Much like an awkward, nerdy girl in a cliche 90s teen movie, VR gaming has yet to take off its glasses and undo its hair to become the stunner we always hoped it could be. But why is that? Why does VR remain a niche part of gaming? Is it the cost? The games themselves?
Or maybe we’re expecting too much. Maybe VR is destined to be the Jeff Spicoli of game genres, always there to entertain us, but not quite reaching its potential.
To get a little insight on the present and future of VR gaming, I decided to ask the Larry, Moe, and Curly of VR gaming – otherwise known as Steven, Jeff, and Mark of the Hummy VR YouTube channel. (Apologies if they would prefer to be compared to the Marx brothers, but given how often their videos descend into comic violence, the Stooges seemed like a better comparison.)
If you’re a dedicated reader of the website, you might remember Hummy VR from the article I wrote about them about two years ago. Or you might just have watched some of their work – like their first big viral video, “Fluffypuppy’s first bar fight,” one of the few improv comedy sketches that manages to combine drinking, fighting, and a medieval flail.
When I talked to them last, Hummy VR’s YouTube channel was on the rise, but had only 1800 subscribers. Now, they have more than 170,000 subscribers and multiple viral videos. (And that’s not including Mark’s viral quarantine nerf basketball video that was everywhere this spring.) The guys say they never expected their channel to take off like it did. (Though if I could pat myself on the back for a moment, I obviously did expect it, which is why I wanted to interview them.)
“I remember getting nervous around 6K subscribers, thinking, ‘Now I have to keep producing to keep up with what people are expecting,” Steven said. “But because of all the positive feedback we’ve been getting, we decided to keep going. Now here we are much further than we ever thought we would be. I did not expect this, but I’m driven to keep producing quality content.”
Along with the additional subscribers comes additional pressure. Steven added:
“We do get a lot of direct messages, and questions from people, requests, etc. I feel bad if I don’t have time to answer everybody. That, plus there is a lot of pressure and a bit of anxiety hoping that you will meet the expectations of everyone with each new video.”
The videos on Hummy VR are, “fully improvised,” though the guys say that they usually decide on roles early on, after watching the intro or looking at the characters and settings. From there, they might get an idea and build on it as they develop the sketch. Though the situations are purely improv, there is some editing work involved – something you can see from the flow of one of their newest videos, “Short Fuse Knife Fight,” where the cycle of chaos becomes the joke.
And like all comedians, they don’t want to waste a good joke. Mark acknowledged that, “sometimes we step on a good line when two people are talking and we try to recreate it.”
Given how many different games they have played in the pursuit of good material, the guys at Hummy VR have compiled an impressive amount of VR gaming experience, which they were happy to share. Steven explained that VR does bring something very different to the gaming experience:
“We are known for screwing around of course, but the most fun gameplay experiences I have had personally are the realistic feeling of aiming guns, and flight simulators. I also find it fascinating that I can’t get used to the immersion. A horror game gives me genuine fear and jump scares. Even if I know I’m perfectly safe and in broad daylight. VR has a funny effect on the brain that I can’t get over.”
Jeff had a slightly different perspective: “In general VR gaming is a lot like regular gaming. However, with VR gaming I get to disappoint my parents with a very expensive headset on.”
Steven says that the past two years have taught him a lot about the genre. “There have been very innovative developments in VR. Very clever developers with great ideas that we have seen in the broad spectrum of VR games. There are so many possibilities you wouldn’t think of. I’ve seen developers use head tracking to ‘nod’ to signal an AI character. I’m always learning more about VR, and it’s a lot to keep up with.”
Jeff and Mark, on the other hand, have somewhat more pragmatic advice for the new VR gamer.
“You are going to hit things in your room. There is no way around it. I managed to hit the floor so it doesn’t matter if you take everything else out. You are going to hit something,” Jeff said.
Mark added: “Don’t stay in VR for over two hours. Your head will hurt and you won’t know what’s real anymore.”
All three acknowledged that the high price tag is probably the biggest factor preventing the genre from becoming more mainstream – though Steven also says that the fact that it can occasionally cause nausea, “is an instant turn-off.”
“It needs to be more affordable,” said Mark. “I know a lot of my friends want to get into it but it’s hard to choose if you want to eat for the week or play a VR game.”
Both Mark and Jeff remarked on the lack of game titles associated with VR as another factor.
“Other than Half-Life not many big franchises have done anything in VR to bring their fan bases,” Jeff pointed out.
“There are a lot of great games that get abandoned because not a lot of people are buying them,” Mark added. “It’s sad.”
Asked about the VR game they wish they could play (but which doesn’t exist), the guys were split between fulfilling a fantasy or engaging with the ultra-real.
“I wish I could play Madden in VR or NBA2k. If they had a handle on that, online gaming would be way different and more strategic,” Mark said.
Despite it being a bit incongruous with their usual improv material, Steven also wanted to see VR companies produce, “more serious simulation type games, like a surgery training tool or something of that nature.”
Jeff, on the other hand, wished for, “a game like Superhot VR but set in important events throughout history. Instead of slowing time to defeat attackers, you could slow time to keep John from meeting Yoko or stop Michael Bay from learning what Transformers are.”
Unsurprisingly, if given the chance to write or create their own VR game, the guys all chose scenarios that would work well as an improv platform. Mark favored Hitman in VR, while Jeff envisioned a cross between Inspector Gadget and LA Noire. Steven also liked the idea of a mystery game:
“One of my favorite videos we did is where we have detective-like characters. I would like to see AI that has dialogue written to prompt funny responses from us.”
All three agree that the combination of absurdity and realism is what makes VR games such a good match for their style of comedy. Watch a few of VR Hummy videos – or the top 10 clips from season 1 – and you’ll notice how much of their funniest moments come from their ability to build on the odd and unforeseen (as with all good improv).
“All of the unexpected things like objects falling through surfaces or characters twisting oddly lend themselves to humor,” said Jeff. “There is always something weird to react to.”
Mark added, “It’s the subtle reactions you can make. I can hang my head or scratch my head with my hand. It makes it feel real. To see characters in the game do that is a lot of fun.”
What does the future hold for VR Hummy? Don’t worry, they’re not about to subvert your expectations with a sudden foray into slam poetry or nose flute recitals (probably). Steven explicitly promised, “more of the same,” for their fans:
“Occasionally we will throw in a new idea or an experiment, like our Star Wars episode. But in general, I hope we continue to produce content for the sole purpose of just making people laugh.”
Steven says that they are constantly working to create new content:
“Almost every day, I am researching up and coming VR games. There is still so much for us to discover. Even older games out there that I’m sure are great for our style of videos.”