RE:BIND

A Piece Of The Universe is a cute VR diorama which @_naam uses as a platform for experiments in VR interactivity.

What’s striking about APOTU is how fearlessly it pursues new norms in VR interface verbage. Naam isn’t afraid to try out oddball movement mechanics like throwing oneself by the neck or even loading screen style segments evocative of old school PS2 games.

Part of what makes VR such an exciting platform is how it hasn’t fully been worked out yet, and those that attempt to do so tend to forge the paths for how things will be established in the future. Horseshoes, Hotdogs and Handgrenades set such a precedent in VR FPS that has become defacto standard thanks to its adoption by titles like Pavlov VR.

It’s a difficult concept to express to those that haven’t had a chance to throw on a headset and grasp the ‘scale’ of it. Readers can get easily lost when reading people’s emotionally driven hype around a device that must evoke the same feeling as people confronted with the first moving picture. Without the hook of that initial taste, we wind up chasing people’s initial impression of the *medium* instead of focusing on individual experiences that utilize it to its maximum potential, something video games are no stranger to.

After countless hours of watching people in virtual reality arcades, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the best approaches to describe it to newcomers. For example, APOTU captures the obvious physicality that comes across in animated clips. Even in a 2D representation it’s clear what’s being pulled off in terms of tangible feel and texture which most VR games struggle to capture in-game, let alone outside of the headset.

Feel is an often overlooked component of engine design, but done poorly it can disrupt the VR experience. In the coffee and wine industries this is referred to by terms like mouth-feel, a difficult to describe sensation relating to the viscosity of a beverage as it hits your palate. And if one thing is apparent, it’s that conveying the ‘mouth-feel’ of VR is a monumental task compared to traditional video games.

There’s very few examples of experiences I feel fully capture what VR is capable of, and that crucial first impression is everything. The wrong experience for a newcomer to VR can absolutely destroy any interest they’ve ever had in the platform. In light of this, curation is key in exposing new users to VR.

But anyone who has read anything about VR is already very aware of this problem. How do games like APOTU or NVIDIA’s Funhouse VR relate as a solution? By creating more short curated experiences to be deployed in places like VR Arcades across the world or in early adopter’s homes. This helps to establish a readily available library of snippets that help convey the totality of VR’s potential in a mere moments to our friends and audiences. These games act as the tip of the spear with regards to opening up the medium to a broader range of fans.

The thing is, both Funhouse and APOTU get so much right that is otherwise lost on a lot of people. From gently tossing some matches and slamming the latch on a woodfire stove, to balloons moving gracefully around a slow moving sword without the velocity to pop them. It’s the little details that make or break the experience. In APOTU’s case there’s a certain joy that comes with turning knobs, stuffing household objects into your vest or cranking knobs on a makeshift shower to be whisked away to a tropical vision.

The feeling of experiences like APOTU is going to set important precedents for anything coming after, just as Pavlov VR has done for shooters. While it’s very exciting to think about what a “fully formed” VR experience is down the line, people like Naam are still building that foundation today.

A Piece Of The Universe is definitively one of the better VR vignettes out there. If you’ve got an Oculus or Vive and want something fresh, I highly advise you head over to the itch.io page for it and grab a copy.


Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice