On December 6, alongside the Oculus Touch controllers, Vertigo Games finally launched its highly anticipated first-person VR zombie survival game, Arizona Sunshine. The overzealous reaction of the Reddit VR community to an apparent exclusivity deal marred what should have been the exciting launch of a AAA VR shooter.
A little over a month ago, Vertigo Games gave us the first indication that the game would favor certain processors over others. In a promotional video for the game, one of the developers explained that some of the game’s advanced physics features would only work with an "i7" processor. The company didn’t specify which Intel Core i7 processor you would need, so we assumed that meant the advanced physics required the additional threads that the chips offer. Following that announcement, some folks from the Reddit Oculus community cried foul and accused Vertigo Games of selling out to Intel so it could “sell more i7s.”
Days later, in Vertigo Games’ next development update, the company explained its position a little better.
“Well, believe it or not, when you have to run a game at 90FPS, you become GPU limited quickly. Using Unity, you also do not have PhysX acceleration on the GPU, so the best option for advanced physics is to use a multi-threaded and multi-core CPU. Because of the advanced physics involved to make the game feel as immersive and realistic as possible, we recommend gamers use a CPU like the Intel Core i7 processor. The game plays normally with an i5 or equivalent, but if your CPU has the speed, cores, and threads, you can turn on the advanced physics. While you can technically try advanced physics without the latest, fastest CPU, we don't recommend it. The CPU would choke. We've tested it,” wrote Vertigo Games.
The developer’s explanation appeared to satisfy most people, but the same emotions were stirred when the game finally dropped. Vertigo Games told us in advance about the requirements needed to enable advanced physics, but it didn’t tell us about the two game modes that were initially released as timed exclusive content. The developer announced Single Player Horde Mode and Apocalyptic Mode on release day, but those modes were available only on PCs that matched the recommended hardware specifications.
|OS:||Windows 7 - 64 bit||Windows 10|
|Processor:||Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater||Intel Core i7 6700K equivalent or greater|
|Memory:||8 GB RAM||16 GB RAM|
|Graphics:||Nvidia GTX 970 / AMD equivalent or greater||Nvidia GTX 980 / AMD equivalent or greater|
|DirectX:||Version 11||Version 12|
|Storage:||12 GB available space||12 GB available space|
|Additional Notes:||VR Headset required, 2x USB 3.0 ports||VR Headset required, 2x USB 3.0 ports|
Grab Your Pitchforks!
The timed exclusive for hardware enraged many people in the Reddit VR community. Dissatisfied consumers called upon the community to boycott and refund the game. Threads with titles such as “Arizona Sunshine on Steam has timed exclusive features for i7 users - this is not OK” and “I urge you to refund Arizona Sunshine” littered the main page of the Oculus and Vive subreddits.
It didn’t take long for Vertigo Games to respond to the reaction. Within hours, the developer reversed course and made both surprise game modes available for anyone to try, though the developer maintained that a strong processor is necessary for the ideal experience.
“We have recommended and still recommend using the Core i7 in order to maintain a constant 90FPS with advanced physics. We also realize that these chips cost money. We created bonus content that was not advertised as a reward for those of you who took us up on our recommendation," wrote Vertigo Games.
Vertigo’s quick response had two effects. Some people saw the change as a sign that the developer valued the communities' input. Others saw the speed at which the developer dropped the Core i7 requirement as confirmation that Vertigo Games did make a deal with Intel. The day after the game launched, there were still threads popping up decrying the “unforgivable” sin of taking an exclusivity deal.
The attitude of the community spurred Dean Hall, the creator of Day Z and the founder of Rocketwerkz Studio, to voice his opinion about the state of virtual reality development. The developer posted a long diatribe called “The Hard Truth About Virtual Reality Development,” in which he explains that “there is no money” in VR development and that subsidies are one of the only ways for developers to stay afloat in this early market.
Developers are taking a big risk by creating content for platforms that have less than a million potential customers. Even when devs support both the Rift and Vive platforms, their customer base is still relatively minuscule at this point, which makes it difficult to justify the investment necessary to produce AAA content. Subsidies make those investments possible. And palatable.
Right To The Source
We reached out to John Coleman, Vertigo Games’ Director of Business Development, to get a better understanding of why the company chose to market the game the way it did.
