Imagine summiting a famous mountain peak, surrounded by breathtaking vistas in VR. Now imagine using your own hands as you cling for dear life—that’s what The Climb is all about.
This pulse-pounding Oculus title launched back in April for VR play on gamepad, but Touch integration takes the experience to new heights! Better yet, the Touch version is a free update to all current owners of The Climb and will come with a new level as well!
Niels Stoelinga, Gameplay Programmer for The Climb, tells us more about the game’s creation and how hand presence makes it more realistic than ever.
Tell us about Crytek and how you developed The Climb.
Niels Stoelinga: At Crytek, I worked on many games—including Ryse and Warface—before I became focused primarily on virtual reality. While I was prototyping player locomotion and weapon handling, one of our level designers created a very basic climbing game, featuring hands that followed the head movement of the player. We called it “Matto Hands” after Matthias Otto, its creator. Pressing the triggers on the gamepad let you hold onto specific marks on a wall. Although very basic, it was a lot of fun, so we decided to develop the core mechanic and show it to Oculus. They really liked it and encouraged us to make it into a full game.
What's the craziest reaction you’ve seen from someone playing the Touch version?
NS: At a tech event in London, someone became so completely immersed in the game, when she grabbed a grip that broke off the cliff in VR, causing her to fall in the game, she screamed at the top of her lungs and ripped the headset off. It might have been a bit too much presence for her!
How did you update The Climb for Touch implementation?
NS: It worked out very well, since climbing revolves around hand movement. When movements mimic your brain’s expectations, it feels more real.
Some mechanics became simpler with Touch. For example, in the gamepad version, we used a button press for players to check their watch in-game. Now you can just look at your wrist. This actually becomes a lot more immersive and natural because it replicates real life.
Bringing in Touch controls required additional work in other ways, however. Playing with a gamepad, the movement of the player is automatic. With Touch, the player decides how to move through the space. We had to ensure that the hands are always in the right position—if it doesn’t look or feel right, it breaks presence.
Addressing fatigue was also something that we had to consider. For some players, moving quickly for an extended period of time in VR can cause discomfort. So our chalk mechanic and stamina system play an important role for people new to VR, periodically slowing down player movement so they can take a breather.
Were there any unexpected consequences of maintaining two versions of the game: one for the gamepad and one for Touch?
NS: While we aimed to give players a very similar experience with both inputs, we had to consider how this affects competition. After all, The Climb is a sports game, so you need a level playing field.
One of the first decisions we made was to split the leaderboards for gamepad and Touch. Both ways of playing are different, and that inevitably leads to a difference in times. This gave us the freedom to make the Touch input as fun as possible, without being bound by making it balanced with the gamepad.
For instance, when you play with Touch, your reach differs depending on the length of your arms. We could have integrated Touch with the same jumping, reach length, and automatic repositions as the gamepad, but ultimately, mapping player movements into the game was just much more fun and engaging. Whether developers are adding Touch controls to an existing game or designing from scratch, it really is worth experimenting and tailoring the experience to take advantage of this new range of data provided by Touch.
What’s your key takeaway from the development process?
NS: It’s important to play around and experiment. There are rules to VR, but we think many of them will change over time. I believe that there’ll be solutions for all sorts of things that are considered against the rules today. With The Climb, we were able to discover different ways to solve the problems, but other studios will come up with their own approaches. You can’t be afraid to experiment, tackle issues in new ways, and iterate. You never know what you might solve.
Do you think real rock climbers will have fun with this version?
NS: We showed the game to professional climbers at an Adidas Rockstars event earlier this year, and they really liked it. They said the flow of the game is very similar to the real thing—Touch really helps with that.
Thanks for the insight, Niels. We can’t wait for everyone to chalk up in The Climb with Touch this December!
— The Oculus Team