by Alex Lemcovich
Pixel Rift is about nostalgia, but it doesn't rely on pixelated graphics to convey it. You’re plunged into a virtual past as a youngster growing up with video games.
It tells a story almost every gamer can relate to: how their worlds were changed by the classic games they played and why they continued to play them as they got older. It's a childhood gaming simulator filled with scenarios that can awaken long forgotten memories, albeit with a modern VR twist. The process of discovery and interactive crossover, using a combination of head-tracking and a gamepad, is particularly well done.
“I want to make people travel back in time to the good times of gaming!” Ana Ribeiro, Pixel Rift’s developer, tells me. “To re-experience these moments and let people who never experienced it, like younger people, experience these moments. I really want to make this game unique for virtual reality.”
There’s an Inception thing going on here with overlapping realms: games within a game. The playable demo level, “1989”, was set in a virtual classroom where I had to reach the boss in an 8-bit platformer on my ‘Game Girl’ system without being caught by an irate teacher.
There were smaller interactive elements I could toy with. A spitball shooter on my school desk proved entertaining, and I made sure I traumatised every classmate in the front row with it before going back to the Game Girl. The plan was to keep the teacher distracted. It seemed to work, as she turned around and barked at the kids in the front row instead of me.
With teacher thoroughly distracted, I reached the end of level boss on the Game Girl and a flash of light filled the screen. A huge dragon-rider sprite and my fireball-hurling hero popped out of the handheld system onto my desk, where battle commenced to a foreboding 8-bit boss theme.
This is a dream come true! When I was a kid at school I dreamed of seeing in-game characters released from the confines of their screens. What youngster hasn’t secretly wished that could happen? VR has made it (kind of) possible.
Ribeiro has designed Pixel Rift to be fun and narrative-driven, but not to be too easy. “For that boss fight you have to open your mind to ‘reality’.” she says, post battle, “You have to defeat the boss in a non-traditional way using the world around you.”
The dragon gave me a kicking, but I worked out that I could use my spitball shooter. I knocked the beast out of the air and it collapsed on the desk, where my hero could hammer it with fireballs.
If done right then Pixel Rift, rich with layers of interactivity, could resonate with anyone who's ever let games into their imagination. It could be a eureka moment, not just in VR gaming but in narrative-driven game design as well.