Dragon Front proves even card games have a place in VR

Strategy nerds will totally lose it over this Oculus Rift game
The VR game nerds are going to love

There are only so many times where you'll be able to hop into a VR game ducking from shooting robots or zooming dizzyingly around in an EVE: Valkyrie dogfight, before you start feeling a little tired.

Don't get me wrong, I'm just as excited as the next person for the big triple-A shooters. I want the experience of being in a game, where I'm the one in the pilot seat or the one physically moving around to avoid bullets. I want options when my Oculus Rift's fogged up too much from all the sweaty concentration.

We've seen plenty of experiential games, platformers, puzzles and big triple-A shooters but not too many strategy games in the mix.

Full list here: The best games for Oculus Rift

Developer High Voltage is changing that up with Dragon Front, proving that innovative indie games have an equally large stake in the upcoming VR landscape.

It doesn't hurt that Dragon Front isn't your conventional VR title either. There have been few strategic, turn based, board game-esque titles for Rift and the HTC Vive so it was a surprisingly pleasing experience to try it out.

Imagine Hearthstone, but instead of placing cards down in a 2D space, they become living board game pieces. Each card is unique and transforms into a 3D miniature when played, complete with its own animated actions. Your fortress, and your enemy's, are detailed lands where flags shift and turrets swivel.

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You can lean in and watch the action take place on a 4 x 4 gridded battlefield at 90 frames per second with a full 360-degree stereoscopic view. Instead of simply saying you're attacking with a cannon dealing two damage, you get to see the cannon annihilate enemy squadrons. There are even bombers, giant gatling gun mechs, creepy rat creatures, vampires and more. It's a menagerie of fantastical creatures reminiscent of Magic the Gathering, brought to life.

Dragon Front is every nerd's dream come true, and it all began with an actual board game and an indie studio's love for CCG's (card collecting games).

From concept to reality to virtual reality

High Voltage isn't your average indie studio. It's released several titles including Saint's Row IV and Mortal Kombat X to name a few. Damaged Core is also another previously announced game heading to the Oculus Rift.

Eric Nofsinger, CCO at High Voltage, discussed how it was still a long process to get the game created. From the onset, it was clear to the team that though it was fun in reality, virtual reality was where Dragon Front belonged.

When we made the leap from the board game, VR was always at the forefront of our mind. At that point, technology had finally caught up to that vision of what
VR could be

"Before we even got going on a digital version, we made a physical version of the game which was a really fun way to prototype and prove out a lot of the core mechanics," said Nofsinger. "Prior to that we were working for about a year working up the IP and coming up with all these concepts for the art style and character design."

Just because it's built for VR doesn't mean you'll be playing alone. There will be a multiplayer matching based on comparable skill sets to ensure every player has the best experience. It's also only 1 v 1 right now, but High Voltage is looking into streaming games, and even tournaments, in the future.

"We wanted that experience of two people sitting across from each other, wherever you are in the world, to have that same experience of where the other player is looking and get that kind of sense of responsiveness," Nofsinger told us. "The physical card game took three to four months which was about a year before we started the digital."

The actual board isn't for sale, however the team has been toying with the idea of special edition physical copies in the future. But because there are 280 characters, 80 fortifications and more, it all translates to a lot of card decks, which doesn't look at all feasible at the moment.

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For now, the game will sit comfortably in the VR world, which Nofsinger says is where it will thrive.

"When we made the leap from the board game, VR was always at the forefront of our mind. At that point, technology had finally caught up to that vision of what VR could be."

Oculus exclusive

HTC Vive and PlayStation VR future users likely won't see this title arriving on their headsets but Nofsinger didn't seem too perturbed. "Our money is squarely on Oculus as a development platform. Their system seems to be more in tune with what we're trying to accomplish."

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It's clear Oculus is excited about Dragon Front as well; Palmer Luckey tweeted a tease prior to the launch and the Menlo Park crew have been testing the game for awhile now.

The partnership has also been beneficial for the the indie company during development.

"Oculus has been such a fantastic partner for us," Nofsinger told us. "Without their help, we wouldn't have been able to do the sheer volume of content. They've allowed us to make these 280 characters and 80 fortifications and over 100 spell types, and all these factions. It's been quite the daunting task but all these variables make the game deep and interesting."

The card strategising doesn't require you to move too much either, which has allowed the team to experiment with one-handed play using Oculus's simple input controller.

The match I played lasted about 30 minutes. It was full of quick decisions, due to a timer, and lots of bittersweet back and forth where my opponent nearly won over me and vice versa. I used an Xbox One controller - which lets you look at your hand, examine and play cards - so I could see the potential ease of using the simple input device.

Oculus Touch won't be an option though. Nofsinger doesn't see the use-case with the game quite yet and thinks it'd be a barrier of entry to playing. Rather, he and the team want as little "friction" as possible.

"This one doesn't have that obvious 'hey that would remove friction.' It might actually add to it," says Nofsinger. "We're not sure that there's an immediate parallel for Touch. We thought a lot about what you'd do with Touch. Would you pick up figures, would you look at them, would you physically hold the card hand in front of you? With that, we feel like it doesn't inherently serve a purpose."

What's next?

It was a labour of love to create Dragon Front and you'll be able to experience it all later this year when it releases as a beta to work out the kinks and bugs. No price has been set and Nofsinger remained tight-lipped on the subject.

He did say there's definitely a long term plan set for future card decks in addition to the tournaments he previously mentioned.

It's ambitious to think so far in advance for a game that hasn't met public approval yet, but still, it's a fair assumption if Oculus is backing the game. There's also the matter that not many other VR games can boast a rich, immersive strategy game born from a physical board game.

If this game does well, it will be cemented as the Hearthstone of VR. It'd actually be nice to see Hearthstone, or even Magic the Gathering Online, Scrolls, Infinity Wars and the rest transformed for the VR world in the future.

High Voltage's title certainly won't be the last collectible card game made for Rift (or other headsets) but it's arrived as one of the first promising, non-shooters where you'll be able to dominate fellow CCG fans, all in virtual reality.

What do you think?

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