If you haven’t been hearing a lot about TO THE TOP VR, you haven’t been listening very closely. This recent release is getting a lot of attention and it’s well deserved. A fine combination of tech and a parkour theme, this game is everything you’d want from a new VR game because you can travel an entirely new and different landscape from the comfort of your own HMD. But how does it fair as a workout? While you’d expect this game to deliver on everything you’d get from a climbing wall or a serious stint in the streets of New York as a parkour enthusiast, it unfortunately doesn’t. What it does do, however, is move you through some intense action with the use of your arms. We sat down with R. Matey, Game Director for To The Top and spoke about the experience, how fit it is, how fit consumer VR can be as it is today and it’s place in the increasingly competitive VR landscape.
R. Matey: We started developing the game in November 2015. I just came back from China and was staying at an Airbnb in Austin with a small rock wall in their front lawn. At the same time I started brainstorming VR games with the other half of Electric Hat Games Dan Dunham. We knew movement was going to be a big challenge to take on with VR, so we jammed over a weekend on using a climbing movement system to get around and see if it worked. It worked great but we quickly realized realistic climbing was just not that fun.
VRFI: Is that why the game really doesn’t force users to actually do a lot of climbing motions?
RM: Why would you pay all of this money and go through this trouble to just simulate things you can do in the real world? [We] made the decision to make it more of a platforming game with superhero abilities. This way we can lean on tried and true challenges that have been developed in the platforming genre for the last 30 years and empower players with these amazing abilities. The biggest difference between our game and older platform games is that we are going for a more mature fun motif in a first person perspective perspective without the furry mascots.
VRFI: Was the parkour style on purpose or a happy accident?
RM: Parkour was part of the inspirations but we still look at this more like a new version of Super Mario than something based in reality.
VRFI: The game has a lot of superhero type movement and plays a lot off of the parkour motif. How important is the activity-based approach to this game and VR gaming in general?
RM: I think it is very important. I think movement adds so much more depth to a gaming experience, that [it] can be taken for granted. One of my favorite games from last year was Titanfall 2, the controls and movement were taken to a new level plus had a wide range of movement abilities with grappling hooks and etc. The game depth goes beyond just point and shooting. For VR games to succeed they need to match this depth and exceed it to justify the cost / requirements. For TO THE TOP we have a lot of depth just in the movement and variety of challenges. We have a road map of where we can add more systems to our base and match if not exceed current gaming depth.
VRFI: As this game takes people through a path to the top, as it were, do you foresee a future version with even more active movement to win and get ahead?
RM: If you are measuring how active you can be in VR, getting the most cardio possible, I would say you need to turn to being on a treadmill or speed bike. If you go down this route, then you need to hinder the game depth and make it more shallow. So it is not something we are currently pursuing and not a consumer friendly solution. Maybe gyms can introduce this equipment but then you have issues of designing new hardware. Currently we are very happy with how active the game is and the game play choices you have.
VRFI: How do you feel about people using this game for fitness?
RM: If people are using TO THE TOP for fitness that is fantastic. We would like to add more options for these players to get more of a workout / track it, but currently we are focused on fleshing out the rest of the core game. If we can expand the team in the future that will definitely be a consideration for the future updates.
VRFI: You could play this game sitting or standing or even with more movement of the arms in rowing motions etc. How would you advise people play this game?
RM: I would suggest standing and [giving] yourself enough space to put your arms out and turn 360. That is the exact space you need to go through the game. You do not need to swing your arms hard to boost yourself but your arms will naturally make these rowing motions. That is based on your physical comfort, you want to have your hands to the side because of gravity but most things you are reaching out to are directly in front of you or above. So you will naturally go from reaching to relaxed in a rowing movement so your arms are not fatigued for too long.
VRFI: Do you workout in vr? Would you recommend anyone to do so?
RM: Over the last couple of months leading up to the launch of TO THE TOP, I have only had time to play our game. I definitely have had some good workouts playtesting the whole game and getting through it at the end. I would recommend it to anyone that loves video games and want them to be more active.
VRFI: What are you working on now? What’s in store for the future of TO THE TOP?
RM: [We are] currently working on future content for TO THE TOP [and] are aiming to tackle multiplayer next and adding more levels for players to play.
VRFI: Does fitness come into play when you originally designed the game? How did that impact the end-user experience?
RM: Yes it is something I consider early on and making sure people of all sizes / shapes can play. Plus designing the game so the fatigue and play cycles are in sync. For example all of our levels can be completed in 2 minutes – 12 minutes for first play though. This way if you can only play for 15 – 30 minutes. You feel like you accomplished something with the time you have put in.