Games

How Oculus Uses VR to Help You Become Your Favorite Marvel Super Hero

The Head of Oculus Studios talks to Marvel.com about the state of VR and what ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ brought to the table.

The following article is brought to you by Oculus.

It’s been nearly a month since “MARVEL Powers United VR” made its way on to Rift (get it in the Oculus Store now), helping Marvelites worldwide channel and become their very own Super Heroes. With Oculus Studios, virtual reality (VR) allows us to step into our Marvel hero’s shoes, team up, go toe-to-toe with Marvel’s baddest villains and save the world, and live out our fantasies in a full body experience. There is no amount of joy that can compare to suiting up and looking down and discovering your favorite hero’s exquisite suit in detail, in world. More than that, you can share this epic experience with friends AKA your squad with the 4-player co-op.

Bringing the hyper-realistic Marvel Universe to life came as a result of Oculus Studios reaching out to Sanzaru Games to create a prototype of what “MARVEL Powers United VR” would look like for Marvel Games. VR was a natural next step for Marvel Games to expand its roster. The full body inverse-kinematics allows you to become your Marvel hero of choice.

“VR has delivered on presence like no other gaming platform can,” said Steve Arnold, Head of Oculus Studios, to Marvel.com. “I’ve been working in the medium for three years now and I’m still regularly amazed by new experiences and innovations that I see, and there are plenty of tricks yet to be discovered. It’s an exciting time for developers that are trailblazing the future of VR. Certain things about the medium make it both easier and harder to develop in.”

Marvel Games thoughtfully considered how Oculus and VR could transfer and expand the Marvel Universe. “Watching a TV show or film is largely a passive experience,” reflects Bill Rosemann, Executive Creative Director, Marvel Games. “Sure, in your head you may be trying to piece together a mystery or remember a plot point, but you’re just watching. Reading a comic book is a slightly more active experience; you’re providing the pacing and internal sound. But when you play VR, you are fully active in directing your gaze, moving your full body and employing your amazing powers. With ‘MARVEL Powers United VR,’ you actively fulfill your lifelong fantasy of becoming your favorite hero and leaping into action across Marvel’s coolest locations against our most infamous villains.”

“VR is unique in the incredible sense of presence that Rift and Touch provide,” adds Arnold. “The two main ways that this is manifested in the game are scale and full body presence. There have been a ton of great MARVEL games over the years, but Powers United VR is the first title that puts you in total control of your characters arms and hands, thanks to Oculus Touch controllers. Pressing an ‘A’ button and watching a character doing a move is one thing, but physically performing something like Hulk’s Thunderclap for yourself makes it that much more ‘real.’ The sense of scale is unique to VR as well – you can ‘become’ MARVEL Super Heroes on other mediums, but stepping into the viewpoint of Rocket Raccoon and looking up at everything in the world is only possible through VR. Many VR games only recreate your hands or arms, but in ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ we went the extra mile and gave you the full body presence of every hero in the game. It was important to us to have you look down and really feel like you’ve become your favorite Super Hero…. I won’t spoil them, but the sense of scale really helped us put you in the middle of this story in a way that wouldn’t be as impactful outside of VR.”

Adding, “VR is not unlike other platforms in that quality is king. It’s not that any one genre or category of games will rise to the top for VR and dominate the market share – it’s that the best quality offering will see the most success, regardless of genre. ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ is unique in that it’s one of the first full-sized games based on a licensed IP. Oculus Studios is going to continue to push the bleeding edge of investments in quality across lots of different genres in order to get a wide variety of quality VR content out there.”

VR allows Oculus to disrupt gaming and entertainment, and “MARVEL Powers United VR” was the perfect game for Oculus Studios to draw in fans who knew Marvel’s wealth of heroes. “The main reason that we wanted to partner with Marvel on this title was to bring in a more mainstream audience,” said Arnold. “Our content does a great job exciting hardcore VR fans, the people that have already made the jump into the medium and are very invested in everything that we do. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a ton of people that may have heard of VR and maybe have tried it once, but certainly don’t have a setup at home.”

With VR, Arnold knew he could tap into a person’s innate desire to be a hero, specifically a Marvel hero. “The appeal behind Powers United VR is that it offers that ultimate fantasy fulfillment of becoming your favorite super hero,” said Arnold. “We’ve all had that daydream at some point in our lives. Marvel’s characters are such beloved parts of popular culture that they were the natural fit for who we should partner with. The roster we’ve been able to put together in this game is full of really recognizable characters, from Black Panther to Spider-Man to the X-Men, Avengers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Having such an incredible cast really bridges the gap for a more mass-market audience that might not be fully familiar with Rift or Touch. They watch our trailer and can instantly understand the experience we’ve built.”

