Like many, I am looking forward to the release of Oculus Quest later this spring. With a slew of ports and original titles coming to the system, and its standalone 6DoF specs, the excitement feels palpable. Yet it also felt like a dent hit Oculus recently when footage of Robo Recall released, showing downgraded graphics with flat textures and lighting.
Members of the VR community reacted with disdain. Why should they play an inferior version of a game that is already out? How powerful can the Oculus Quest actually be if it cannot handle the power of some titles?
Such allegations are well-founded, but otherwise misled. While graphical fidelity matters, gameplay will ultimately prevail when the VR headset releases.
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Graphical fidelity in the past
From my perspective, the argument around graphics has always been misleading. The debate on the fidelity of hardware is a layover of the last few generations of games consoles, when the defining differences can be potential power. SEGA touted ‘blast processing,’ little more than a marketing term that was not defined otherwise. The same occurred with the PlayStation, a powerful console which undercut SEGA’s offering in the 1990s. Even now, Microsoft pushes the ‘world’s most powerful console.’
Yet today, as the high-end consoles look similar and graphical differences are minimal, its impact is small for consumers. Microsoft has the power, but many titles that make use of the specs. Meanwhile, Nintendo and Sony are dominating the competition with fun, innovative titles that are exclusive to their systems. The games themselves are the defining reason people buy console; which is why Microsoft acquired an array of first-party studios through 2018 and 2019.
For some, graphics matter. Forza is a beautiful game, and God of War looks breathtaking. But companies like Nintendo has constantly shown that simplified, stylish graphics can create a breathtaking experience by making smart use of the hardware, if complemented with fun gameplay.
Gameplay trumps fidelity
The VR community can be sub-divided into several circles of people with different priorities. Some want the most ultra-realistic experiences which the Oculus Rift and the HTC VIVE can offer, from hardcore racing titles to realistic experiences. Others want to simply play some fun and unique games, such as Beat Saber and ASTRO BOT. Condensing the community into a general theme is difficult and outright misleading.
Yet what is certain is that the most ‘fun’ games are the ones which tend to top the charts. Beat Saber is the classic example where, sweaty and grinning, people take off the headset and bond online on the game. Similarly, ASTRO BOT is an innovative game which uses game mechanics really well, while Tetris Effect is, quite literally, Tetris in VR. Truly great gameplay is timeless.
The Oculus Quest offers the potential to exemplify great gameplay over graphics. While it is less powerful, it can still offer fun games only avaliable with 6DoF controls, and recent previews say that the tracking is ‘good enough’. While expensive, the standalone headset is still more accessible than its counterparts as well. If coupled with great experiences, the VR headset could do very well.
Oculus Quest predictions
Analyst predictions tend to fluctuate and be relatively inaccurate, and the community has a tendency of jumping to the conclusion that every year is the ‘year of VR’. When the Oculus Quest launches, the sales will likely be higher than the Go, but it cannot be said that it’ll pop out of the bubble and hit mainstream appeal.
Yet it will not be graphics which sell the Quest. It would be the great experiences which come along with an accessible, standalone headset which don’t need high-end systems. Like with console generations before, its the software that moves hardware, and the software itself just needs to be fun to play.
Editor, Virtual Perceptions