Saints & Sinners & Sea Legs… I Mean VR Legs

Sorry for the title, I just can’t resist alliteration.

Anyway, for those who aren’t aware, “VR Legs” is a term referring to how well you are adapted to being in a VR environment. For a lot of people VR can cause some simulator/motion sickness, at least at first. Once that goes away you’re said to have your “VR Legs.” (This is all a riff on Sea Legs which is a term referring to becoming acclimated to the pitching of a boat at sea, both in terms of maintaining balance and not getting sea sick.)

In my last go-round with VR I struggled a bit with motion sickness off and on. It definitely depends on the game you’re playing as well as the hardware you’re playing on. This time around it has been much less of an issue because the Quest 2 and PSVR2 both perform much better than the PSVR 1 and my Rift S which was hooked to what I now realize was an under-powered gaming laptop. It seems to me VR comfort is very FPS & refresh-rate dependent.

I think it also helps that I’ve been sliding into VR a bit more gradually. I started with rhythm games like Beat Saber. For me at least I feel very comfortable if I’m not moving around in VR and in Beat Saber you mostly stand there and swing your arms. Pistol Whip is the same; even though you are constantly & automatically moving forward (like you’re on one of those moving walkways in an airport), my brain seems to see it more as the world is moving past me, which is fine. The Climb has you moving around but you move by grabbing ledges with your hands and again my brain seems OK with that.

Where things can get dicey for me is when I start pushing on those analog sticks to move around. It’s a very strange feeling that is hard to describe but it feels like a kind of pressure inside my head as my sense of balance tries to reckon with what my eyes are seeing.

a backpack in vr that acts as the game's inventory system
This is your inventory system. As is usually the case in every game I play, mine is full.

Which finally brings me around to The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners which is the first ‘moving around’ game I’ve played extensively since jumping back into VR. And so far it is going pretty good.

In S&S you move forward with the analog stick on the left controller, and turn with the stick on the right controller. There are, as with most games, a variety of Comfort Settings available. S&S also tends to be a slower paced game most of the time as you creep past zombies and such.

I started playing with smooth forward motion (I’m honestly not sure if they offer a teleport option in this one) which seems to have a bit of a vignette effect when moving quickly. A vignette effect is when the edges of your field of view go dark when moving or turning and for some reason it really helps with comfort.

By default S&S has ‘snap’ turning set to 45 degrees. So when you tap the right stick your view instantly shifts 45 degrees left or right, again with the vignette effect. This keeps your eyes and balance in sync as you don’t see the world turning. You just kind of teleport in place, 45 degrees to the left or right.

a vr hand holding a gun
Checking out the crappy gun you get at the start of the game. In the background is the old school bus that acts as your ‘safe house’

I did try smooth turning (which just means you turn as you would in any regular game) but it made me a bit woozy. But what I’ve been doing is using smaller and smaller snap settings. I think I’m down to 30 degrees now. My theory is that I’m creeping up on smooth turning, but we’ll see if that holds true.

But the ‘super-obvious in hindsight’ option for turning is… just to turn. I do my VR gaming standing up (unless a game requires sitting) and rather than use the right stick to turn I can just turn my body. That is 100% comfortable of course because eyes and balance are both experiencing the same thing. Not only is it comfortable but it plays into the whole immersion aspect. In the same way, I can press a button to crouch down to pick something up or open a container near the ground. But I can also just physically squat down. Shifting as much as possible from button-pressing to actual movement feels better for me, both in terms of comfort and immersion.

At this point I can comfortably play Saints & Sinners for longer than I ever have free time, if that makes sense. My last session was about 2 hours and I quit because it was getting late, not because I was feeling any ill effects. I do feel pretty confident that I’ll eventually get to where I can turn off all the comfort options and just run around willy-nilly using the analog sticks; it’s just going to take time.

a skeleton in a coffin,
Some areas are really dark and your flashlight has seen better days, apparently. At least this fellow isn’t moving…

Here’s a couple of tips I’ve picked up from the pundits.

1) Try to play frequently. You’re basically training your brain so repetition is key to learning to deal with being in VR

2) But STOP IMMEDIATELY if you start to feel ill. I have never tested this myself but I have heard, over and over, that trying to ‘push through’ the motion sickness can really screw you up since you’re basically doing Pavlovian training on yourself. Your lizard brain starts to associate putting a VR visor on with feeling nauseous and it just makes things worse. Also once you get good and VR motion sick it can take HOURS to feel better. That part I do know first hand and it is NOT pleasant. So yeah, at the first sign of feeling sick, end your session. Even if it has only been 5-10 minutes. You’ll be able to play for longer with practice.

3) Point a fan at yourself. Staying cool seems to help stave off the nausea and feeling a breeze from one particular direction helps you stay oriented, so you don’t shuffle out of your play area and wind up smacking into something. All these devices have some kind of virtual barrier which should protect you from doing that anyway, but it’s nice to have a back up system. I also have a rubber VR mat and I play barefoot so I know if I’ve stepped off that.

And… I guess that is it. Not even sure why I wrote this post other than I felt like talking about my VR adventures. I’m going to sprinkle in some Saints and Sinners screenshots but one of the big issues with VR games is that all look like crap outside of VR. Trust me that S&S looks pretty sweet inside PSVR2. The slightly stylized graphics give that feel of being in a history museum or something. If you’ve ever toured an old fort and there are manikins in period outfits and maybe posed to be doing some task… if those manikins suddenly came to life and started attacking you….well that’s kind of what playing S&S is like. I’m really digging it so far. But OMG the first time I stabbed a zombie in the head with a knife and couldn’t pull the knife free…what a moment of panic! I’m dragging this thing around while its buddies come at me, and I’m trying like hell to get my knife loose so I can defend myself! Turns out you need to give it a short, sharp jerk to get it free. These zombie skulls are much harder than the ones on the TV show.

Yeah, so gross but… I love it!