Loco Dojo Dev Talks Bringing VR Party Games To Oculus Quest

Last week saw UK-based Make Real return to the VR gaming scene with a fresh release of its party game, Loco Dojo, on Oculus Quest.

We sat down with the team’s Sam Watts in our virtual studio to talk about bringing the experience over to the standalone headset. Loco Dojo first released on PC VR headsets back in 2017, so it’s been quite a journey to make the Quest port a reality, and a lot of work had to be done to make it fit on the standalone headset. Make Real also does a lot of location-based entertainment and enterprise-based client work, and Watts spoke to how those experiences compare to competing in the VR games market.

Loco Dojo Interview

For those that don’t know, Loco Dojo offers up to four-player online tournaments in which players compete in a number of the 16 minigames in a battle for supremacy. We reviewed the game last week and gave it a ‘Good’ rating, noting that some of its minigames hide incredibly fun VR interactions.

“Loco Dojo doesn’t rewrite the rules on the party game format, but it successfully finds the fun in adding VR to that template,” we wrote. “Its best games are brilliantly entertaining explorations of the different kinds of experiences the platform offers and, although it has some structural issues, tournaments move with a pace that makes them easy to jump into and tempting to replay time and again. “

Sandbox VR is Coming to the UK in 2022, Robotic Bartenders & HoloDecks Included

Sandbox VR

As lockdowns begin to ease, location-based entertainment (LBE) is back on the march as people want to get out of their homes and do something different. There’s been an uptick of virtual reality (VR) focused locations either reopening or launching brand new experiences, allowing players to dive into movie and videogame franchises for the first time. Prior to the pandemic Sandbox VR was one operator that went from doing very well to declaring bankruptcy and then bouncing back by the end of 2020. It’s been expanding ever since and soon it’ll make its way to UK shores thanks to franchisee Andy Scanlon. VRFocus sat down with Andy to find out why he’s so excited about the industry’s future.

Sandbox VR Amber Sky
Amber Sky. Image credit Sandbox VR

Unlike some VR arcades that use generic platform management systems to offer players immersive titles from a range of developers, Sandbox VR is one of the few operators that has its own exclusive titles like Amber Sky and Deadwood Mansion. They’re all designed in-house so visitors are getting a VR experience that’s unique and can’t be found anywhere else, one of the reasons why the company was doing so well pre-Covid.

Even so, starting up a new franchise is no small task, especially when you consider Scanlon plans on opening multiple locations across the UK starting with London. Cities including Birmingham, Manchester and more are all on the cards. Initially, London will see 2-3 sites open during 2021 before moving further afield.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

So how did you get into VR in the first place?

“Working in technology investment which I loved, that brought me to Singapore where I was working with entrepreneurs and investors, really supporting them by finding investment companies that were at the forefront of their particular industries, sorting out business models and their strategic direction.

“And quite serendipitously I found myself in a Sandbox VR venue, the one in Singapore, one of their longest-standing venues. I just remember taking off that headset for the first time after that 35 minute experience and that light bulb just being switched on. It changed the way I saw entertainment, it changed the way I saw social leisure. I’d been looking at VR for some time and to invest in a couple of companies in the UK and Singapore but I hadn’t looked at the location-based VR space at that time.

“That first experience I was with my partner and her three friends for her birthday, and it was just that moment where I saw what entertainment could be. I took that headset off and thought “this is it”, I can just see the industry evolving into something that hasn’t really been considered by 99.9% of people on the planet.

“There are around six LBE VR brands in Singapore so instantly the next day I booked to go see the other ones, went to Zero Latency went back to Sandbox and it was then that I thought “this is what I need to do“.

So how did that lead on to being a Sandbox VR franchisee?

“I reached out to Sandbox and reached out to Steve (Zhao, CEO) in Hong Kong and gave my back story and said have you thought about esports and this and this, it could be bigger than 3D that IMAX always promised, a true innovation step in leisure.

“So I probably spoke at him for 20 minutes before he said ‘have you thought about being a franchise?’ and I said no but the moment he said it I knew I would 100% do it. A couple of weeks later [after looking at the market] I said I think this could be huge in the UK, I’ve lived in London for a few years, I know what it’s like to do corporate events and beers after work with your team. If you look at the UK as a whole in terms of leisure density it’s got the highest [outside of China] leisure density – so that’s the highest number of venues per capita in the world.  

