Remember when touch-screens first came out on smart phones during the first iPhone era? Remember when all the hit games had virtual d-pad designs? Remember how they were all terrible?
That control scheme is rare these days, and not to be found in any of the top app charts*.
That's because the virtual d-pad was a poor fit for the product. The future of smart phones was not simply porting yet-another-platformer to the latest and greatest device; the winning solution was custom-tailored control schemes and all new game designs that best fit the language of the touch-screen: using taps, swipes, pinches, and drawing paths, and games that could only be best controlled with those inputs. Games that don't rely on tactile feedback, which is what the d-pad excels at.
VR is the same way. The future of VR is not going to be playing first-person-shooters with an XBox controller; it's simply the easiest thing to imagine since that's what we have right now (classic Availability Bias). An FPS in VR is possible, but really difficult to pull off, and I can really understand why the urge is there to make games like that.
But the future of VR lies in a new set of mechanics, a new language of interaction. Like what? Nobody can predict! And that is why it's exciting to be in game development right now: this is prime territory to crack open brand new ideas and try them out. One of them is going to end up being the hot new thing, and it isn't going to be anything like what we have today.
We haven’t even figured out what the "input language" is going to be in VR yet, we don't know what the "swipe" or "pinch to zoom" equivalents are for VR space. It's not going to be like Minority Report, where the interface took so much yoga that Tom Cruise had to take breaks on set while filming the UI scenes. It's not going to be with a DPad, virtual or otherwise. It might include motion capturing cameras, or perhaps accelerometers, but how do we translate human body motions into meaningful inputs for a computer? Does a computer keyboard in VR need to look like a standard meatspace keyboard, once we discard the needs for visible keys, desk space, and comfortable seating heights? We have the opportunity to make something new, to truly innovate, to make a whole new language of human-computer interaction. One that is easy, fun, and natural, and one that is so fantastic that if I saw it today, I'd think it was science fiction.
Once we figure out those inputs, we can figure out what core game mechanics work best with them, instead of trying to shoehorn our current favourites into a half-compatible system.
Being average is death, and Radial Games has a great interest in the future of VR. Not just in what comes first (first-to-market will likely be standard controllers and FPSes, as is currently the case with the Oculus dev kits), but more importantly in what will come later - the stuff that really works. The new control inputs, the new game designs that we can't even imagine yet.
We want to produce a launch title for this new paradigm. We're gearing up to have that game completed by around 2018, maybe 2020. But hopefully a lot sooner.
_*: interesting footnote; virtual d-pad games are very popular in non-Western markets. I have no idea why this is, so this analogy is very cultural!_
PS: I first wrote this in 2016. We made a first attempt at achieving this in our title Fantastic Contraption, and continue to strive for better defining the space!