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How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb: a virtual reality experience

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My directions were simple: don't let the bomb explode. I failed. Rather than a screen or a headset, I was looking at a three-ring binder full of printed out instructions. "There are six wires," my partner told me. Okay! I scan the page in front of me and quickly find the directions for how to handle a bomb defuse with six wires. "How many yellow wires?" I ask, as the timer counting toward explosion decreases.

This is how it goes in "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes," a new virtual reality game headed to Sony's PlayStation 4-based Project Morpheus VR headset. You're either the bomb defuser or the person tasked with guiding the bomb defuser through a variety of steps. Does it sound tense? Because it's way tense.

THE GAME

What I was playing (with Forbes' Jason Evangelho -- the game requires two players) was a "first time" bomb defuse module. That means what Jason was seeing was a bomb with only three stages of fairly simple barriers: a series of colored wires which must be cut in a specific way, a keypad with various symbols that must be pushed in a certain order, a button that can be pushed or held (among other things).

But let's back up for a moment -- only one person wears a VR headset while playing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. They see the bomb, its modules, and a room that's going to be charred remains if they don't defuse that bomb. The other person, meanwhile, isn't wearing a VR headset, isn't looking at a TV, but is holding all the cards: they've got a binder full of instructions that the person defusing the bomb needs in order to progress. It's virtual reality as co-dependence. The only other game even remotely similar (that I can think of, anyway) is mobile game Spaceteam.

ORIGINS

The history of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a short one. The trio of indie devs working on it, known as Steel Crate Games, coalesced around the concept within the past year. They only got a Project Morpheus developer headset in the past six weeks, when Sony asked if they could participate in this weekend's PlayStation Experience -- a two-day event in Las Vegas, Nevada focused on all things PlayStation.

And speaking of PlayStation, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes isn't a PlayStation 4 exclusive or some such. It's been shown for the Oculus Rift headset, and co-founder Allen Pestaluky says they'd love to be on Samsung's Gear VR, just as soon as Samsung's got a digital storefront for selling games (Gear VR's initial launch lineup is all free, by mandate from Samsung). Thankfully, the game's made in the very flexible Unity game engine, making it a (relatively) painless move from platform to platform.

THE PREDICAMENT

This is what it's like developing for virtual reality right now: the only headset launching commercially is Samsung's Gear VR (this month), while better technology from Sony and Oculus is still "coming" at some point. The guys at Steel Crate Games are just three indie devs, funding their work through their own means. That's to say, "These guys are paying for this game entirely by themselves, and they have no commercial platform in sight to make up that investment."

It's a risky move, no doubt, but one that could pay off tremendously as VR headsets eventually head to market and owners are looking for unique experiences. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is absolutely a unique experience, and one that's immediately engaging. It's easy to imagine a couple friends trading off as "expert" and "defuser" while friends look on in wonder. That's exactly what happened at the event I attended the other night, easily pulling people away from upcoming blockbusters like The Order: 1886 and Bloodborne. That speaks volumes to the power of great virtual reality experiences, and makes us ever more eager for the world of VR to finally go mainstream.

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