“And so I thought Sandbox is the leading player in the space, it’s been highlighted by the amount of money they’ve been able to raise but also the direction under Steve. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the best experience that I had out of every VR experience I’d played to date.”  

That deal was struck in 2020, mid-pandemic, mid-lockdown, you obviously had a very positive industry outlook for the future.

“To be honest, the way I think about it is that technology as a whole has been great during the pandemic to keep us connected but at the end of the day that’s always been a remote connection. This is why phrases such as ‘zoom fatigue’ have begun cropping up, people are just fed up with doing their weekly team meetings over Zoom. So the way I see it from a sociological perspective is the demand for shared group activities has only increased during the pandemic as we’ve been torn away from each other. I feel, personally – and everyone I speak to – is that when we’re in lockdown all you really want to do is go to the pub with your mates or do something with your mates and colleagues. And so we haven’t been too concerned about the sociological impact from the pandemic, we don’t think it’s going to impact social leisure shared experiences over the long term.

“Obviously we are concerned about future lockdowns, if we can’t be open that’s a concern. I don’t think that Covid will disappear at the end of this year or even next year but I think it’s an easy to overcome hurdle. Firstly due to Sandbox, as it has demonstrated across its network that most of the venues that Sandbox has they’re actually trading above pre-pandemic levels. Secondly, the actual experience or customer journey that Sandbox offers is very geared towards maintaining and adhering to safety standards when it comes to Covid-19.

“The demand for shared experience has only increased during the pandemic and we are looking to provide customers with an experience that they can enjoy with their friends and family. For us a real passion project behind the company, to build a business that can see people remind themselves why they like to go out and organise things with their friends. Because what we’re offering is better than anything on the market at the moment.”

Sandbox VR Deadwood Mansion
Deadwood Mansion. Image credit: Sandbox VR

So how will the UK roll out work and what can customers expect?

“So the VR rooms are called Holodecks like Star Trek and are about a quarter of the size of a Zero Latency room [for reference]. What Sandbox does really well is it uses the gameplay and the map to walk over your [previous] steps so it feels like a different room. So it’s a smaller room but what that allows us to do is really bring this technology to city centres, focusing on where the masses are, whether that’s shopping centres or actual city centres, something most of our competitors can’t do.

“We obtained the UK franchise that gives us exclusive rights to bring Sandbox VR to this market. We’re looking to launch a large number of venues across a pretty short timeframe, across five years, starting with London but we’re looking at the whole country. Following one to two locations in London, we’ll then be looking to go to Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, all kinds of large cities where we think the technology will do well.

“We’re looking at city-centre locations at around 6000 to 10,000 sq ft, we’d like to have around four to five Holodecks in each venue. That allows us to offer multiple start times, we’re not just reliant on one or two Holodecks, people can arrive and leave pretty quickly. What we’re looking for is to build this social environment where people are coming and going, there to enjoy the VR. In addition to the VR, something that’s not being done across any Sandbox venue in the world, none of them currently offer food and beverage. We will be the first Sandbox venue to offer food and beverage, to not offer that I think would be a misstep. So we’re looking to develop a really futuristic venue with a robotic bartender, we want people to feel like they’re entering London 2068, so very cool, very futuristic.”

VR has that futuristic vibe but how do you get around the general public’s uncertainty regarding the tech?

“As long as you’re aware of that you can focus and design your marketing campaigns around that, you have to make sure you spend more time on the education piece rather than the “come to Sandbox VR”, it needs to be “what is location-based VR?” What I really like about it, and I don’t know whether it is because I’m an optimist, is that the lack of awareness of it ensures that the gap between post-experience and pre-experience is greater because people don’t have a clue what they’re getting into.

“You can only do that with a high degree of confidence that the product and the experience are good enough. You don’t need to educate everyone to the nth degree that they know exactly what they’re going into but know that just through word of mouth, that once people do it once they’re going to tell all their friends and post on social media.”

With 14 Sandbox VR locations open worldwide when will the UK venue debut?

