2018 kicks off with promising advances in both virtual reality games and massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPG for short. What seems to be missing is the holy grail of all games — the virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or VRMMORPG.
But one VR game company is changing that, and if they have their way, 2018 will be the year in which the masses experience the thrill of MMORPG within the immersive world of VR.
The 2018 Debut of VRMMORPG
Meet OrbusVR, the first MMO game designed from the ground up for full room-scale VR. In development since 2016, OrbusVR is the flagship title for Ad Alternum Game Studios, and runs on Oculus Rift. With a paltry $34,524 in kickstarter funds and a creative game development team, the company is forging full steam ahead undaunted and with big plans to show how VR gaming can be done.
Sword of Art Online it isn’t. But that’s OK. Right now, nothing is. It also isn’t World of Warcraft, or any similar game built with a multi-million-dollar budget and a decade of coding under the hood. However, it is the humble beginnings of what gaming is to ultimately become. It represents the end game of game development, if you will — at least for the foreseeable future.
Let’s see why this low-budget VR game is a worthy centerpiece for a technology article on cutting-edge VR gaming.
The release strategy of OrbusVR reflects the smart approach Ad Alternum has taken with the entire project. Starting with closed alpha testing, the OrbusVR team quickly moved on to open alpha testing in July of 2017. With valuable feedback from participants, OrbusVR was ready for Early Access by December. Having already nurtured a community of OrbusVR followers, more than 1,700 players joined the game during the first week. By the first weekend, up to 180 concurrent players were on board at one point, with no major technical hiccups.
And the result? OrbusVR earned an impressive 81% review score on Steam. You might say that everything that could go right pretty much did.
Fast forward to February 2018. With a change of plans on how to update the game, the OrbusVR team switched from “content patches” to more-frequent content sprints. Between March 5 and May 28, 7 sprints are scheduled, which will allow players to enjoy new content sooner rather than later. April 23 brings the first live tournament, and, no doubt, an important benchmark in the overall deployment of the platform.
Make no mistake. Despite the low-budget and small-scale startup that is underpinning OrbusVR, it is a full-featured MMORPG game, complete with all the toys, treasures, and threats that you’d expect in any decent game.
You have the option of solo play, or playing within a group. With more than 20 hours of solo content available, you have plenty of time to become comfortable with the lay of the land before joining or forming a party.
Since this is an MM game, the greatest excitement is reserved for those with a more social-minded approach. The majority of content is designed for parties of 2-5 players, and some objectives can only be achieved through good communication and teamwork.
Riley Dutton, Ad Alternum founder, highlights the social aspect VR brings to the MMO environment:
“We’re really excited to be pushing the boundaries of VR, particularly around community and being social. VR brings the unique ability to have a tremendous presence in the game world for the players, which leads to more engagement and interaction overall. Putting 50 people into a village in VR and watching them practice their spellcasting or discuss taking down a World Boss is an experience you can only get in an MMO”, said Dutton.
Here’s a quick summary of what you can expect once you join the game.
Once signed in, the first thing you will want to do is to create your character. Nothing special here, as standard character modeling options are utilized, including the ability to select skin tone, facial features, and hair style. OrbusVR has a no-nonsense naming policy, which forbids profane names and those of major game characters.
Each character possesses the following core attributes:
- Critical Hit
- Magical Defense
- Physical Defense
Of course, character stats and capabilities are based on the tier level the player has attained.
Currently, 35 quests exist, with 27 Side Quests, which can only be entered once you have progressed through the main story quest.
Currently, local chat allows you to converse with players who are near you in the game, but not those further away. Ultimately, players will have the ability to speak with members of their party no matter where they are.
Equipment & Inventory
As you might expect, the more monsters you kill, the more items you collect and add to your inventory.
Inventory items are of two types: soulbound and tradable. Soulbound items cannot be traded, sold, or lost. Tradable items include most anything crafters produce.
No virtual world is complete without our faithful companions, and OrbusVR lets you bring them along.
While “cute critters” may come along and follow you throughout your adventures, a certain class of pets is reserved only for players who were backers during the Kickstarter campaign. If you see a Backer Dragon, Founder Dragon, or an Epic Founder Dragon, you’ll know their master helped pave the ground you are playing on.
