Making a Good PVP Melee in VR

One of the main selling points in Cradle of Sins is the Player versus Player (PvP) aspect of it. It may seem simple at first: FPS games exist since the 80’s and the fundamentals have been set already. We’re not re-inventing the wheel, right? But the fact is, we kind of are!

Shooting and melee in FPS games have been refined over and over again for playing on a screen. With VR, the same mechanics more or less have been carried over from these games into the VR world. Melee combat works well in most VR games like Boneworks, Blade and Sorcery and the newly released The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners. What sets Cradle of Sins’ combat apart though is the fact that players fight each other. While working on implementing melee in our game, we discovered many issues that weren’t obvious at the start. Melee is cool in other VR games but only because players are fighting NPCs. Most AI in VR games thus far is simplistic and not as elaborate as typical FPS games yet; NPCs don’t mind standing in front of your sword or being grabbed and mercilessly slaughtered by you. They tend to act slow enough for the player to have enough time to attack, block, dodge, etc. because developers understand that in VR twitch mechanics don’t work quite the same as in regular games. What happens then when you pit two humans against each other? Enter the sausage whip.

When we implemented melee, we imagined epic battles just like in the movies or in AAA games’ over-the-top cutscenes. But players were too smart for that, and they knew that if they kept hitting as quickly as possible, they can quickly eliminate their opponents fast! That quick action became the notorious sausage whip move players talk about in our game (we also adopted the name in the studio as a constant reminder to make melee better). Typical MOBA mechanics like making attacks miss didn’t work for us: You know you hit your target, you saw the sword collide with their body, so how can the game say it missed? We couldn’t force players to be knocked down either; it works in first person and third person games on a screen, because players accept the fact of losing control when they see on-screen feedback and pressing buttons doesn’t do anything. But in VR, how can you inform the player they can’t move when their heads and arms are free to move in reality and their brain is registering motion? Plus, forcing VR players in the game to be suddenly moved in ways their brains don’t expect induces nausea. It’s quite a challenge to create an immersive PvP experience in VR. All the variables that a designer had to think of from a player’s perspective multiply with the addition of another player in the mix, let alone 6 players!

This is it for now; more notes about our journey in this project will be posted in the days to come. Feel free to comment below and give us your thoughts on the subject. Until then, see you on the Cradle Island!