“That’s the big question. We’re targeting Q1 2022, likely a soft launch gearing up to a hard launch at the end of Easter. Then site number two during the summer and possibly squeezing in a third by the end of the year.”

How ROTU Brings Rhythm of the Universe’s Song Of Empathy And Nurture To VR

We talk to Rotu’s Jason Parks about the developer’s big VR launch, Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia.

The forest vibrates with song around you, as animals of all kinds follow their ancient rituals seemingly unimpeded. But the woods are also hurting, grappling with a pain only you can help ease. If you’re unsure whether I’m talking about a real-life ecosystem or Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia, that’s exactly what Rotu Entertainment CEO and executive producer Jason Parks wants.

Rhythm of the Universe’s roots go deep, down through a decade’s worth of music education, advocacy, and undercover environmental activism. Rotu Entertainment’s founders attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Parks started a film scoring group during his time at the college, and ROTU’s future CCO, Emir Cerman, approached him with a proposal to bring dozens of musicians and countries together for the project that eventually became Anthem for the World, the seed from which Rhythm of the Universe grew.

“We had a music video that the support team created that brought 90 different countries together, and they wrote a song of peace,” Parks told Upload during Gamescom 2021. “We literally had citizens of countries that were at war with each other at the same table, afraid to even share their real name because of the retribution they would face and that song went viral all over the world on YouTube, and ultimately led us to selling out Symphony Hall in Boston.”

ROTU continued working on documentaries and other advocacy music videos, and in 2015, the Amazon Aid Foundation approached them with a request. The foundation wanted ROTU to travel to the Amazon rainforest and film both the illegal mining and deforestation and how they affected the environment.

“That trip really inspired [Ionia] because it was all about going to this beautiful lush jungle, then coming across just absolutely devastated land and understanding this was human impact but ultimately, there was something we could do about it,” Parks said.

ROTU wanted to create something big out of this experience, their own Star Wars franchise or Avatar, Parks said. A friend introduced the ROTU team to VR around the same time. He’d purchased an HTC Vive headset and invited them over to see what it was like. Parks said the sense of immersion, particularly in a nature scene as they watched a whale swim by in the ocean, is what sold them on VR for ROTU’s dream project.

Rhythm of the Universe Ionia

Immersion is key for Ionia. Parks wants it to feel like a lucid dream, something that pushes the boundaries of entertainment forward through interactive storytelling and imparts a message about humanity’s relationship with the environment like no other. 

“Our message and our vision is all about creating empathy through our lore, through our stories and through our universe,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to do that in virtual reality because I can put you in front of a creature that you have to take care of. You have to progress through making decisions that help you understand the world around you.”

To that end, ROTU also partnered with Wildlife Warriors, the conservation organization the late Steve Irwin founded that’s branching into Europe and Africa, as well as its native Australia. 5% of proceeds from Ionia will go to the foundation to help further its efforts.

Parks said they recognized even creating Ionia was a risk, though, let alone pinning such hopes on it. Ionia’s conception took place before VR carved its niche in entertainment, but the ROTU team believed the medium was here to stay and would only grow bigger. Working on video projects with nonprofits and other clients led ROTU to Epic’s Unreal as their ideal production vehicle. The next step was recruiting a team with “decades” of experience working with game engines and no shortage of ideas for bringing Ionia to life.

Ionia’s gaming inspirations are too many to count, but Parks noted Uncharted, Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild, Moss, Lone Echo — anything with a unique approach to narrative and storytelling.  Music was always at Ionia’s core, though. They vary as much as the games that inspired Ionia, from John Williams’ sweeping scores, to Ennio Morricone’s score for The Mission (1986) and its idea of music creating harmony among disparate cultures. 

Rhythm of the Universe Swing

Ionia’s musical identity is its foundation, so much so that ROTU composed the soundtrack before even designing the first area. They build every stage, encounter, animal, and puzzle around some aspect of music theory. One puzzle Parks demonstrated has you using a basic understanding of intervals on a scale to align a set of stones and unlock the way forward. Another involves using the environment and music to care for a turtle and earn its respect to help heal the forest.

Even more spectacular, set piece events, such as traveling through a valley on zipline, weave a sense of wonder and curiosity into its soundscape. That area, in particular, comes from a brief, 30-second segment from John William’s “The Never-Feast” (Hook, 1991), the moment where Peter realizes that the imagination affects reality. 