We asked Coleman to elaborate on the reasons that Vertigo Games recommends a Core i7 processor before enabling advanced physics, and why the extra game modes were originally limited to computers running Intel’s top-tier processors. Coleman’s reply reinforces the idea that the decision to recommend using an i7 processor came down to performance.
“First, none of the physics effects are locked to an i7. We look at the CPU, and if we think it can handle it, the effects are turned on by default. However, any player can turn them on in the settings menu regardless of the processor they are using. These are not turned on by default for everyone as 'Arizona Sunshine' does, in fact, put a high demand on the CPU. We don’t want to create a bad experience for players susceptible to motion sickness by having these effects on for all CPUs and creating lots of dropped frames for users without enough CPU horsepower.That said, any CPU that has enough horsepower can use the effects. There may be processors several generations old that can play these effects as well. We have not tested every possible configuration. We were experimenting with what degree of realism we could achieve in the game while using the full CPU budget of the i7-6700K. We are pretty pleased with what we were able to achieve. We did also test with i5 4590s as our min spec, and they could not maintain 90FPS with the advanced physics.”
If you read between the lines, Coleman's statement is telling. Without saying so directly, Coleman more or less asserts that Vertigo Games' internal testing consisted of i7-6700K-based PCs and i5-4590-based PCs. Vertigo Games ran a short closed beta before launching Arizona Sunshine to test out additional hardware configurations, and feedback that the company received indicated that the i7-6700K was necessary for the recommended option.
"We had a closed beta player who played with the effects on while using a non-i7 machine and reported a sub-90FPS frame rate, but he said that it didn’t bother him," said Coleman. "However, our recommended spec has to meet the 90FPS consistently with no dropped frames."
Coleman noted that the pace of Arizona Sunshine is incremental. At the beginning of the game there's not much going on, so you'll experience higher performance. Further into the game, the load on the CPU gets more intense, which can cause frames to drop.
The motives behind locking down the extra modes were a little different. We asked Coleman if his company locked single player Horde Mode and Apocalyptic Mode for performance reasons, and he conceded that the extra modes were a marketing decision.
“There are no additional effects in these modes beyond what can be found elsewhere in the game. The single player horde mode and apocalyptic mode were not intended to be in the game when we started,” said Coleman. “While it’s exciting to push the limits of VR with high-end hardware, we realized that this hardware costs money and can be expensive. So, we added these as a surprise bonus for players who took our advice on the recommended spec.”
It’s Not About The Money
Ultimately, Vertigo Games didn't get into bed with Intel to line its pockets. Yes, Intel did help Vertigo Games out, by providing access to top tier hardware so that the developer could push the limits of what is possible in VR today. It's important to understand that Intel didn't pay to lock the game down for specific hardware (the jury's still out about the two extra modes). The developer’s full vision for Arizona Sunshine simply isn’t possible on lesser hardware, so the company pushed the recommended configuration in its marketing.
Coleman said the company is working to clarify the message that the game runs fine on basic VR-ready PCs with some of the eye candy turned off. He likened the experience to playing Battlefield 1 on a minimum-spec PC compared to a recommended-spec PC. Both players can experience the game, but the player on the better computer gets to enable all the bells and whistles, whereas the player with the minimum spec computer can't.
“The key to understanding how we got here and our relationship with Intel is that we came up with a wish list of things that we wanted to do in the game that we could not afford to do on our own. Intel’s support allowed us to do these things,” said Coleman. “We took the top of the line CPU and worked to cram as much of our wish list into the available CPU budget. Intel also provided engineering support to help us do this. VR is extremely taxing, and everyone wants a AAA VR experience. So, if you are going to go for it, you better go get the highest end hardware and see what you can do. That’s what we did. That’s how we ended up with an i7-6700K recommended spec.”
Vertigo Games shot for the moon with Arizona Sunshine, and we think that’s a good thing. Virtual reality content should push the limits of today’s CPUs. If we want to see robust content for VR in the future, we can’t afford to scare off developers who are willing to take a risk and raise the bar. Developers shouldn’t be scared to take promotional deals that will help bring content to fruition that may not otherwise see the light of day. There’s no reason to vilify a company for trying to make its game better for people that spent extra money on their PCs.