gdc 2016

Ubisoft Brings Classic Party Game Werewolf To VR With Spectacular Results

by Mike Futter on Mar 15, 2016 at 06:00 AM

I have long believed that virtual reality could revolutionize and bolster the tabletop market by bringing distant friends together. Tabletop gaming is the intersection of mechanics and social atmosphere, and few games blend those two concepts better than the classic Werewolf.

Red Storm, a studio known for Rainbow 6 and Ghost Recon, has made an enormous leap forward in social VR gaming before the first consumer headset hits the market. Werewolves Within is Ubisoft's take on that classic game of misdirection and deception, and it works astoundingly well.

When played around a table, players are randomly assigned roles and must deduce who among them is secretely a Werewolf. The premise is identical here.

What makes the VR application so impressive is how it integrates the technology. Each Rift headset is equipped with a microphone for voice over IP. 

Players can whisper to the person to their immediate left or right in hopes of strategizing or forming alliances, these conversations can't be heard by other players. This is enabled by the two people leaning toward one another. Many of the abilities assigned to each role are also triggered by head gaze and head tilting. 

The tracker can determine if a werewolf is somewhere to his right or left by leaning in one of those directions. Players can monologue for 10 seconds by standing, which mutes the others and forces them to listen.

Werewolves Within ultimately succeeds because it feels like you're sitting around a campfire deciding which of your comrades to execute. We played a number of rounds over 45 minutes, and with each we became more comfortable, succumbing to the illusion. By the end, the conversation was ribald and no different than if we were sitting in one of our houses playing the original Werewolf.

The interface is simple, but the effect is profound. The avatars are cartoonish and the manual gestures (pointing, crossing arms, etc.) minimal, but the additions of mapping real-world head movement and automatically applied hand gestures while talking helps sell the atmosphere.

Werewolves Within is only a first step for social gaming in virtual reality, but a profound one. I can't wait to gather my friends for more once it launches later this year on Rift and other major VR platforms.