It affects ROTU’s reality as well. While Parks couldn’t divulge much about Rhythm of the Universe’s future, he said this transmedia franchise will only continue to grow. Ionia itself is just one region on the continent of Pangaea. Other regions — inspired by music modes, such as Locrian and Dorian, of course — exist with their own stories to tell. ROTU plans on telling them as standalone narratives anyone can access, regardless of how familiar they are with Ionia or any of Rhythm of the Universe’s other parts, with more information to come later this year after Ionia’s September 23 release date on Oculus Quest, PC VR and PSVR. 

Maze Theory Envisions Fan Metaverses for IP’s Like Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders: The Kings Ransom

You a big Peaky Blinders fan? Well, cast your mind back to 2019 and you may remember that British virtual reality (VR) studio Maze Theory confirmed it was working on a tie-in VR experience, revealing a little while later it is called Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. VRFocus recently sat down with one of the Maze Theory team to glean a bit more info and find out what else they’ve been up to, which involves VR’s current buzzword…the metaverse.

Peaky Blinders: The Kings Ransom
Does this bar look familiar? Image credit: Maze Theory

Whether it’s a giant tech company like Facebook or Epic Games or a small indie studio when the word “metaverse” is mentioned you might imagine a digital landscape that’s designed for socialising, with its own or multiple currencies based on crypto and brands as far as the eye can see. Maze Theory’s CEO Ian Hambleton has that same passion for metaverse creation, but he envisions it slightly differently, or more importantly them differently.

Having previously released Doctor Who: The Edge of Time and with Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom in development, big-name IP’s and the fans that support them are key to this metaverse future. “Our approach has always been around well-known IP and well-known fan universes. And so for us as a studio we’re trying to create significant “chapters” in the metaverse, that’s what we want to do,” says Hambleton. “Peaky Land!” or whatever you want to call it, places that fans can congregate around IP and we think that they will be more successful because there’s lore and there are significant fan bases that all want to come together and experience them. And you know that the Star Wars stuff that’s been done by Oculus Studios would really suit that.”

What we don’t want to do as a business is become like a VRChat, so we’re not trying to create areas where people just congregate and chat about anything; that’s not what we’re interested in [in regards to] the metaverse. What we’re interested in are fan universes and story narratives. We will have multiplayer in our games but within those multiplayers you’ll also experience NPC characters that are AI-driven and telling the story, players will go on missions with each other and they’ll roleplay.” Confirming indirectly that Peaky Blinders will have a multiplayer element, in what form that would take has yet to be revealed.

Doctor Who: Edge of Time
Doctor Who: Edge of Time

Like many in the industry, Hambleton acknowledges that this current trend toward a more digital society has, in part, been aided by the pandemic: “What’s been interesting in the last year, COVID and everyone working from home…what I would say is that people are more at home and they’re missing real-world experiences but they’re not necessarily likely to return to those real-world experiences in the same way as they did. And I think that all those things coming together at once means that the metaverse can be a way of existing, and being social and being more together, and the embodied internet will be a VR experience.”

I think the crucial thing in VR is what’s said about the embodied internet,” he continues. “The metaverse will exist in mobile and other aspects but for us, as a VR-focused studio, the embodied internet is experiencing the metaverse in VR.

To deliver this idea Maze Theory is developing some core technology that’ll underpin all of its current and future projects: “We’re calling it “Storyverse” technology,” Hambleton explains. “Basically tools and tech we will use in all of our games and it’s starting to bring together a number of things that feel very relevant with all the conversations about the metaverse.”

It’s a mixture of things that we see as really important in the future of VR like multiplayer and roleplay but also even things like emergent gameplay, so one of the big things in Peaky is the amount of emergent gameplay which has been so successful in titles like Half-Life: Alyx and stuff like that. And it’s a mixture of those three and being social, and allowing players to play together that is a really powerful mix. And so we’ve started to build these tools and tech which be underlying all of our games from Peaky onwards.”

