Increasingly conversations online and press articles are once again diving into discussions about the Metaverse and what it is or isn’t. One of the challenges is considering a pervasive joined up set of multiplatform virtual worlds or simply a single absolutely huge one. The latter is quite a technical challenge, and nothing has come close to that yet. Our online experiences are often themed around an activity, we engage in work, we play games, we hang out with family and friends, and we are entertained by performances. Looking at just one day of gameplay and two very different games I was challenged to consider scale and size of environments a little more.
Giant world playground
Ubisoft recently had a weekend of beta play on its upcoming game Riders Republic. This is a follow up to its snow sports game Steep. That featured full scale mountain areas from around the world and let you snowboard, ski and wingsuit around. It often took about 20 minutes to descend a mountain and the game felt huge. In Riders Republic they have amped that scale up and included not only snow filled mountain tops for boarding but added mountain bikes and a few other vehicles to traverse deserts and valleys of California. This is all taking place on a map that is about 16x16km with some elevation of around 5km in that too. I only played for a few hours as it was a limited time beta test, but the sense of space was amazing, the freedom to ride and fly really came across. On top of that you get to see all the other people traversing the terrain, the map was teaming with indicators of what seemed to be thousands of others in the space and you often cross paths, or team up in races. It also features an organized mass race for 64 people, here it focusses on the track and making sure you can see everyone in the race with you, in effect filtering out all else. As a player you still feel part of a large map and group of people, but the tech is only focussed on the specifics of the part of the map you and the other 64 are on. There are lots of smoke and mirror approaches to give the sense of being somewhere with lots of people, really that is all that matters, that it feels as the designers want it to for the player. How that is achieved shouldn’t worry anyone, other than the techies trying to build it.
Locked in a room
At the complete other end of the geographic scale spectrum is the game 12 Minutes. This is not a multiplayer game but does represent something about scale. It is a top-down view of an apartment with just 3 rooms and closet. It is beautifully rendered but the key is the story that unfolds. The main character finds he is stuck in a time-loop of 12 minutes, in that time he talks to his partner and after a little while a gruff plain clothes cop arrives and usually the main character ends up unconscious or dead, only to awake back at the start again trying to prove to his partner that the loop is happening. The way the clever story unfolds is interesting but the key to this is the convincing voice actors. The game has James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe performing in the roles. It has the feel of a Hitchcock movie and it just as you think you have a path through it twists on you. The physical space is tiny, the timeframe represented is short, but it produces acres of space and depth from just a few actions and lines of well written and brilliantly delivered dialogue.
As people we need to be able to engage with others, but we do not all need or want to be in a massive crowd or giant space all the time. The variations on metaverse experiences need to cater for all forms of human interaction and needs. The capability for anything to happen anywhere does feel like a great goal, a technical challenge to be overcome, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the quality of the experiences that can be created and curated. Often metaverse interconnectedness is about data formats and shared ID, but it is us as people who flow between these experiences. In these two cases I chose action sports for a few hours then the same me chose the intellectual claustrophobic time loop puzzle as a place to be. At no point was I expecting a rogue cop to be chasing me on a mountain bike, or snow to fill the apartment, of course in a true metaverse that “could” happen. It will be intriguing to see what the next decade of virtual world evolution brings.