Tokyo Game Show 2016 – Round-up and Impressions – Part 1: VR

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The annual Tokyo Games Show is currently being held in Japan. I was able to attend a couple days and of course I was on the look-out for any new music titles on display. In this series of round-ups, I’ll be going over all of the music game titles I came across (and, in most cases, had the chance to play). Most are new/upcoming games, but there are couple of titles here and there that can be bought and played right now. The show was ridiculously huge, so I might have missed some titles, but I think most are covered.

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In this part 1, the focus is on VR. VR’s overall presence had been steadily increasing at TGS over the past few years, but at this year’s 20th anniversary show, the total number of titles across all genres really exploded. Music games were reasonably well represented this year for the first time, but somehow even 2.5D fighting games got in on the act. Time (and sales) will tell whether the VR experience is really worth the extra cost and hassle long-term, but right now at least is an exciting time.

Rock Band VR (Oculus) – Harmonix

Me, rocking out
Me, rocking out

A somewhat surprising part of the Alienware booth, this pre-Alpha build of the game featured the typical guitar controller with one of the Oculus’ motion controllers attached to the head. Upon putting on the Oculus and starting the game, players choose their song and are then transported to a small concert hall to take part in a gig. Looking around, you can see the stage you’re on, your bandmates, your guitar, equipment, the crowd, etc. It’s immediately clear that Harmonix are focusing on immersiveness with this title.

To this end, the game does away with the usual ‘note highways’, replacing it with a more free-form control system with a ton of room for improvisation. Basically, there are notes to play as such, but through a progress display at the ‘back’ of the hall and lights/vibration at the head of the guitar, the game simply tells what chords to play and when to change. The appropriate timing can be seen on the progress display, or felt through controller vibrations. Outside of the chord changes, players are free to strum along with the song however they choose to, it’s not scored or judged.

Daniel Chace, the Harmonix developer in attendance, I was told that the control system isn’t finalised yet, they are still experimenting and revising things, but the aim definite aim is to take full advantage of VR’s immersiveness and encourage players to enjoy it whilst playing rather than just looking at note highways the whole time.

Harmonix developer, Daniel Chace, enjoying the event
Harmonix developer, Daniel Chace, enjoying the event

From my time playing it, I would say the result is already perhaps a little less ‘game’ and a little more ‘guided performance’ than a standard rhythm title. As such, if this system is kept in the release version, it may appeal more to a slightly different type of player and be more widely accessible overall.

Release date is TBC but I was told Spring 2017.

 

Rez Infinite (PS VR) – Enhance Games

I didn’t actually get to play Rez Infinite at the show, but I did play it at another a few months ago and posted my initial impressions here.

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On this occasion, I was able to see Tetsuya Mizuguchi introduce and talk about the game during a stage event at the Twitch.com booth. He reiterated what he’s said before about feeling restricted by the TV screen/monitor when developing the original title. He’d basically been waiting 15 years for the technology and the market to catch up to his vision. His excitement and enthusiasm for the project was extremely apparent.

 

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Tetsuya Mizuguchi talking about Area X

On the game’s content, he admitted that rather than ‘just’ being a VR/HD remastering, Rez Infinite should include new content, taking full advantage of modern hardware’s capabilities. This is what the new ‘Area X’ level is for. Though no gameplay/videos were shown at the event I attended, Area X is being described as a particle-filled wonderland which, unlike the rest of the game, players can freely roam around in (for VR, the avatar will go in the direction players face). It sounded good to me, but I hope that we get a full game’s worth of ‘Area X’ in the future once Mizuguchi is satisfied his original vision for Rez has been fulfilled.

Rez Infinite will be released on October 13th alongside PSVR.

 

Linked Door loves Space Channel 5 (HTC Vive) – KDDI

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I was surprised but excited to find out this revival of the 1999 Dreamcast classic would be at the show, but the current form of the game was a little disappointing. To keep things short, I’ll just say it was presented a demo within a demo of a Playstation Home-style VR world called ‘Linked Door’ (KDDI), it doesn’t currently appear to be a fully realised title, just something to show how the ‘Linked Door’ software handles social scenarios (beach, bar at night, etc.) with video games.

Why do I say that? Because Space Channel 5’s actual gameplay was completely removed from the demo. Though the aliens and Ulala appear in front of your eyes, doing their dance-off, players are instructed to watch the dancing and ‘show support’ just through moving their arms up and down. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I didn’t actually notice this little point after I played the game. During my test play, I embarrassed myself by playing it Eye-Toy-style (Sega Superstars), physically copying the aliens’ movements. Even though I was ‘wrong’, the game actually was a lot of fun like that and I sincerely hope that’s the direction it’ll go in. Using Space Channel 5’s setting and characters seems pointless if its gameplay isn’t there too. It’s basically perfect for any dual-controller set-up. The space station looked great in VR too.

Enjoying the game in my own way
Enjoying the game in my own way

I couldn’t see any info regarding release dates/further development, but here’s hoping they make a full game out of it.

 

Idol/Concert Titles

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Hop, Step, Sing! being played. The player’s POV can be seen in the bottom right corner. Greenscreen was used in many VR displays to make things more entertaining for spectators.

There were also a few Idol/Virtualoid VR titles at the show. They were Hatsune Miku – VR Future Live (Sega/PSVR), The Idolm@ster – Cinderella Viewing Revolution (Bandai Namco/PSVR), and  VR Idol Stars Project – Hop, Step, Sing! (Kodansha/Android/HTC Vive).

I think all three games can be classed as ‘VR experiences’ rather than ‘games’ as such. They are all based on placing inside a virtual concert venue where they can watch their favourite perform a number of different songs. Users can watch the performance from a number of different positions within the venue, allowing for different visual and aural experiences. The motion controllers become virtual glowsticks, allowing users to show support for the idols by waving them around.

For various reasons, I didn’t get the opportunity to try out these particular titles, but I may take more note of them in future if more gaming aspects are added (even something like needing to follow specific glowstick ‘dances’ would a natural fit and potentially more fun for newcomers to the series than just watching/waving).

The Hatsune Miku and Idolm@ster titles will be launched in Japan alongside the PSVR next month, each featuring 2-3 songs to begin with. The first Hop, Step, Sing! song is already available in the Google Play store (it’s compatible with Cardboard/other VR devices too) and another song is scheduled for release this winter.

 

And finally, as a special mention:

Rhythm Takt VR – Tokyo College of Communication Art (HTC Vive)

Rhythm Takt VR
Rhythm Takt VR

This game is being produced as an academic project by students at the Tokyo College of Communication Art. Gameplay is based on musical conducting, with the Vive’s motion controller simulating a baton. The VR setting is a wireframe world with players fixed on a platform in space. In time with the music, cubes appear and approach the player at varying speeds and from various angles. The aim is to accurately strike the cubes with the baton when it reaches you.

Rhythm Takt VR was perhaps a little rough around some edges, but it was reasonably intuitive and fun to play whilst also being a unique take on the genre. I don’t think the game will see a full release but it stands as a nice demo of another music game application for VR technology.

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That’s it for this round-up. My next post will cover the other (console/PC/mobile) music games that were on display at this year’s show.