Peaky Blinders
Image credit: Maze Theory

Peaky Blinders or Doctor Who, Maze Theory is definitely going for a multiverse approach to this broad topic rather than an all-encompassing space preached by others: “I think people like to simplify and go it’ll be one metaverse but people have said that’s a bit silly. And I think people would like it to be boxed into a simple “oh you insert in one place” and that’s all you do and maybe one day [it will]. For now, there will be lots, like the Oculus metaverse and you go into all the Oculus games, and they talk to other games on other platforms. The metaverse won’t just be VR it’ll be lots of things interconnecting with each other, I just think the purest form of it will be in VR,” Hambleton adds.

So what happens when all of this emergent, roleplaying, AI-driven, narrative tech has a metaverse of its own? “It’ll bring together everything that’s brilliant about VR and gaming.”

For continued updates on Maze Theory, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom and the metaverse, keep reading VRFocus

30th Time’s The Charm: Jesse Schell Reflects On 3 Decades In VR

Jesse Schell is incredibly bullish about VR. He’s also often very wrong about it.

This is not something he hides, it’s actually something he seems to enjoy. In fact, Schell once revealed he thought VR would be a mainstream technology by around 2005. The jury’s still out but it’s looking like he was off by about 20 years or so.

And that’s far from the developer’s misfire; in 2016 he made 40 predictions about the future of VR during a GDC talk, some of them are yet to come to fruition, some of them were right, but many of them were staggeringly off the mark, like the prediction that PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive would sell a combined total of eight million units in 2016. Even now that VR is finally gaining steam, he admits it’s growing faster than his more recent, much more conservative predictions suggested.

So, why should you listen to Jesse Schell?

Well, aside from years of experience being incredibly charismatic and often electrifying to simply listen to, Schell knows that getting things wrong is not only okay, it’s actually part of life with new tech. It’s this spirit of trial and error that’s kept the developer invested in VR for nearly 30 years and, notably, even informed some of his studio, Schell Games, best titles. I Expect You To Die is all about persistence, experimentation and the eventual satisfaction that comes with success. Jesse Schell and the wider Schell Games’ story is much along the same lines.

In fact, Schell’s work with VR extends even further back than when he founded the studio in 2002. He can trace his first memories of hearing about VR back to an early-90’s issue of Mondo 2000 magazine (described in his own words as a “techno-hipster” vibe). From that spark would come three decades of on-again, off-again association with the tech. He attended Carnegie Mellon Information Networking Institute, where he met a professor that was exploring early work in VR. “I asked if he needed any assistance from people who were doing networking work and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m creating the Networked Virtual Art Museum.’ And I said ‘Wow, what’s that?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know but I could probably use some help.'”

VR’s First Quest

DisneyQuest Aladdin
The Aladdin ride at DisneyQuest featured a large headset and a haptic chair.

You might imagine that the VR of the 90’s was very different to where we are now. And it’s true that the hardware was clunkier, heavier and much more cumbersome than an Oculus Quest 2. But, to Schell, the differences stop there. “The tracking worked magnetically instead of with video, but you had head tracking, you had hand tracking, you had fewer polygons on the PC, but when you’re on the silicon graphics machine you had about what we have now. The difference is the cost is about 1000 times different. The machines we’re working with were typically $200,000 to $400,000 machines. and now we’re talking about machines that are like, $400 machines and do the same thing.”

And you can very much see that in the projects Schell would work on in the mid-90’s, when he joined the Walt Disney Imagineering team. Imagineering developed a range of projects but one of its primary focuses was on the virtual rides and attractions for DisneyQuest, a somewhat unique addition to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and, for a time, a standalone location in Chicago too. DisneyQuest was essentially an immersive arcade, with themed rides that used 3D screens or other interactive elements. Two rides, however, used elaborate VR headsets. One was a melee combat game named Ride the Comix and the other was a virtual ride on Aladdin’s Magic Carpet.

Whilst Ride the Comix was developed by an outside studio (though Schell notes there are some interesting direct comparisons to draw with Until You Fall), the developer worked directly on the Aladdin experience. “I learned so much about both game design and VR during that experience,” Schell recalls. “Elements of it, and moments in it, I’m intensely proud of. It was groundbreaking in its use of audio, steering interface, and even a tactile seat.”

