The game also a great example of how narratives can inspire playability.
There are already plenty of titles available for you to dip your toes into Google's virtual-reality-by-mobile-efforts, but none appear to be as meta or as tongue-in-cheek as Virtual VR (V-VR), the forthcoming Daydream-compatible title from Tender Claws game studio. (If the name sounds familiar to you, that's because they're also the developers behind the animated e-book, Pry).
This small team of devoted storytellers have put together a two hour narrative that turns you — the human — into an emotional puppet for robots. "In the future, all of our jobs will be automated or taken by AI," said Samantha Gorman, the writer and co-creator of V-VR. "What's left of humans is to do emotional labor for AI clients."
Yes, this a game about attempting to break free from the shackles of your robot overlords. "It's envisioning a future where we are the well-kept pets of AIs who provide the services," added Danny Cannizzaro, another co-creator of the game. "We're inevitably bound to miscommunicate."
I got to try the first five minutes of V-VR on the show floor at GDC in the Google Daydream booth. My first job was to help rock the socks off of an anthropomorphic stick of butter by slapping pieces of toast onto his body. It was weird, it was delightful, and it was funny. It also hailed elements of the kind of humoristic gameplay that could appeal to even the most casual of virtual reality dabblers. After all, who doesn't want to interact with a good story?
"It's envisioning a future where we are the well-kept pets of AIs who provide the services."
It helps, too, that the dialogue is well-written and acted in a way that it grabs your attention when it's uttered in the game, even if you're just milling about. I've never been berated by a stick of butter before, but it can be quite effective at making you feel sub-par. I was surprised at how into the narrative I got, and how anxious I became when I found that I couldn't keep up with the many pieces of toast the stick of butter wanted on his body (32 to be exact). My heart was actually palpitating.
"It's designed in such a way that the demand that's put on you is almost impossible to fulfill," said Cannizzaro, after I told him about my physical reaction. Indeed, as you move through the following levels, you'll find that none of your robotic clients will be happy with your work. And that's when you might start feeling brave enough to try to break free. You'll have access to the handheld vacuum that mops up the scene and takes you into the virtual reality backend. It's from there you'll have to navigate through the trenches to human resources. In this game, HR is your only hope.
"The promise of virtual reality has always been that you forget what the real reality is," said Cannizzaro. "We wanted to create the satire of virtual reality hype while also being a love letter to what makes virtual reality amazing."
Overall, Virtual VR is a promising look at what's on the horizon for Google's virtual reality platform, and a good reminder that it's the stories that will help drive this particular category of games. Also promising is the idea that V-VR will have a bit of replay value, as well, as there are two different outcomes for the conclusion of the game.
Virtual VR will be available for $8.99 on March 9 in the Google Play Store. It's available to anyone who has a Daydream-compatible smartphone in hand.