PAX Prime 2013: Experiencing ‘Race the Sun’ on Oculus Rift

Developer: Flippfly / Publisher: Flippfly / Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux / Release Date: August 19, 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated

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One of the most enjoyable games at this weekend’s Penny Arcade Expo wasn’t on the show floor, and it wasn’t behind a closed door. It wasn’t set in a fancy show room or displayed on giant monitors for all 70,000 attendees to see.

It was down the street at a local theater, in a quaint event hosted by the International Game Developers Association that was designed to give the gaming press a look at up-and-coming and freshly-released indie titles.

I had a casual appointment with indie developer Flippfly, which is comprised of brothers Aaron and Forest San Filippo, game developers through-and-through, but entirely lacking the stereotypical game dev nervousness and sweaty palms. They shook my hand and showed me the game they’ve been working on for some time, Race the Sun. Not only that, but the development duo recently added Oculus Rift support to the game, and suffice to say it not only made me an advocate of their game, but of the Oculus Rift as well.

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Racing the Sun – Hyperspeed, Barrel Rolls and Beautiful Crashes

Race the Sun plays like one part Starfox 64, one part Cube Runner and one part pure adrenaline rush. It puts you in the cockpit of a solar-powered space ship whose goal is to go fast, dodge everything, and attain points and multipliers.

You can only bank left and right, but have the ability to barrel roll when flipped completely on your side. Jumps become available in limited amounts when you find the necessary power-up, and become an instant blessing in the most harrowing of situations.

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As you fly through a level, your entire focus is on dodging fast-approaching and often dynamically-moving obstacles that pepper your path to the sunlit horizon. If you crash into one, you die, and you start from the beginning – just like most 80s arcade games. Also, if you don’t maintain speed (by picking up speed boosts and dodging effectively), the sun might set without you, and you’ll run clean out of fuel. And guess what?

You start over.

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And since you’ll be dying a lot, it’s great that crashing in the game is a pretty experience — with the camera slowing down to showcase fiery pixels flying every which way from your now-crumpled tin-can of a space ship.

If you somehow make it through an entire region unscathed, you head to the next region – which moves quicker, has harder-to-dodge moving obstacles, tighter enclosures, and will likely kick your butt. And the game has infinite regions, meaning you can play hundreds of regions or more. That is, if you can make it that far.

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After all, the game is tough. Real tough.

But Race the Sun is a blast to play. Its controls were smooth on a third-party USB controller, deaths never felt unfair or cheap, and it doesn’t hurt that the game’s style of art is mesmerizing (even in its simplicity). I couldn’t say enough good things about it to the team… until I played it in virtual reality.

Oculus Drifting – Cockpit Craziness

I was worried about getting sick while playing the Oculus Rift. I’d heard uneasy stories of people adjusting poorly to the apparently-too-realistic virtual reality and tossing their biscuits over it. But from the moment I strapped that headset on, Race the Sun became a whole new level of adrenaline-driven fun.

And I totally didn’t get sick.

As I turned my head, I could see to the complete left and right of my ship. I could even turn around entirely and see every obstacle I passed (simultaneously putting my ship in danger of crashing with each passing, awe-struck moment). The sun I chased had glare that reflected around my eyes and shifted with the twisting of my head. Obstacles flew by my peripheral vision with surprising speed, and I found myself instinctively moving my head out of their non-existent path.

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It was unreal in how real it felt – and the team made this virtual reality possible in a matter of weeks. Imagining what months or years of Oculus Rift integration could do, it came to me: this virtual reality stuff might actually catch on, we might actually have it in our grasp, and it just might be the future of home gaming.

That’s not me being hyperbolic, that’s me being a believer.

Forest Filippo, a designer on Race the Sun, told me that they still needed to polish up the game’s integration with Oculus Rift, and while I agree, it’s shocking how great it looked in the span of time they had to make it happen (before PAX Prime).

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Either way, I’m a believer in both Race the Sun and Oculus Rift. If both seem up your alley, then I wager you ought to given them a good hard look.

Race the Sun released digitally on PC, Mac and Linux less than one month ago, but not through any digital storefront. The game is for sale only through the Flippfly website for now, but is being voted for on Steam Greenlight for the opportunity to land on Valve’s digital shelves. You can vote for the game here, or buy the game directly from Flippfly here. If you buy from them now, they promise a Steam key for you later after a successful greenlighting.

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