Boneworks: A Discussion

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Seikenfreak

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#1  Edited By Seikenfreak

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.

I had two particularly interesting/proof-of-concept experiences:

  • 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.

Uhh, other things of note:

  • 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.

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TheAntiHippie

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Glad to see someone else here has played it, I was surprised to see it come up on the Bombcast.

I really really loved this game. I bought my rift S this past year and while a lot of VR experiences are fun, they feel more like carnival games or short demos than anything else. Boneworks is remarkable for being a game ass game if nothing else.

Something that really struck me as I played through it is that it feels like they actually used game design in the game to signpost where you should go, or solutions to puzzles in a way that I feel like most VR games haven't really figured out yet. I spent hours in Virtual Virtual Reality and Budget Cuts just trying to figure out what I was supposed to do but here the right things grab your attention. So they seem to have figured out a way to make signposting work in VR in a way that nothing else really has yet.

A great example of this is in one of the later levels. You walk in to a room filled with pipes and steel girders line the ceiling. The first thing you notice as you walk in is a box with the Boneworks logo, which is tantalizing because you know that means there's a special weapon inside of it. Seeing that, and then tracing a path backwards from it to find a way to get there is probably the biggest 'a-ha' moment of the game for me.

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Seikenfreak

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@theantihippie: Yea, it definitely felt like the first "traditional" video game per say I was playing in VR. Lucky's Tale way back when felt like.. Wow this looks really cool and functionally works; I would love to see other 3D platformers like this i.e. a Mario title etc. Cockpit games like Project Cars 1/2 or a flight sim felt like.. Okay, this makes the whole experience better and more realistic and provides actual gameplay benefits and advantages that regular "Flat View" experiences don't offer.

Pretty much everything for first-person action/adventure in VR so far, for me at least as I haven't played a ton of stuff, has felt like experiments. Tech demos as people say. Unique approaches to control schemes or gameplay to work around VR.

Boneworks was like.. What if we took Half-Life 2/Portal and just put it in VR. You can run and gun. You can toy around with objects. Everything design wise felt kinda traditional, except you were in it. Shooting the Glock feels sooo good. Nailing a headshot, especially in slow motion. The whole experience is heightened in VR. Aiming down sights on the rifles is a bit frustrating and I have a real hard time doing it, hopefully they fix that. But I just adapt. I started mimicking like John Wick gun handling and posture and it worked well enough and still felt incredibly satisfying when you get it right.

The more time you spend with it, the more you get comfortable and natural. Toward the end of the story levels, when you start fighting more of the gunmen, I started pushing myself to move around more while shooting. So then when I got access to the Arena mode, it felt a lot more fun and was great practice trying to hustle around and survive as long as possible.

Another reason it feels more traditional is the weapon variety? Because guns tend to translate well into VR, it seems like all the gun games put every weapon on the planet in. Boneworks feels, again, like a Half-Life in that it has a limited set of weapons. Two or three rifles. Two or three SMGs. Two pistols. All the weapons in each category mostly function the same so you aren't having to learn the weird reloading and handling nuances of 50 different guns. Now that I think about it though, I'm amazed there wasn't a shotgun, a story level designed around a sniper rifle as that would've been sick, and I think a chainsaw would map really well. Imagine having to pull start it? lol

Yea, Boneworks was awesome. Again, all sorts of wonkyness, but still incredible.

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Casepb

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I really do want to play this, I will get it soon most likely. I watched a YouTube video about how this game was originally a Half-Life VR game, and they asked Valve if they could use the license but they were denied. So that's why it feels so HL like. Like you mentioned Valve was sent the source code for the game though, and because of it HL Alyx will use all the same fancy physics. It seems Boneworks really inspired Valve a lot.

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wollywoo

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@seikenfreak: I had really similar sensations after playing through Vader Immortal on Oculus. It felt like things weren’t real somehow, as if my real-life hand was going to clip through surrounding objects like it does in the game. Driving was especially weird as it almost felt like I could just plow right through anything, clipping through the environment around me. It faded after an hour or two but it was quite eerie. Maybe that’s what it feels like to exit the Matrix.

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TheAntiHippie

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Word on the street is that the developers had the shotgun in, but didn't like the way it felt so they're re-tooling it to add it in later.

Honestly the only thing about the game that was disappointing was the story. I really loved seeing... I guess you'd call it FMV? on the video screens though. I don't think I'd ever seen that before.

Also the gravity gun was only in it for one level and I feel like that was a missed opportunity.

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