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Pollen is nothing to sneeze at

Okay, so that title was terrible, predictable, and probably will be done over and over when this game is released, so at least I got in early.

The point is, Pollen is showing great potential for an experience that will show off what Oculus Rift and VR can be. Since this title is slated for both traditional screens and the Rift headset, it will be interesting to see how they balance the gameplay for both formats without one seeing a negative impact. Since its early concept phase, Minefield Games has been developing Pollen to be ready for virtual reality but that brings a space shipload of asset and game play challenges. This is where an experienced game design crew will be necessary, and with a team assembled from Rovio, Housemarque and Redlynx/Ubisoft, I’m hopeful they have the sophisticated chops to manage a complex, tiered immersive experience.

The teaser trailer that Minefield recently released shows some promise, so I decided to check it out and examine the visuals and limited gameplay on display…

From the opening of the organic flower and bee at 0:17, into the bright, polished and sterile environment of the lab at 0:31, the visuals are top notch, probably created with a combination of filmed and generated imagery. Interspersed are shots of different dark corridors with limited and focused lighting effects like at 0:38. It’s a simple technique, but limiting what you can see is huge for pulling the viewer into the scene. Our minds are great at filling in those blanks with the richest and often most terrifying details as long as we are given the space. Cutting these into the trailer early lets us see the range of environments to come.

What really gets me interested are the dark shots at 0:43, and the psychedelic view at 0:45. This game isn’t going to be an old fashioned stroll through the building to make the right choices. If executed at this level, I can envision this experience going well no matter the screen you are viewing on. At 0:48 they break through the VR fourth wall and take us to view the player while in game to remind us of the tech involved, and how we’ll experience this. It’s interesting how they put us right back in the experience and virtually ship us off to Titan as we pull back through the airlock and corridors into the atmosphere above the surface. The final view after 1:15 show the Saturn planet rise over Titan. The sun wouldn’t look that big from Saturn’s distance, but there’s always room for artistic license, right? I’ll let that slide.

On the Minefield press release page, they put up a variety of stills that show a range of other scenes and environments, and they are pretty cool shots. There are a few scenes where I’d expect to see more grit and texture on the surfaces, but without game context, it’s tough to judge. For example in the first shot above, if we are passing through a clean room in the lab, everything’s golden.

But the fact is, this is a really clean clean room, and right off the production floor. A little dirt or variation in the specular channel would make it seem even more real. In comparison is the next image of the lighter with some real life in it. Distressed metal textures on the lighter, and some gritty living textures in the depth of field-blurred background bring it into a world we are more familiar with, and ready to be part of. I’m liking this image more. One concern though, does this floating artifact hint at what types of game play might be in store? Will our tools float in front of us when we work with them? I’d be surprised, but we’ll see what develops.

Is this hyper-critical? Looking too close at details that will almost certainly expand and evolve before the game is released? Clearly, yes. Would I be looking this close at it if I wasn’t interested already? Not a chance. It’s tough to get a feel for the game play from a quick trailer and a few stills, so I’m looking forward to seeing more footage and to get a piece of this one. Keep watching for this one on your traditional console and in the full VR experience, and if you play it before me, tell me what you think.

Pollen Website