Best Games - Beat Saber
I used to go to the arcade a lot. As often as I could. The first ones I went to were filled with distinct and bizarre cabinets with games as fanciful as they were difficult. Every image on a screen had to be drawn there with only a handful of pixels and a tiny array of colors. Any sound was what could be generated by simple monophonic synths and tin can speakers. Every game was a unique and strange experience. Dreamlike. Those soon gave way to brighter, more colorful visuals that grew more defined and representative. Games with real music and voice samples. This time also birthed genres. There were racing games, scrolling shooters, and maze chase games. Some of the games were great, some not so great, but market forces that directed developers to work on the genres that would sell were already taking hold. So the arcades were filled with a lot of Pac-Man clones and Galaga clones. Still enough unique experiences were being made that an arcade goer could find something that suited them.
It wouldn’t be very long before the arcades were packed wall to wall with 1 on 1 fighting games. Still difficult, but a different sort of difficult. Fighting games require a player to climb a learning curve before they can have fun with them. I love fighting games, but I think they drove a lot of people who had loved Pac-Man and Qbert from the arcade. They simply demanded too much practice from would be casual players.
It wasn’t long before the fighting games of the arcade made their way to home consoles and every player who didn’t want to wait in line at an arcade machine only to be stomped by someone who had simply practiced more, stayed home and played Marvel Vs. Capcom on their own couch with their own friends.
The last gasp of the arcade was to try to offer an experience that a player couldn’t have at home. Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, and Drum Mania were all developed in this winding down of the arcade. All of these machines were simply too large and specialized to be something that you could easily play at home. This wasn’t joysticks and buttons, this was ruggedized dance pads and simulated drum kits. If you wanted to play these games, you had to leave your house.
Dance Maniax was released in the very early 2000’s and consisted of a set of infrared sensors that you waved your hand across in time to a musical track and on screen instructions. No buttons. Nothing physical to interact with. Just a giant cabinet and your own sense of self consciousness. The Bemani series of rhythm games ended up with the same core issue as fighting games. People wanted to play them because they were fun to play, but some people got so good at them that the developers needed to up the challenge with each new release and the performative aspect of being very good at a game in public meant that some people would play it, but most would not. Those other people went back home and played guitar hero and rock band privately or with their friends. I mean why play a game with a bunch of people standing around judging you.
That sure was a lot of non Beat Saber talk for a presumably Beat Saber focused Best Games, isn’t it?
I think the history is important, because of how and Beat Saber was developed and released. Beat Saber is a rhythm game very similar in play to Dance Maniax. To an outside observer, you wave your hands in the air to the beat of a song and look sort of silly or cool or somewhere in between. The difference is, Beat Saber is a VR game. It really only works as a VR game. While that limits its potential audience, this does mean that you don’t have to wait in line to play Beat Saber, and you especially don’t have to worry about people watching you and judging your performance… if you don’t want them to. When you are in Beat Saber, it’s just you, two laser swords, and a lot of incoming blocks to slice. Get good at it if you want. Play it on easy if you want. Play the songs that you want, and enjoy yourself. If you turn off any screen mirroring, only you will ever see how well you did. Or, you could stream out your game and show anyone who will watch how amazing you are at slicing blocks. It’s up to you.
There is an argument to be made that Beat Saber could have been developed for the Nintendo Wii or for the Playstation Move Controllers. But it wasn’t and moving it to a system where the action is displayed on a standard screen just wouldn’t work at this point. No, Beat Saber is a VR experience through and through, and all the better for it.
There will be a lot of new VR systems past this current generation. Head mounted display units that are lighter, faster, work completely untethered and don’t require controllers at all. For each of these units there will be a version of Beat Saber. In 15 years when a VR/AR system can be placed in regular glasses frames or light-weight goggles there will be a version of Beat Saber. When you can stand in a light field projection with no hardware at all attached to your body, there will be a version of Beat Saber. If one of the tests for new gaming hardware is to run Tetris or Doom on it, the test for new VR hardware will be, from now on, to run Beat Saber on it.
Beat Saber isn’t very old, but it’s already one of the best games.