Pixel Rift Hands-On Preview

The Oculus Rift is the most remarkable development in gaming’s history – not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s a platform for true innovation. This was really brought home to me by a game I had the good fortune to encounter recently called Pixel Rift.

Pixel Rift is pretty damn amazing, for a number of reasons. Firstly, its creator, Ana Ribeiro, is a recent graduate of the National Film and Television School’s game design MA course. She created the game virtually single-handed, drafting in friends and fellow students from the course to cover the areas that she couldn’t complete herself. Even more impressively, she took on a project for the newest and arguably most challenging platform available, opting to build her game from the ground up as an Oculus experience.

The real achievement, though, is the game itself. The game’s story is told through the eyes of a gamer (literally), as she experiences various key moments in her life through the lens of her hobby. Upon starting, I was initially dumped into the body of a toddler, which is a weird experience in virtual reality. By focusing my gaze for a few seconds on one of the definitely-not-Game-Boy-please-don’t-sue-us cartridges scattered around my tiny, pudgy form, I was warped into one of several ‘episodes’ charting different points in the protagonist’s life. In this episode, it was a school; I found myself sitting at a desk strewn with equal amounts maths workbooks and Nintendo Power magazines. Were it not for the skirt and knee-socks, I probably would have started getting flashbacks.

But aside from the assorted detritus of school life, I also had a ‘Game Girl’ Pocket surreptitiously hidden under my desk. I noticed my in-game self holding it, and looked down to check it out, whereupon it came up into full view, and I started playing a perfectly charming little Mario-style side-scroller. In the game that I was already playing. Inception, eat your heart out. This kind of meta stuff really appeals to me, so I was already psyched. But then something happens.

The ambient noise from the classroom, which I’d sort of been tuning out while I played not-Mario, had changed. Instinctively, I look up from my game, and I see the teacher at the front of the class looking at me. Oh, shit. I’ve been busted. I try and look as attentive as possible, while she glares at me suspiciously. And then, as soon as she turns around, I look back down and I’m back to the Game Boy, checking every so often that she’s not looking. Suddenly, I’m 14 again, and I’m trying not to get caught playing snake in Mr. Smith’s third-period geography class.

I should stress that none of my reactions were what I’d been instructed by the game to do, or what I thought the ‘correct’ action was in order to win. It was totally naturalistic, a Pavlovian response coded into me by a somewhat misspent youth. Pixel Rift manages to tap into a universal moment in gamers’ lives, and the totally organic way in which it does it blew me away. There’s also some other very cool elements, like a spitball cannon powered by real-life blowing, the end-boss fight of the Game Boy level spilling out to do 8-bit battle over the contents of your desk, and the fact that in order to damage said boss, you need to hit his glowing weak point with your aforementioned (virtual) real-life spitball gun, before finishing him off with your Game Boy character.

Pixel Rift is a little bit nuts, in the very best way. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen but I was blown away by it, and I would be very surprised if it didn’t have a considerable impact on the shape of things to come. Pixel Rift and its creator are both definitely ones to watch.

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