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Breaking the fourth wall in new VR game Runes: The Forgotten Path

Italian developers explain how the ability to control perspective may help overcome motion sickness

Product: HTC Vive | Manufacturer: 
HTC Vive Vive, thumbnail 1
One of the VR games wowing us at last month's Gamescom was Runes: The Forgotten Path by Italian developers Stormborn Studio.

It's a fantasy game were you cast magic spells and solve puzzles by drawing shapes into the air.

We played the opening 'Lost Memory' section on an HTC Vive set-up. The finished game will boast 100 unique spells and feature both first- and third-person experiences.

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The creators are promising something called a "fourth wall locomotion system" for getting around inside the 3D universe. Since we're intrigued by the methods VR developers are employing to navigate both virtual and physical space, we grilled Stormborn Studio on their plans.

Giacomo Lucchini, Founder & Game Designer, shared this insight with us:

One of the first technical problems introduced by the advent of virtual reality gaming is the impossibility of 'natural' locomotion mechanisms for transversing the virtual world.

Artificial systems, such as gamepad-controlled first-person movement, bring a number of problems to the table, the worst of which comes from the lack of
vestibular stimulation with the player: the fact that the player sees the world move without the feelings of inertia associated with regular movement. This causes a nauseating experience and physical discomfort to most people. The way to solve this is to look for locomotion systems where the game never takes control of the camera movement. This way the movement of the camera is always driven by the natural motion of the player's head and this problem is no longer present.

Solutions akin to this idea are the 'teleportation' techniques where the player is transported instantaneously to a different location. This technique works well, in the sense that it does not produce discomfort… but it breaks somehow the immersive illusion of presence.

Other types of VR games use third-person style games where the player observes an avatar from a distance. These games work surprisingly well, causing little to no discomfort even with small translations of the camera.

While this style is mostly safe from inducing motion sickness, it also reduces the immersive factor of first-person 'presence'.

So in Runes we opted for a new locomotion system: we call it 'fourth wall', taking the name from the theatre. It combines first-person immersive gameplay with a third-person locomotion system, which is well integrated within the narrative of the game. In this way we maintain the immersion of the player at all times...

This system works as follows: all interactions happen in first person (such as fighting, dealing with puzzles, and so on) whereas the means of locomotion, or roaming around the world, happen in third-person at the press of a button from the player. In this view the player still maintains room scale movement which allows them to look around and move freely, even in third-person.

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You can see this concept in action in the video above – although the team are clear that the graphics in this video are just placeholders.

Read more about the Italian games on display at Gamescom last month: both mobile and VR. And for regular insight into the challenges facing VR developers, check out our column Virtually Yours in which we publish an open letter from within the industry.

Reviewer photo
Dave Bradley 2 September 2016
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