Feature Article

How Crytek Triggered My Fear of Heights in Virtual Reality

Acrophobia.

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

Heights terrify me. At more than 15 feet above solid ground, the symptoms kick in: vertigo, shortness of breath, and the inability to speak or think clearly. It used to be worse, sometimes resulting in panic attacks. But about three years ago, I began rock climbing in the hopes of overcoming the phobia. Confronting that sense of height and scale helped--if only a little.

So I was surprised to feel that same fear grip me as I donned an Oculus Rift recently. Crytek's The Climb places you in the digital harness of a rock climber, and as Crytek's David Bowman guided me through the controls of the upcoming virtual reality title, he accompanied his instructions with the golden rule of climbing: "Don't look down."

Of course, I looked down.

The sense of scale hit me immediately, as did the elevated position I occupied. Any false sense of security escaped me. My head started to swim. The textures of the outcrop beneath me, and the trees lining the ground far below, composed a haze of green and brown, distorted by the distance. As long as I held the triggers on the Xbox 360 controller, I'd maintain my grip on the virtual handholds--but that didn't stop my palms and lower back from sweating.

No Caption Provided

"VR is good for exploration," Bowman said. "But it's really great with presence, and with scale. The Climb, specifically, shows you can do verticality in VR."

By looking above, to each side, and sometimes below, the Rift directed one of my two floating hands toward my next handhold, while my other phantom appendage secured me to the cliffside. The Climb will release with full Oculus Touch controller support (individual controllers that wrap around each hand), but as of the demo I tried, hand controls were relegated to a normal controller.

Most of the time, this meant pressing the right or left triggers to grip a ledge with my free fingers. Each hand, however, showed a meter indicating my grip strength. By pressing the right or left bumper, my respective in-game hand reached into an unseen chalk bag dangling from my harness.

When I forgot to re-chalk, the grip meter would begin to deplete in front of me. This is where Oculus Rift creeped deeper into my mind; sensing the possibility of an upcoming fall, the blood in my legs swirled and felt like they had drained away. Of course, I knew my feet were planted firmly on the carpet of a hotel floor, my hands wrapped around the familiar handles of a controller. But as is often the case with VR, my presence in a digital environment toyed with my sense of place.

VR is good for exploration. But it's really great with presence, and scale.

"Experiences are a big part of VR," Bowman said. "It's one of those things you really have to try. And rock climbing, as it turns out, is one of those things you look back on and say, 'Oh yeah, that makes sense. That would be great in VR.' So we pitched it to Oculus, and that's when it started."

The demo I played took place in Southeastern Asia, on one of the region's easy courses. Although it wasn't especially challenging, it did require concentration at certain junctures. I had to jump wide gaps, for instance, and during the split second before I grabbed the opposite ledge with both hands, my stomach fluttered, my vision grew faint. On the higher difficulties, gaps will be wider, ledges farther apart, and more thinking required as climbers make their way between checkpoints.

Crytek isn't aiming for an exact rock climbing simulation, though. Jason Rubin, president of worldwide studios for Oculus, was also present during the demo, and was quick to stress that in the end, The Climb is a game. It has time trials, multiplayer, and leaderboards. it even has checkpoints in the form of carabiners you can hook into.

No Caption Provided

"The goal with The Climb was to have replayability, progression, and scoring," Rubin said. "We really wanted to consider the people that like games, and that's a big part of what drove this idea."

Oculus and Crytek plan to release The Climb around the Oculus Rift's launch in 2016. The Climb will include several other locations apart from the Southeast Asia of my demo, each with their own courses of varying difficulties.

I only spent 20 minutes with The Climb, but in that time, it provided a vivid sense of place, and elicited a real physical reaction as I scaled the ledges and rocky crags of its digital environment. That alone has piqued my interest. Despite my inherent fear of heights, and the uneasiness that often accompanies that fear, I'm eager to play a fuller version next year. Even if my legs shake, and vertigo rears its ugly head, I'm eager to play again.

Mike Mahardy on Google+
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

mmahardy

Mike Mahardy

Writer and Host. New Yorker. Enthusiast of gin, cilantro, and rock and roll.
The Climb

The Climb

Follow
Back To Top
57 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
  • 57 results
  • 1
  • 2
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Zloth2
Zloth2

1780

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 3

User Lists: 0

PC Gamer sent James Davenport, who's afraid of heights. Gamespot sends Mike Mahardy, who's afraid of heights. Sheesh, game writing isn't just a tough business, it's downright sadistic!

Avatar image for SkyAboveThePort
SkyAboveThePort

64

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@Zloth2: Mike Mahardy mentioned he's into climbing though. Makes sense to send him, doesn't it? Kinda the expert..

Avatar image for lazerethjones
lazerethjones

31

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

When is the Oculus and Steam's VR offically release?

Avatar image for NikoKun
NikoKun

107

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@lazerethjones: Hopefully before the end of March. That would be around the end of Q1.