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In “Marvel Powers United VR,” The Masters of Evil—a powerful alliance between the super villains across the Marvel Universe—steal the Cosmic Cube as part of their scheme to forge new realities forcing different heroes from across the Marvel Universe are hurled together in a chaotic, interdimensional conflict spanning past, present, and alternate futures to fight to restore order to the universe. The 18 Marvel Super Heroes the game launched with underscored limitless possibilities. “The Marvel Games team really helped us come to the right narrative backstory that justified the wide variety of Super Hero and villain families that appear,” stated Arnold. “And we got to bring back the Masters of Evil, which was a cool nod to some of our favorite comic arcs of yesteryear. Once we established a motive for the villains, the call for the Super Heroes to appear and defend the universe fell into place naturally.”

With the right teams in place, and familiar characters to play with, everything was in motion for “MARVEL Powers United VR” to come into fruition. The ease in accessibility of VR tech and gear to users was in large part due to Oculus and Facebook pushing the medium forward. We’re not far from seeing VR usage infused as part of our everyday life (in the home, in the workplace, and socially on-the-go). “Rift and Touch, and, by extension, ‘MARVEL Powers United VR,’ represent the highest end of the VR-quality spectrum,” explained Arnold. “With that comes a bigger barrier to entry – you need a computer capable of driving the Rift, and it’s not a portable experience. But on the other end of the spectrum, we have Oculus Go: VR driven by standalone, mobile computing power. We’re going to keep investing in both sides of the spectrum and creating great content on all fronts as we drive towards the middle – a powerful, portable device that enables great exclusive content like ‘MARVEL Powers United VR.’ We’re pushing towards that goal with every generation of hardware/content. Some people are already there and use VR as part of their everyday life – we seek to grow that community.”

We’re still in the early adoption stages of VR, and with that certain challenges VR presents to the gaming market and games itself. Arnold not only understood the challenges VR presented to a game of this scale, but tackled it by anticipating user behavior that would enhance the experience. “Player control of the camera for example,” revealed Arnold. “We don’t need to build any scripted cinematics because we put you in direct control of where to look, and when. At the same time, these scripted moments can be totally missed by players if they choose to look at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are plenty of things we took for granted on non-VR mediums that we’ve had to work to figure out for VR.”

Arnold continued, “Locomotion is huge too. Two years ago, Oculus Studios had hardly any free locomotion in our games. Everything was static, or teleport-only. Now we’re shipping content like ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ and we offer full locomotion where players can leap, fly, and run around at speed. We’ve found a way to do this that’s comfortable for most users, and for those that aren’t totally comfortable, we’ve built in a ‘comfort mode’ that dynamically blackens the edge of the screen. It’s a really fun mix of doing incredible new things that aren’t possible on other platforms thanks to our hand tracking and scale capabilities, while solving for simple things that ‘just work’ on flat 2D screens, like locomotion.”

Other limitations included gameplay mechanics. “We have to take physicality into account, for sure,” shared Arnold. “The expectation of was that you would become your favorite Super Hero, and therefore you had to be physical to use their powers and abilities. In a game with an average round of about 15 minutes that can be quite a workout! We’ve had to structure the game such that there were natural pauses throughout the match so that people don’t over-exert themselves. I’ve already seen people remark online that they’ve sweat to the point where they think the game is helping them get in better shape.”

Many consider VR a single-player activity; however, this game demonstrates VR can be an enjoyable, multi-player social experience. Something Oculus heaviliy considered. “We are big believers in social co-presence,” said Arnold. “Or the ability to share a meaningful head- and hand-tracked multiplayer experience with another human. This belief absolutely carried over to ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ – we spent a ton of time and resources building something that would work with up to three other human players. From the moment that you matchmake with someone else in the Alpha Flight space station, which is effectively our social lobby, to being dropped in the middle of a giant battle seeing other heroes and powers fly all over the place, seeing other characters and knowing that they’re being driven by another human being somewhere is a very powerful experience. It can be as simple as high fiving someone else, playing rock-paper-scissors with them, or just waving at them. Seeing that level of human interaction come through the bodies of MARVEL characters has led to a lot of smiles and laugh-out-loud moments. This notion directly led to our comic book cover feature where you get a photo op at the end of every round.”

Looking at the state of VR now, how will it develop and where can it take us? Arnold leaves us with this, “From a hardware standpoint, you’re going to see the technology continue to improve – better screens, optics, ergonomics, etc. There is a tight yin-yang-like relationship between the technology and the content: content is critical because you need to have something to do with the hardware, but the ever-improving hardware lets us make better and better content. You’ll see that relationship continue. Because we have to render our games twice (one for each eye) at 90 frames per second in order for VR to work, there is a lot of room to make large leaps with visual quality as the hardware gets increasingly powerful.”

MARVEL Powers United VR is available now in the Oculus Store for $39.99. If you haven't set up a VR gaming section in your home just yet, you're in luck! For a limited-time, you can purchase the Oculus Rift x MARVEL Powers United VR bundle from Amazon or Best Buy for $399.

Stay tuned to Marvel.com and powersunitedvr.com for more exciting updates about MARVEL Powers United VR!