A few months back, I wrote about my experience with the game Bound, developed by Plastic Studios and SIE Santa Monica Studios. While the game has a certain beauty to its art design, I ultimately found it somewhat lacking. In my estimation, it aspires to be in a league with thatgamecompany titles like Flower and Journey but falls short of the mark as a result of often frustrating camera angles and its deliberately slow pace.
But when they provided an update to the game to incorporate PlayStation VR, I thought I’d revisit the title to see if it would grow on me looking at it (quite literally) through this new lens.
So how does it fare?
Well, unfortunately not great. If I’m looking to play the game, that is.
The VR update doesn’t suddenly add a first-person mode to the game. Instead, it changes how you manage the camera movement, and not for the better. The camera will be positioned at a point in space. In the regular game, the camera will follow your character along and you can control it fluidly with the right-analog stick (as is common in most 3D games where you are given control).
In VR, the camera is positioned at that point in space but it no longer follows the character, meaning you can go and go and go while the camera stays locked in place. Here, flicking the right analog stick snaps the camera to a new position, but it’s not always an intuitive new angle. Flicking the stick left or right, somewhat predictably moves the camera around your character (but if you’ve moved, the first flick will likely "re-center" before subsequent flicks will re-position around the character). Aside from that, moving your head adjusts the view from the camera accordingly.
If I’m just looking to enjoy the games artwork, VR certainly makes it a more immersive and visceral experience. But the constant need to reset the camera and the imprecise nature of it ends up making the whole ordeal more trouble than it’s worth. There were a couple cool moments where I would luck into a beautiful overhead camera angle that I could simple enjoy for a bit as I moved my character around below me. But the much more common experience was taking ten steps and needing to flick the camera so I could judge a jump, taking a few more steps, flicking the camera again, and repeating this cycle ad nauseum.
Ultimately, I guess I’m not sure why the physical manipulation of the camera changed. It seems to me that having the camera continue to follow the character and be moved fluidly with the analog stick makes for such a nice starting point. Then, just adding the functionality to determine where the camera is looking via the head-tracking would have just been another layer to add on top of it. On the other hand, I can see where the occasional camera movements from the regular version that exist outside of the player’s control might indeed be a bit more jarring and cause motion sickness or something. With the existing control scheme, I certainly knew every time the camera was going to move because it was up to me to trigger it. I just wish I didn’t have to constantly do so just to progress through the game.
UPDATE: The Twitter account for Plastic Studios directed me to this video they produced, explaining the rationale behind these design choices, confirming the suspicion that the reasoning for the static camera was to prevent motion sickness. Michal Staniszewski, Creative Director for Plastic Studios and narrator of the video describes the idea of a dynamic camera producing issues where the velocity of the camera and the velocity of the player inevitably end up out of sync (because the player's velocity will almost always be zero), which leads to the sensation of motion sickness. Staniszewski goes so far as to describe that slight fades in to and out of black with the player-controlled camera shifts all help prevent this, as well as non-player-controlled camera shifts (i.e. cutscenes), which are even given slightly longer fades to alleviate any jarring sensation that isn't directed by the player.
While the brunt of my issues remain, the video also points out that the camera will automatically snap back to the character once she reaches a certain distance away from it (it was just further away than I ever allowed before adjusting the camera myself).
The video also provides a bit more context for how to control the camera. For example, looking up in the headset and repositioning the camera will typically place it at a lower angle (allowing you to look up at the character). Likewise, looking down will position the camera over her.
I'm grateful they directed me to this video as it also presents some fascinating points around developing for VR.
All that said, one of my concerns the first time I played the game was that (having just played ABZÛ) I just wasn’t looking for a game like Bound. Playing it again now, with more time between those titles did leave me feeling a bit warmer on the standard (i.e. non-VR) version of the game. It’s still too slow and predictable for my taste. But I was able to find more beauty in just enjoying the game’s art direction than I did in my initial pass. Bound is a game worth picking up if you like these types of artistic experience games but VR doesn't really add anything aside from finicky camera controls to the mix.