But DisneyQuest, overall, was a strange venture for Disney itself. As Schell points out, the Florida location was successful in its 19 years of operation, though the Chicago center was short-lived, struggling to find an audience outside of holidays and weekends. “The biggest problem DisneyQuest had was too much focus on first-time experience,” Schell reasons. “Again and again, we’d ask management, ‘Do you want us to focus on first impression, or on replay?’ And the answer was always first impression. As a result, it was a great time for tourists, but what it needed to survive was a mix of tourists and regulars.”

But the actual tech behind DisneyQuest’s VR experiences was solid, if cumbersome. “I remember sitting at Disney in 1995 and staring at the problem, these magnetic trackers, which were hard to work with, and talking to one of the senior engineers and saying, ‘Why don’t we just do this with video? Why don’t we just use video and track it?’ And he laughed and he’s like ‘Yeah, maybe in 20 years, but the CPU can’t do it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, no, I guess you’re right. It’s gonna be a lot of processing.’ Turns out he was right.”

Once DisneyQuest had launched, however, Schell wouldn’t return to the world of VR for some time. Imagineering’s next project was the family-friendly MMO, Disney ToonTown, and Schell left the group shortly ahead of launch to move out east taking a job back at Carnegie Mellon University to teach at the Entertainment Technology Center. There he would continue to teach about building virtual worlds and critique those his students created. During this time, though, he started up a side gig consulting for some companies on a freelance basis. Old contacts at Disney and others came through to offer some early work eventually, consulting turned into light development work. This became an increasing emphasis. He called the outfit Schell Games.

A New Beginning

But, even as Schell Games was born, Schell himself had no intention of diving back into VR development. “VR had gone really cold because we’d seen what was possible, knew how hard it was to do magnetic tracking and it was really expensive. So it could only work if you’re gonna do entertainment. It was only going to work in location-based situations.”

Instead, Schell Games toiled away for over a decade on various projects, including some different types of experiences that would prove formative to the developer’s identity. Alongside games for the Nintendo DS, the studio would also work on educational and medical apps, with a particular focus on the former. But it wouldn’t be until the summer of 2012, a decade into Schell Games’ existence, that VR would enter the conversation once more. That was, of course, with the help of Oculus’ historic $2.4 million Kickstarter campaign.

“I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘Oh wow, this might be ready’,” Schell recalls. “Because it was working with optical tracking and a number of problems that we had worried about were getting solved.”

And so Schell Games started to do what it does best, to tinker. The developer would host internal game jam weeks where members could work on passion projects. Some members started to work on VR content, but not without a push in the right direction from Schell himself. “That was actually a really important part of it because I was always hype on VR, but a lot of people in the studio were like, ‘Ah, it’s just bad. It’s going to be like the next Kinect.’ So I started working with Jason Pratt, one of our engineers here, and said ‘Hey, see if you can fold together the best of the best experiences we can show people.'”

Some of these experiments led to Schell’s first commercial VR games. A Gear VR port of its ‘choose your own adventure’ sci-fi spoof, Orion Trail, was born out of a joke about how the text-based game would work in VR. It turned out if you ported the game to a virtual screen and then sat players in a Star Trek-style bridge, it worked pretty nicely. Water Bears VR, meanwhile, was an idea Schell himself bought off of some of his students at CMU for an educational grant the studio was applying for. It came to mobile first but the team thought its logic-based, pipe-connecting puzzling would be a great fit for VR.

Despite discovering some incredible experiences (Schell fondly remembers Daniel Ernst’s Blocked In) and working on its own, there was still some pessimism about VR within Schell Games in these early years. Ironically, that skepticism would set the team on the path to its first fully native game designed for VR first and foremost.

“We had somebody working on a prototype and I was like, ‘Okay, now I don’t want any locomotion in this because it’s gonna make people sick. I don’t want to deal with motion sickness. So do teleporting, keep it limited, try and avoid it,'” Schell says.

“And they completely ignored me that they just had you flying all over the place. And I’m like, ‘Whoa, this really makes me sick’. And they’re like ‘Yeah, this is why VR sucks because you can’t go anywhere. You put on the headset and you feel like you’re going to be a superhero and you’re not a superhero, you’re tied to a chair. What kind of superhero gets tied to a chair?'”

“We all looked at each other and said that actually happens all the time, but nobody ever made a game about that.”