They've been building up their stock for the consumer launch, since the end of the summer, so I really wouldn't expect any delays, or problems with them selling out of stock too quickly. :D

Avatar image for Alurit
Alurit

1002

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Edited By Alurit

@lazerethjones: oculus is q1 2016 in theory

Avatar image for theoasis77
theoasis77

172

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

I can't wait for VR it will change gaming cuz it's been very stale. I just hope we see normal games use it. Imagine playing Fallout 5 with VR, where you feel really in that world.

Avatar image for RussellMartin
RussellMartin

208

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 44

User Lists: 0

Seems like a swivel, unwheeled office chair would be necessary, and a room cleared of coffee tables and such. You know, for safe 360° looking, and not falling out a window or something. Lol

Avatar image for DeviantCode
DeviantCode

652

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 4

User Lists: 0

@RussellMartin: In other news, carpet cleaning company says "bong water stains" number one service call since Oculus Rift release...

Avatar image for chechak7
chechak7

1329

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 13

User Lists: 0

Edited By chechak7

farcry :P

Avatar image for tyhoneycutter
tyhoneycutter

39

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 5

@chechak7: Imagine all of this, mixed with all of FarCry... Epic

Avatar image for cjtopspin
cjtopspin

805

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

Edited By cjtopspin

I think everyone has a fear of extreme heights. It is basically a normal evolved response to dangerous situations. i.e. if we could fly that fear wouldn't exist or make sense. Like...running from a burning structure or jumping when something jumps out at you...that is pure evolution working FOR you there...naturally selecting those who reacted properly to danger v.s. those who didn't.

VR will simply allow you to experience it more without all the peripheral distraction.

Avatar image for gotrekfabian
gotrekfabian

5331

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 49

User Lists: 0

I'm sure the immersion is good in this but it just seems like a tech demo to me.

Avatar image for troll_elite
Troll_Elite

468

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

Can't wait to climb the side of my house while running this demo. Just need a really, really long HDMI cable.

Avatar image for olddadgamer
OldDadGamer

2713

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

Edited By OldDadGamer  Moderator

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but the more I learn about how cool and mind messing VR can be/is going to be, the less I want to try it. It's like listening to people tell me how cool skydiving is. Just makes me "nope" even more.

Which makes no sense. I like tech. I'm a tech guy. But man when it comes to stuff like this? Nope.

Avatar image for Sandpark
Sandpark

157

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@olddadgamer: What you fear or resist holds you back in life. What if VR could be a way for you to face and overcome every fear you have without physically putting you in danger?

You would gain the confidence of an action hero such as James Bond but this time for real.

Avatar image for Johnny-Torque
Johnny-Torque

92

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@olddadgamer: That's extremely counter intuitive, not to even try VR. Have fun not trying.

Avatar image for bobafetthatesu
BobaFettHatesU

2895

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Edited By BobaFettHatesU

@olddadgamer: Because you can fall out of your chair from only a couple feet and splatter into a million pieces next to your dog if you fall in VR...

Avatar image for Rushaoz
Rushaoz

945

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@bobafetthatesu: The brain is a powerful thing. Doesn't matter if you're sitting on your chair what you perceive visually will trick your brain into thinking you're actually there. I myself have an enormous fear of heights and won't be trying this either. I start getting anxiety and vertigo just watching those videos where guys climb radio towers lol can't imagine what VR would do.

Avatar image for squall_83
squall_83

820

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

@Rushaoz: Ugh.. yeah. climbing the radio towers in Farcry 3 had me cringing the whole time and that was just on a TV. I hope they put some radio towers in this game. I can't wait to shit my pants when I almost fall off of one.

Avatar image for skyhighgam3r
SkyHighGam3r

3077

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Wow... I don't know that I could play this.

I have a conflicting love/'fear of heights'. I absolutely LOVE being in high places, it's amazing. Yet if I have even the slightest inkling that there is even the smallest possibility that I could be knocked down and flail hopelessly for my life I can't take it.

Even just playing something like far cry, if I miss a jump and it's a ways down, my sphincter puckers up so tight it might implode and my heart skips beats.

While the experience of being that high up in VR would be amazing, the experience of falling in VR might well give me a heart-attack at 27.

Avatar image for deusvex
DeusVex

294

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

Thats crazy. I had this exact same idea for a game years ago (pre-VR). In my version, said player would climb said structure, then wingsuit off of it. Glad to see someone out there brought this version to reality. Maybe the wingsuit will make it's way to this version:)

Avatar image for wowgrandpa
wowgrandpa

267

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

i don't need VR to trigger vertigo for me...

minecraft does that any time i am building on a skyblock and i am placing blocks, extending the edge of my platform staring an nothing but deep blue below.

Avatar image for amaneuvering
amaneuvering

4741

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 5

User Lists: 0

Man, I really wish I was able to try some of these VR games/experiences, but I'm too skint. :-(

Avatar image for catalli
Catalli

3451

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 5

Catalli  Moderator

@amaneuvering: Haha that makes two of us :(

  • 57 results
  • 1
  • 2