Best Part:Satisfying and easy to use
Worst Part:It is crying out for further development!
Stacks is definitely a demo that should go into your intro-to-VR playlist for the DK2
Interaction with objects close up always seems to be engaging in VR, even if the tasks are relatively mundane by Videogame standards.
This is, in part, because a sense of 3D is most powerful a short distance from your eyes and you’re able to lean around objects to get a very natural sense of their position through parallax.
Most block-stacking activities that you’ll come across in VR are used as a showcase for motion controllers. Not so Stacks, by the team behind the Convrge social application. Stacks does not rely on Razer Hydras or Vive wands, but allows you to create, destroy and stack blocks using a simple look-and-click system. At the centre of your gaze is a blue dot that snaps to the surface of the object you are looking at. With a press of a button you can create a new block that sticks firmly to that surface. This decision sacrifices playful realism for much greater reliability. You’re not being challenged to interact naturally – having to worry about a steady hand to balance blocks – and this frees you to focus much more on what you want to build.
In front of you is a table on which you can construct your blocky creation. The table space also acts as a miniature representation of the world around you, so as you add new blocks they appear in analogous positions in the wider environment. Allowing you to look up and gaze at your creations towering above and around you. It is a real shame that you can’t leave the bounds of your worktable and go explore the world you’ve just build.
It is sufficiently straight-forward and satisfying to create in this playbox that you may well find yourself getting a little lost in your work. It is certainly easy to see how artistic applications like TiltBrush will be hugely popular – if much more rudimentary creation tools can hold attention for as long as Stacks can.
There may not be a lot to learn about the interface in Stacks, but special mention should go to the phased way the controls are presented to you. New features are added to your desk over time, telegraphed with an audio cue. This gives a chance to get to grips with your options, and by introducing them gradually, you are encouraged to experiment to discover how they work – where a less confident developer might have simply bombarded the user with text instructions.
Destruction is a form of creation, as they say, and the highlight of Stacks is the big red button that ‘blows up’ your hard work. Time slows down, music kicks in and the coloured blocks – both the miniature ones and their giant counterparts – split apart, cascade downwards and bounce around. This is lovely to look at and you’ll spend almost as much time watching your creations collapse as you did building them up. It’s reminiscent of that Sony Bravia advert with the coloured balls. So much so, in fact, that one wonders if the developers haven’t missed a trick by not selling this in as a branded experience.
I did notice that there seemed to be a mismatch between the location of the smaller blocks and the larger ones once the destruction button has been pressed. I’m not sure whether or not this is intentional, or perhaps a bug that arises when there are a certain number of blocks in existence.
You can keep adding new blocks, seemingly without limit, though – even whilst they’re moving around. As the miniature blocks pop into existence they will exert a tiny but perceptible amount of force on the surface on which they were created.
Stacks was an unexpected treat. It is simple, easy to use and fun to interact with. I don’t think these virtues should be downplayed. It taps into a primal sense of joy at creation and destruction which makes it a pretty fun demo to noodle around in, and revisit. It is one that’s likely to delight VR veterans and newcomers alike – a great one to show newbies who are looking for a demo with a little more interaction.