I've wanted to put some of my thoughts down on this since I started playing it this weekend. Completed the story mode last night, plus Jeff mentioning it on the Bombcast today, I wanted to mind barf a bit on here.
Long story short, Boneworks is essentially a fan-made love child of Half-Life 2 and Portal in VR, and seems to have jumped to #4 on my GOTY list. It took me roughly 15 hours to clear the story. Some people do it faster apparently, but I actually spent time looking for secrets and kinda being cautious like I would in any adventure/FPS game. It is the first VR game that feels like a must-play that isn't a racing or flight sim i.e. cockpit, seated experiences. I did play this with room scale, standing, and didn't really have to move around much.
I'm not exactly sure where to start on this. Boneworks is to VR, what Half-Life 2 was to physics back then. As Jeff described, it's a series of levels (the first one or two are tutorials basically) that feel like a patch work sort've built to demonstrate features. So, if you liked Half-Life 2 way back when because it was an awesome tech showcase, then you should play this if you can. What also makes this very weird, is that Half-Life: Alyx was just announced.. and that was supposed to be the "Half-Life" for VR? Supposedly the team at Valve was given a demonstration of Boneworks like a year ago and it heavily influenced their design ideas for Alyx? And no one has really brought up that Alyx was supposed to be at the Game Awards but wasn't. Sounds like Valve might've pulled the gameplay demo because of Boneworks releasing just before hand and uses free movement? All the lines are being blurred with this. Maybe Alyx will come out and take this to a whole new level, or it might just be the same thing but with a bit more big budget polish. The latter is what I'm expecting.
- The first was on a stage that had a lot of these batteries laying around (you can use them to power things) and I figured they must be there for a reason but I couldn't carry them all as I only have two hands and all my inventory slots were taken. Then I had the idea to grab a nearby milk crate and toss all the batteries in it.. And then I was able to hold it and carry it farther through the level. It sounds dumb and simple.. but your hands and fingers are mapped 1:1 with the Index, so I was able to physically stick my fingers through the handle openings in the milk crate and hold onto it. Was a weird moment that gave me butterflies, just taking a real, obvious, off-the-cuff idea and being able to apply it.
- The second was when I had the only real technical bug during the whole play through. For some reason, my left arm/hand bugged out and was stuck in a fixed position. My hand would rotate around the wrist and the fingers would track, but I couldn't move my whole arm/hand around. I was also no longer able to grab/collide my hand with anything. I was nearing the end of a level (and the save system kinda sucks) so I had to decide if I just give up and quit/restart or keep going. Without both hands, I couldn't reload a weapon. Or at least I didn't think of a way.. (maybe if I threw my weapon into the air, trigger slow-mo, grab the clip out with the one hand and put a new one in, then catch it?) Soo.. I manged to play through the rest of the level using only one arm. It was as if I had really lost an arm in combat or something. I used up the ammo in had loaded in my pistol and rifle, then had to resort to using a dagger. I had to holster the blade over my left shoulder with my right hand any time I wanted to grab or carry something. What was initially frustrating and dumb became this fascinating emergent gameplay experience.
- Boneworks has very limited locomotion choices. It's only free movement (like any regular FPS game) with some snap to turn options I think. I was able to play this without getting motion sick at all, which both did and didn't surprise me. I tried one other game (Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades) with free movement and it felt really weird. I don't remember why or how because that was a few months ago but yea. Having pretty much full, free range of motion makes this play much more like any other FPS game, except you're in it. It's amazing most of the time.
- I have had a lot of fun playing through the story and then watching other people play that level via Let's Plays. People's unique first impressions seeing how the game plays. How they find ways to solve puzzles. Weird experimentations exploring the physics system. There are people like CerberusArms who seemed to have played Boneworks during its development so he's very good at the gunplay and movement. Honestly, watching him play is like watching a commercial for it, he's so comfortable in it that it seems fake. Everything works perfectly for him lol Then a new channel I came across, A Wolf in VR, where he's never touched it and he'll play it totally differently and much more like myself. Other people.. exhibit kind of extreme levels of violence and aggressiveness? Which is slightly disturbing yet still fascinating because they express it through gameplay in ways other people don't.
- There were and are effects outside of the game as well. I played Boneworks in fairly long sessions, particularly for VR. Hours flew by. After the first day, my right elbow was hurting in the same way it would after some vigorous Tennis back in high school i.e. just trying to serve the ball straight into the face of annoying classmates. I'm not a physically active person so my body isn't used to this anymore lol My calf muscles were sore as well I suppose from standing for so long and maintaining my balance. Beyond the first day though, I didn't have any more soreness /thumbsup
- I've also had some weird like.. reality perception stuff going on since playing this so much. Unlike other VR games, it has something to do with the free movement, full tracking of hands and fingers, plus the loose approximation of the arms/elbows attached, and physical representation of a body in game.. My dreams the last few nights have been different.. like I've been more lucid I think? I also kept waking up from these dreams? Another is that my hands and arms almost seem fake in my peripheral vision for brief moments. Like I've got so used to seeing them in Boneworks that it's like my vision just feels like a camera view and my arms/hands are just.. there.. doing things. I've had weird moments when I get up in the morning and feel like I have to second guess my walking movement, as if I'm consciously thinking about my feet getting caught on debris on the floor.. I don't know. It sounds crazy. All of this stuff only happens for like half a second but its happening a bunch lol I can't explain it.
There are just a ton of interesting anecdotes to talk about with this. Boneworks is by no means perfect. There is a lot of jank with the physics because.. physics. Having this actual representation of a physical body in the virtual space is new frontier stuff. I can't imagine if it's possible to really do it more accurately? But I think somehow developers will. They'll think of some tech trickery. The story/narrative aspect is very basic and not special.. but it was something and it was in VR and I just kept wanting to see the next level. I have a feeling Boneworks is the most important thing.. piece of software, proof-of-concept, experiment.. for VR since VR actually launched.