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06 November, 2016

Played at PAX - A Township Tale - Best VR of Show

VR was huge at this year's PAX AUS, but the biggest players weren’t the AAA developers. Indie developers were all across the show floor showing off a tonne of innovative experiences, from strategy games to VR boxing. Of all the games I tried, A Township Tale was by far the most exciting, and the demo shown was just a proof of concept.

The pitch for A Township Tale goes something like this: imagine a VR world where multiple players work together to run a medieval village. So different players acting as miners, blacksmiths, builders, hunters and more combine their skills together. You'll work together to manage the town and support each others' goals, or mess with other players as you see fit. 

Unlike its inspiration, Minecraft, A Township Tale's aesthetic is cartoony and lush. Everything feels slightly larger than it needs to be, but in going with this stylistic choice, Australian developer Alta ensures the world  feels very clear and crisp on a VR headset.

A Township Tale is made by Sydney-based team for the HTC Vive, making full use of the headset, motion controls, headphones and a microphone to talk. When I first put on the headset I found myself standing on a small road with a sign pointing towards “the mines” or the “old castl.e” I pointed my gloved and cartoony hand towards the old castle and teleported down in a few short hops. The dilapidated structure was mostly crumbled stone walls around a grassy clearing.

I immediately spied a treasure chest and sauntered over to it.

It’s strange how doing something in VR can make it immediately feel exciting and new again. I opened the chest and with my right hand, saw it was full of coins and started to pull them out one by one with my left hand, throwing them into a nearby bucket.

I did that for almost all of my five-minute demo, it was utterly engrossing.

That is, before the multiplayer element kicked in an I heard someone behind me say, “what’s in the chest?” I turned around quickly and saw another player peering over my shoulder. “Nothing, it’s empty,” I replied, trying not to look at the bucket full of coins. He spotted them anyway and picked up a couple of the coins and started to juggle with them. I quickly joined in and before long we were throwing coins at each other and playing frisby with a nearby shield.

It’s these little interactions that make me think the future of VR isn’t as insular as we've been lead to believe. The potential for engaging, evolving stories built out of real human interactions is simply amazing.

When I came back in the afternoon for a second shot at A Township Tale, I found something completely different to fill my time with. This time I found a bow and quiver of arrows.

I quickly realised that I could strap the quiver to my belt and the bow across my back before setting off in search of targets. All I found was another player, and after exchanging a few words we set about making an impromptu game of dodge-arrow. We firied from behind rocks until one of us eventually got hit or we ran out of arrows.

What I didn’t realise until I got out of the game was that the other guy I was firing arrows at was actually set up across the other side of the convention centre at a completely different VR booth. It was a stunning moment of realisation.

To find out more about A Township Tale, head over to their website here.

Nathanael Peacock

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