The Tokyo Game Show Is Full of Gorgeous Virtual Unreality

The Tokyo Game Show overflowswith virtual reality games, and many of the best of them don’t simulate reality at all.

Developers and publishers arrived at Japan’s premiershow with 110 VR gamesfor PlayStation VR, Oculus, Vive, and every other VR rig you can think of.As you’d expect, realistic games likeCapcom’s freaky horror show Resident Evil 7and Sony’s gun-toting shooter Farpoint are drawing big crowds. But many titles are more attuned to the Japanese zeitgeist and invite you to enter the worlds of anime and manga.

The HTC Vive booth is clearly aimed at Japanese fans. One game,Kai-ri-sei Million Arthur, droppedme into a colorful cartoon world, drawn in a contemporary anime style, fora typical turn-based role-playing game boss battle. Myenemy’s magic spells filled the room (and my face) in a most convincing manner.

Fun, yes, but I the game I really wantedto play wasSpace Channel 5 VR. Let meattempt to describe it: Aspace-age TV reporter in a shiny orange getup fights aliens by dancing to the immediately catchy beat of 1970’s-era brass-band funk. It was a cult hit on Sega’s Dreamcast, but hasn’t been around for 15 years.

The demo consists of little more than shaking the Vive motion controllers to cheer on the action, but as a fan of the series, it was quite a trip to find myself inside the opening level of a game from 1999. Gamedeveloper Grounding says the project remains in the early stages, and the company is enthusiastic aboutSpace Channel 5 for VR.

“It’s been 15 years, but Space Channel 5 still looks really new right now,” says CEO Mineko Okamura. “It’s funny and sassy, and the graphics are really cool—a retro-future aspect.” Okamura was the original game’s assistant producer, and is joined at Grounding by othermembers of the original team. Okamura wants to focus on creating event demos until VR adoption picks up in Japan. “My feeling is that all of the developers are really excited to make VR, but normal people, like families, are I think a little bit distanced to that kind of new experience,” she said.

As we chatted, another Space Channel 5 fan wandered by—Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who came to Tokyo to try as many new VR games as possible.He threw himself into the dance moves with gusto.

“Its bizarre being here at Tokyo Game Show and seeing two of my favorite Dreamcast games, Space Channel 5 and Rez, coming back in virtual reality,” hesaid. (Rez, another Sega titleby the Space Channel team, will be a PlayStation 4 VR launch game next month.)“I’ve been trying basically everything. Have you tried the manga comics viewer?”

No, I replied, suddenly feeling like I must.

At the Square Enix booth, the people behindFinal Fantasyshowed off Project Hikari, a “concept showcase” by its Advanced Technology Division. Instead of stepping intoan animation, Project Hikari exploresthe idea of stepping intoa black-and-white comic—in this case, the popular adventure seriesTales of Wedding Rings. Itwas like reading a manga Minority Report-style. Panels pop up onscreen as dialog isread aloud. I could drag panels anywhere I wanted, pull them up close to see details, push them away to see the whole picture. Some major panels were 3-D, which was a bit like peering through a window.

In the background, the game’s main character was asleep on his bed. Asthe scene’s climactic moment happened (an explosion out his window), the panels fell away and the action resumed inside that animated background. As the demo continued, panels grewto encompass the space around me, or shrink to page size.

Project Hikari.Maybe/Square Enix

“We make some of the most high-end game technology,” says lead developer Kaei Sou. “Now that VR technology is becoming more and more prevalent in society, we need to think about how to evolve our entertainment content.”

Sou and the Advanced Technology group wanted to break from the typical VR experiences. “In our division, especially people on our team, we love storytelling,” Sou says. Beyond the simple desires of the team, Project Hikari is an attempt to create a VR experience that’s compelling to the average Japanese player.

“We wanted to do an experience where we have a connection to what people’s normal lives are,” Sou says. “Manga that people already buy and read in real life.”

While Project Hikari, like Space Channel 5 VR, is a conceptual demo, Sou is enthusiastic about it becominga commercial product. “We would not be doing this if it were not intended to let more people have access to this type of content,” he said.“Rather than try to recreate real life in a virtual space, lets make something that could not exist in real life.”

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