E. McNeil wants to make games more than experiences in VR, and Tactera is one more example.
After I saw McNeil’s Darknet in the Indie Megabooth at PAX, he introduced me to his work-in-progress VR title Tactera, which brings a bit more action to the VR gameplay that has been in relatively short supply. Tactera is a simplified RTS played on a virtual reality tabletop, where your role is squarely in the macro view of the battle, instead of micromanagement of individual units. You command nodes, instead of troops, which you’ll use to deploy squadrons to rush the front lines or offer ranged support from artillery and bombers. The gameplay is simpler than you’re likely accustomed to with an RTS, but it’s a perfect fit for a controller and VR headset.
With most RTS games, you’re spending as much time managing individual units as you do planning the grand scheme of the battle. Tactera is a whole different beast, and is a significant divergence from your typical RTS. You’ll start the battle with a couple of nodes under your control, each of which can deploy a specific unit type. You simply look at the node with the desired unit, select it, then look at and select the area or node that you want them to assault, and they set off without any further input from you. Once they’ve defeated nearby enemies, or captured the target node, the AI takes over and deploys them to another nearby point of contention to keep fighting.
You’ll start the map with access to only a couple of nodes and a couple of units, but when you capture a new node, you’ll be able to choose what type of unit it will produce, which is where much of the tactics and strategy will come into play. If you’ve got tank battalions getting pushed back from an enemy node, you might want to use your next capture for artillery, which does huge damage at distance, helping clear the path for your ground troops. You’ll get tanks to advance the ground war, and bombers for air support. The demo was limited, but at launch, they’re planning for 12 different unit types, which will make for some interesting gameplay choices, since the largest map I saw only had around 8 total nodes to work with. You’ll have to choose your unit production carefully.
McNeil mentioned a heavy influence of Command and Conquer on his design for Tactera, which is another fantastic example of gameplay-oriented VR, given the source material. So much VR is dedicated to experiencing a virtual space, rather than actually participating in gameplay, it’s great to see the sort of thing that’s going to advance the development of gameplay mechanics for the VR ecosystem.
McNeil is aiming for a Q1 2016 launch for Tactera, which he’s hoping to offer as another launch title on Oculus, as well as making it available on other VR platforms. It’s simple, to be sure, but it’s more intense than you’d expect, and definitely offers more long-term playability than the large majority of VR demos I’ve seen.