The Musket is the result of alchemy, and skilled use of runes. By loading your musket with any of various orbs available to you, your musket shot can kill, heal, or weaken, depending on who you are shooting at and what your objective is.
The Ranger is skilled in the use of bow and arrow. But not just the Indian kind. In OrbusVR, you have poison arrows, piercing arrows, fire rain arrows, spread arrows, and darkness arrows. While you can use a piercing arrow to kill a woodland creature, bringing a rain of fire down on the enemy might be more exciting.
As a Runemage, you have the power of the runes at your disposal — the very power the gods used to create the world. By memorizing the runes, you can draw them with your runic wand whenever you need to cast a certain spell. But be careful, cast the wrong rune and you can destroy the target rather than simply illuminating it. One of the most exciting capabilities a Runemage possesses is teleportation, without which no fantasy game would be complete.
The Warrior is their friends’ best friend and their enemies’ worst enemy, for they can change the outcome of a battle nearly single-handedly. Equipped with sword and shield, the Warrior can withstand sustained attacks, while delivering a crushing blow with their sword — once they gain the skills, of course.
Remaining aware of your whereabouts is easy with the Player Compass. Using this readily-available item, you can always locate points of interest, or just find which way is north. Your Player Compass will also show you where others in your party are located, as long as you and they are in the same zone.
As proof that the OrbusVR team thought of everything, you are even provided with your own Player House. The housing feature is still in early development, but at least you won’t be homeless between battles.
This might come under the category of “what were they thinking,” but the OrbusVR team even made provisions for you to do a little fishing while in VR land.
While in your Player House, you can piece together your choice of lure ingredients, depending on the type of fish you want to catch. Then, stroll on over to the nearest lake and cast your line. All the standard rules of fishing apply, so reel them in slowly or you may be telling about the one that got away.
Player versus player action is part of the “bigger vision,” as described by lead developer Riley Dutton. PvP will come in three varieties: Organized PvP, Open World PvP, and Arena PvP. It is still early to see if organized PvP will make it into the game, but Open World PvP allows you to become an outlaw if you want, if you are prepared to pay the price for your evil deeds.
Growing the VRMMORPG Orbus Community
In addition to posting development notes in a well-organized manner, the OrbusvR team nurtures an active community of followers through the OrbusVR Community Forum. The company use the forum to keep players informed, and to actively solicit feedback. The forum smacks of a company that values its customers, and that knows it will only grow by listening to them.
Beta and later versions of OrbusVR come with native Oculus Rift support, so SteamVR is not necessary. Oculus Touch controllers are, however, needed and used heavily.
Currently, it appears that OrbusVR runs on a single server located near New York. As demand increases, it will be interesting to see how Ad Alternum expands their hosting capability.
The Problem With VRMMORPG
All MMORPGs face technical challenges. From security vulnerabilities to player hardware to server capability. OrbusVR isn’t immune from these challenges; the development team just doesn’t let them be excuses for not getting into the game.
The issue of cybercrime remains an ever-present threat that any large-scale platform must be built to resist. The more popular a game becomes, the more of a target it poses. VR gear for MMORPGs must be fast, and fast isn’t cheap. And finally, an unprepared dev company could easily become the victim of their own success, if demand exceeds server capacity and interruptions occur.
Not only has Ad Alternum Game Studios shown what can be done to take VR gaming to the next level, but we’re betting they will be ready when they get there.
Sales of non-VR MMORPG games reached $11.2 billion in the Asian Pacific, alone, in 2016. The success of WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, and similar games points to a market that is willing to spend for high quality multiplayer role playing games.
If the gaming market has shown such willingness to pay for play in a non-VR world, just think of what they will do for the same experience in VR. OrbusVR is betting the shop that the market’s appetite is well wetted for VRMMORPG, and a lot of people are watching to see if they are right.
What’s Next for VRMMORPG?
As cool as OrbusVR may be, actually, it is not the underlying focus of this article. The important takeaway, here, is what it illustrates: if a low-budget MMO game with a small staff of developers can breach the VR divide, what might VRMMORPG become if we really work at it?