Lorne Lanning, co-founder and president of Oddworld Inhabitants and creator of the Oddworld games, has some strong opinions on Virtual Reality. Despite thinking the new technology is game changing, Lanning believes that a lot of developers are diving into VR without any true understanding of what is required to make a successful VR game.
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“A lot of [developers] are in lala land,” says Lanning. “They’re saying, ‘I’m going to do this and that and I’m going to change how you watch your music’ and it’s just like: no. No you’re not. They might be able to sell that to an investor that doesn’t know any better but that’s just not the nature of how this industry works.”
Lanning points back to the 1980s when VR last tried to make a big splash, and notes that people need to remember that time and recall the mistakes made back then if they are to make any headway with VR now. “A lot of designers know nothing about VR, they don’t understand what we learnt and if they don’t get that right then they will fail,” he says.
His advice should probably be heeded, too: Lanning used to work in theme parks helping design big concept attractions, and so knows what considerations need to be taken when working with new technologies. “We used to write big proposals for things like Euro Disney where they wanted 3D. We had too say what they needed to consider. We did that all very successfully, and these are all things you have to consider with VR,” he explains.
Whilst Lanning understands that the technology is far superior this time around (even if it is a “consumer product that, if done wrong, leaves you with a five hour headache”) he points to the fact that people need to make games that work for VR, rather than thinking VR can be applied to everything they’ve made. “If you want to do your 3D around your space game that you already have it’s going to be an issue. One that’s not around that great tech, but around the design,” explains Lanning. “We’re going to see a lot of people that continue to blame this tech for their design problems.”
“When I listen to all these people that are so set that they are going to work on VR, I just know it’s not going to work. It’s not brain surgery, it’s just [developers] ignoring signs that we already learnt in other industries.”
He also points out that developers not only need to be concerned with the quality of their VR experiences, but also the safety for the player. “This tech is really immersive, it means you gotta be at a safe setting and then that brings all these new safety issues which are really complicated. Designers really need to consider it because there really could be health effects. It reflects on you as a designer and I think it’s smart to do that,” says Lanning.
Lanning’s most recent project is as far away from VR as you can get. The re-release of Oddword: Abe’s Oddysee in the form of New ‘n’ Tasty recreates the platforming classic for the new age, but still retains that classic 2D sidescrolling approach. It’s doing really well, which is certainly proof enough that you don’t have to create a new virtual reality world for people to love your game.