Fallout 4 is getting a virtual reality version. Yep, you read that correctly – at its E3 2016 press conference, developer Bethesda announced that you'll be able to roam the role-playing wasteland (quite literally, presumably) in a Fallout 4 VR version using the HTC Vive headset at some point in 2017.
But, other than revealing that the VR version of Fallout 4 is in development, Bethesda didn't share much else on the game, or how it will work. Fallout 4, in its current guise, is at once a perfect and problematic virtual reality game.
Related: Fallout 4 VR coming to HTC Vive Next Year (and Doom Too?)
On the one hand, its wide-open, densely detailed world is an excellent match for the immersion that virtual reality offers – it's easy enough to lose yourself in the game for hours when just staring at a TV or monitor, so imagine how awe-inspiring it'd be to truly inhabit the irradiated commonwealth using the motion-tracking headset? But on the other hand, that same scale makes Fallout 4 a challenging prospect to translate into a virtual reality form.
Having played Fallout 4 extensively, and having had the many, many cables of the HTC Vive trailing around my living room after its UK launch, I've been thinking about what would, and wouldn't work with Fallout 4 on a HTC Vive.
What Fallout 4 VR Could be Like
Firstly, the choice to back the HTC Vive as the named VR headset to associate Fallout 4 with is an interesting one. We've already established that, though it comes with added expense, the HTC Vive is the best virtual reality headset around.
Related: HTC Vive Review
Its optics are as sharp as they currently come, its packed-in motion controllers work a treat, and its camera-aided room tracking makes for the most immersive virtual reality experience possible by allowing you to physically wander around the digital playgrounds that your gaming PC is generating. You'd have to imagine then that Bethesda is looking to take advantage of those key Vive points – motion controls and a mobile, active player.
Fallout 4 VR will be great news for HTC too – one of our few complaints with the Vive was that its software catalogue was a bit lacking. Great hardware, but no real stand-out game with which to show it off. In Fallout 4 VR, the Vive gets its own version of one of the biggest games of recent times.
But the Vive's walkabout play space will also bring the biggest challenge to Fallout 4 VR. In an effort to stop gamers walking into real-world walls or snagging the cables from their PCs, the Vive creates a virtual boundary to a gamer's play space. Veer too close from the obstacle-free "safe-zone" that the Vive's cameras identify and you'll be presented with a grid-like wall as a warning that you're about to crash into your sofa or TV. As a bare minimum, the HTC Vive allows for a 5ft by 6.5ft play space. Fallout 4's irradiated Boston Commonwealth stretches for 3.82 square miles before even DLC is factored in. So, how will you get from one end to the other in the confines of your home?
Fallout 4 VR: Virtual Reality Examples the Wasteland Can Learn From
There's no easy answer to this, but there have been various attempts made already by VR developers to tackle the problem of crossing large spaces under Vive's limitations. Firstly, there's the method employed by mobile VR developers – look in the direction you want to go, and hold a button or focus on a visual prompt to build locomotion in a given direction. It works, and could be replicated by Vive by walking to the edge of the grid, which would trigger the game world to scroll forward with you. But this would bring problems – how then, would you strafe? And you'd end up with the motion-sick feeling that occurs in bad VR set ups when the digital world moves whilst your physical body doesn't, a queasy feeling triggered by your confused brain. That's exactly what the Vive is designed to avoid, so it'd hardly be playing to the Vive's strengths.
It's not perfect, but the best solution I've seen so far comes from Indimo Labs with their Vive-exclusive game Vanishing Realms. You can think of it as a simplified take on the likes of Skyrim or Zelda, elevated by its nifty VR use.
It too features large, explorable game spaces, which it lets gamers traverse by using a teleportation move. Simply point one of the Vive motion controllers where you want to go, hit a button, and you warp to the next area, letting you cover large stretches of ground quickly. Fallout 4 VR could perhaps employ something similar – though I'm at a loss as to how the game's lore would explain away your magical teleporting abilities. However, Indimo Labs' solution also proved disorientating – suddenly appearing in another location makes you very quickly lose any sense of direction, both in the game world and in your real world physical play space. Enjoyable as Vanishing Realms was, I lost count of the number of times I found myself walking into the sofa at the edge of my Vive safe zone, assuming that it was feet behind me. I ended up roping in a pal to act as my "spotter" in case I veered dangerously close to a lamp or window. It'd certainly need refining were it to be a match for Fallout 4's busy world.
There is, of course, the fun-looking, but undoubtedly ridiculous prospect of using an omnidirectional treadmill hooked up to your PC to track movements. And it works too, as shown by this DIY Skyrim build. But that's an expensive bit of kit, before you even factor in how pricey the Vive is itself. If Bethesda had to bank on players being willing to shell out for that too, there'd be little economic sense in them developing Fallout 4 VR anyway.
Alternatively, (and, I'd argue, most likely) the VR version of Fallout 4 could be a stripped back take on the game's universe – key scenes and locations, recreated to better fit the confines of the HTC Vive play space. Think shooting galleries, crafting stations – the sort of things that can be recreated within smaller confines. But whether that could really truly be considered a game worthy of carrying the Fallout name, considering the series' most lauded aspect is its exploration, would be debatable. I'd personally rather an ambitious-yet-flawed attempt at squeezing the wasteland in its entirety into VR than a series of minigames with the Fallout logo slapped on the box.
But there are other Fallout 4 aspects that would work immediately and intuitively with a HTC Vive. Stealthy behaviour could easily, intuitively be triggered by crouching, a motion which the Vive cameras recognise flawlessly. Peeking around cover would work just as it would in the real world too.
The same goes for pointing a gun – watching the controllers magically transform into pistols in VR shooting gallery Space Pirate Trainer was a jaw-dropping, Tron-like moment, and the Vive controllers would then essentially act as your gun-toting hands, just like in a light-gun game. Even equipping new weaponry has been cleverly mapped to a gesture in Space Pirate Trainer that Fallout 4 could emulate – throw your hand over your shoulder, and pull it back to unholster and swap out whatever other weapon you've got equipped.
As it should be, it's the Fallout series' signature Pip-Boy that would make the most pain-free jump to virtual reality. It's a wasteland wanderer's best friend, housing map and quest info, as well as an inventory and radio station manager. In VR, it'd simply sit just below the Vive controllers, mapped to your arm as in the original game, ready to be pulled up close to your headset and viewed at leisure. Google's Tilt Brush for the HTC Vive is a perfect example of this in action – a 3D painting application, it features a futuristic artist's palette that sits where one of the Vive's two motion controllers rests in your hand. You use the controller's touch pad to scroll through its options, and then point the other controller at specific items then shown to select them. A similar system would be just right for the Pip-Boy.
There is no easy solution to getting Fallout 4 working in VR. But even the potential ambition of the project sets the mind racing. If all works out well, and I truly hope it does, virtual reality might finally have its killer app.