Back in 2008, Colin Northway designed a flash game that was wildly addictive called Fantastic Contraption. With the simple goal of delivering a red orb from one side of the map to the other, players used different moving or static parts to construct their delivery device. It was the simplicity that inspired seemingly infinite solutions to each challenge—real feats of engineering and armchair ingenuity, like elaborate cranes and slingshots.
Now, thanks to HTC and Valve’s new VR headset, the Vive, Fantastic Contraption is going to be three-dimensional.
The Vive combines laser-based motion tracking with a handheld controller to transform VR from a viewing experience into a spatial one. This means that for Fantastic Contraption, the two-dimensional limits of flash are blown away.
Now players must build in three dimensions, engineering structures that can support themselves, while delivering the red ball up, down, or all around in this world of floating platforms. The transformation is akin to going from drawing an assembly line on a piece of paper to actually constructing a three-dimensional car.
But beyond introducing new gameplay possibilities through VR, Fantastic Contraption is transformative to gaming itself. As Mark Wilson writes for Fast Company, party platforms like the Wii failed to retain their realism and attraction because players learned that a simple flick of the wrist from the couch was just as likely to bowl a strike as actually simulating bowling in one’s living room. The effect was the elimination of the stupid-fun factor: the only real motivation to play a party game in a group was the shared silliness of actually pretending to bowl.
Fantastic Contraption and the Vive overcome this failure, because the creation of three-dimensional space keeps the player honest. They have to move around to play.
And this is great for communal gaming, because the Vive’s ability to be linked up to the TV enables friends to shout suggestions, cheer the player on, or laugh as they inadvertently chuck their contraption off into space. As Wilson calls it, Fantastic Contraption is like “a modern-day rendition of pin the tail on the donkey.”
This all culminates in something new for VR—the chance to transcend the headset as an anti-social experience, and the only provider of that experience. Despite the Vive’s incredible capabilities, its pairing with Fantastic Contraption relegates the headset and wand to a simple aid, creating the world in which friends can interact on different levels without providing sole access to that world. Everybody has a role to play in the game. The rush of completing a challenge becomes shared. With games like Fantastic Contraption, VR gaming isn’t so much about bringing the fun to the player as it is about the players bringing the fun to the game.