Among the Sleep is a first-person horror game with an unusual twist. It's played not as an adult but as a very young child, sometimes walking and sometimes crawling, and always seeing the world from a much closer-to-the-ground perspective than we're used to. Bringing that point of view to VR through the Oculus Rift was one of the stretch goals in the 2013 Kickstarter, and the contribution level was quite handily met. But today developer Krillbite announced that it is halting development of the VR version of the game because it's just not working.
The problem, Krillbite's Kristina Halvorsen explained on the studio's blog, is that the techniques used to emulate the actions and perspective of a small child—"waggling" when they walk, occasionally falling over—run completely opposite to those needed to create an effective VR simulation.
"A very common technique in story driven first person games is to take away the players control of the camera when you want to tell some story. You want the player to see the spaceships approaching over the mountain, the skyscraper collapsing over the military troops or the mom feeding you cake," Halvorsen wrote. "Basically the game grabs hold of your virtual head for a few seconds or minutes, points it in the right direction and tells you to look at this before you can continue playing."
But doing that in VR "feels like someone is physically grabbing your head and forcing you to watch something."
"Suddenly your entire body is paralyzed and the sense of freedom of perspective and immersion that VR does so well is shattered. It’s a violation of the trust you are building up between your game and the player," she continued. "The same goes for all our camera techniques that try to emulate a small child’s movements. When your eyes tell you that you are wobbling along down a corridor but your body is standing still, it’s basically a recipe for motion sickness. Toggling between walking and crawling or climbing is the same, the discrepancy between what you feel and what you see is very uncomfortable."
Halvorsen said that after a lot of working trying to come up with an effective implementation, Krillbite has been forced to conclude that what it wants to accomplish with Among the Sleep, specifically "the story we want to tell and the relationship we want to build between the player and the child," is not compatible with VR. Some parts of the experience work, but the transition from the "novelty" of early experimentation with the Oculus Rift DK1 to a full-on VR game experience did not.
The studio is now looking at building a smaller, stand-alone demo, purpose-built for VR using Among the Sleep assets. "We are humbled and flattered that some of you are still waiting for a full VR experience of Among the Sleep. But we don’t want to give you a half-assed VR experience that feels forced and compromised," Halvorsen wrote. "We’re very sorry to disappoint you."