Muiswinkel and I discussed was the reason RIGS seemed to have used the hardware so successfully: the sense of place within the mech. Since you’re in a seated position while using the Morpheus, it makes sense to be inside a mech, since your body won’t feel displaced when the mech is moving.
“We know you need a cockpit,” Muiswinkel said, “you need presence.”
Presence has become the buzzword of VR, the ability to create an artificial sense of reality by establishing a sense of visual identity that makes sense for the VR experience. Since Project Morpheus is tethered to the player being in a seated position (or standing in one spot, at best) a cockpit is great since it provides a reason for the player to be seated, and provides visual cues for how the game is meant to be played within that artificial reality.
In my second playthrough, I quickly scored three goals, and destroyed a number of mechs; admittedly, I had the advantage of practice and a helpful Sony staffer who told me exactly where the orbs down below were placed in the level. Muiswinkel told me that my sudden jump in ability was fairly common, and that when he and the other Guerrilla devs recently played against their QA team, the QA players had schooled them, not just because of their own personal skill growth, but because they worked together as a team.
This was one thing we both liked about the direction of the game; while it was competitive, it also was heavily cooperative, and while it featured an FPS mechanic as its primary feature, it was also fundamentally non-violent. While there’s no release date for RIGS (I wouldn’t be surprised if it released at launch next year with the Sony VR Device, though), it was the only first-party Sony game that I’ve played on the Morpheus that felt like an actual consumer title that people could really sink their teeth into.
In many ways, it shared some fantastic similarities to the excellent Eve Valkyrie in execution and immersion. If you’re fascinated by Playstation’s turn at VR, when Project Morpheus releases, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League will be a game that you’ll want in your library.