Alien: Isolation (2014) is a survival horror game that’s rich detail, atmosphere, and tense moments make it a great candidate for terrifying VR experience. A new mod has been released which adds VR support to the game for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift.
Prior to its 2014 launch, Alien: Isolation was briefly demoed with a VR mode running on the second Rift development kit (DK2). It proved to be a terrifying experience, though with only tens of thousands of Rift DK2s out in the wild, the developers of the game didn’t bother to implement VR mode for the launch of the game. It turns out though that the game’s files shipped with the VR mode hidden, and some intrepid folks figured out how to activate it so they could play the game on the DK2.
But between the DK2 and the launch of the consumer Rift in 2016, the Oculus SDK (which interfaces with the game to make it work inside the headset) changed drastically, meaning that the hidden Alien: Isolation VR mode wasn’t compatible with the consumer Rift.
But that didn’t stop people from clamoring to play the game in VR. Their desire spawned multiple petitions to try to get publisher Sega to update the game with modern VR support. Despite one petition with nearly 3,000 signatures, the game’s VR mode has remained outdated and unplayable with the consumer Rift headset. But one fan decided to take action into their own hands.
An alpha version of the so-called ‘MotherVR’ mod has been released, adding Rift support to Alien: Isolation. The creator, Zack Fannon, who goes by the alias Nibre, plans to continue developing the mod to add additional features (including Vive support), but says he wanted to launch the mod in its early state so that people could start playing sooner rather than later.
For now he warns the game is designed for seated play only, and works with an Xbox gamepad or keyboard and mouse. In the future, Fannon tells me that he hopes to add support for VR controllers like Touch.
Fannon is not only making the game’s old VR mode compatible with the latest version of the Rift SDK, he also plans to improve upon the original VR implementation, bringing it in line with more modern understandings of VR comfort design.
“Mandatory smooth turning, head-locked aiming, broken re-centering that doesn’t correctly align the game horizon with the real world horizon (that was terrible before I fixed it), body positioning in VR (objects way too close), forced head animation etc.,” are all issues in Alien: Isolation which VR developers today steer clear of, Fannon said. “To be fair to the developers though, in 2014 we really didn’t know as much regarding VR methodologies as we do now. So with that in mind, their VR support was actually pretty good for the time.”
He explained that the game’s use of a (now) old Oculus SDK is the reason why it doesn’t support the consumer version of the Rift without the MotherVR mod.
“[The SDK is] so old in fact, that it doesn’t even use any external files at all, all of the SDK gets statically compiled directly into the game itself. It’s locked in there, and can’t be easily changed. This limitation, is the main reason why support has been restricted to the DK2 and older legacy runtimes for so long,” Fannon told me. “How I’ve been able to circumvent that is by patching every SDK call in the game when it launches, to redirect it to my own ‘fake’ SDK code. I then take these requests from the game, and reinterpret them to the current Oculus SDK, translating and fixing things along the way.”
Because Fannon doesn’t have access to the game’s source code, he can’t peer directly into the game’s makeup, meaning that some of the tweaks need to be done at a much lower level.
“[…] the rest of what I’m fixing is accomplished at an assembly level, hooking from non-SDK game code and reading raw memory, making small patches to fix what I can.”
You can download and try the alpha version of the MotherVR mod yourself (of course you’ll need a copy of Alien: Isolation). Fannon says that if you’d like to keep abreast of updates, the best place to keep an eye on development is at his twitter account.
If you’d like to support the work he’s are doing, you can do so via this PayPal link, but Fannon says he’s gaining much from the development of the mod even without any compensation.
“For the most part, I’m self taught with technology-related things, just learning and figuring out whatever I can when presented with an obstacle or interesting challenge. This project has been a great opportunity to expand my knowledge. Sometimes you just don’t know how well you understand the ins and outs of a concept until you’ve implemented it from scratch yourself,” he said. “Two years ago I would have been the person begging for someone else to release such a mod, so it’s very cool for me to be that person. No needing to wait around, just go see if you can learn something new, and make some progress on accomplishing something cool.”
Making Alien: Isolation work in VR so that a bunch of people to scare the pants off of themselves? I’d call that pretty cool indeed.