No Mr. Schell, I Expect You To Die

The bones of I Expect You To Die were in place much earlier than you might think. The game wouldn’t release until November 2016, when the Oculus Touch controllers first shipped for the Rift. In that iteration it would feature fully interactive levels designed for hand controllers. But, long before that, Schell actually published its prototypes for the game on the now-defunct Oculus Share platform, where developers could release free experiences for the first two Rift development kits.

Its first release was, in Schell’s words, a “weird bookcase room” with some initial mechanics in place. “No one really paid much attention,” he says. “And we were like, ‘That’s okay. Maybe we can do better.’ And so then we worked in one that was a lot richer and had a lot more detail and we put that up and people really started to notice it and it became the highest-rated experience on the site.”

In fact, the demo remained one of the platform’s most popular experiences right up until Share’s demise in early 2016.

For Schell Games, this was a sign it was onto something. And so the team kept pushing the boundaries of what was becoming an escape room-style spy game in which players would have the power of telekinesis. Objects would handle in realistic and expected ways, but you’d be able to grab them from afar and bring them back toward you, or fit puzzle pieces on the other side of the room right in place. This was I Expect You To Die’s super power, a game that delivers richly-detailed and highly interactive environments that you could explore from the comfort of your chair.

More than just a puzzle game, though, Schell was building out a world where challenges had to be solved with real world logic. That’s why the team built cardboard sets that would mimic their virtual levels, so they could more easily get a feel for how things should be proportioned in a world and what would be in the player’s peripheral vision. It’s a perfect distillation of how VR development gets much closer to replicating reality than is necessary on a flatscreen.

The team was also adamant that there should be as few discrepancies between the real and virtual as possible. When I interviewed Schell a little earlier on this year, he spoke a little about that: “I remember on the first game we put in a champagne bottle as a prop and people were like, ‘Oh, great. I want to open it!’ Oh, of course you do. Okay. Now it’s got a cork and you can open it. ‘Now I want to pour out the liquid into a glass!’ Of course you do, now we’ve got to support liquid. Okay. All right. We’re supporting liquid now and ‘Great I poured it out and I can drink this champagne and that’s so cool. Now I’ve got an empty bottle. I want to break it.’ Oh, of course you do. Okay. So now there’s a broken glass. ‘Oh, okay, I want to take this broken glass, use it as a knife and cut this wire.’ Oh, of course you do. Now this is impacting our puzzles, but oh, okay, actually, that’s kind of an interesting side solve that maybe we didn’t think of and think about.”

The attention to detail clearly paid off. Nearly two years after launch, I Expect You To Die had generated $3 million in revenue on PC and PSVR headsets. It went on to launch on Oculus Quest in late 2019, drumming up a further $2 million on that platform alone by mid-2020. Several free levels were released, which Schell says allowed the developer to keep the game at its current price point. And, of course, it’s sequel launched this week, something that precious few VR games have enjoyed in the past five years.

Keep On Fighting

But, for all its success and innovation, I Expect You To Die had been a difficult project. “So we had our success with I Expect You To Die, but we knew the problem of making [it] is that it’s really hard and slow,” Schell says.

“You can’t make good puzzle games fast. You gotta think about them hard, you gotta build prototypes, you gotta do it wrong 50 times, and then you’ve got to polish it and polish and add and add and polish. It just takes really long to do.”

And, for all that work, you don’t get something that’s intensely replayable. A first-time run of I Expect You To Die’s missions could take you a few hours to see through. But, once you know what you’re doing, repeated playthroughs could take mere minutes. For its next project, then, Schell Games wanted to make something that players could go back to time and again.

“I always felt like the fantasy of sword fighting is a strong fantasy,” Schell says. “It’s like core to Dungeons & Dragons and so many different games. It’s just a core thing that video games have always delivered on pretty poorly.”

Plenty of VR games had looked into sword fighting, of course. Early hits like Vanishing Realms remain some of the best experiences for headsets, even. But plenty of other experiences suffered from poor implementation. Schell calls it the “waggle problem”; the idea that you can just stick your hand in an enemy, waggle it about and they’ll die in no time. That, Schell points out, isn’t sword fighting. But, without haptic feedback to help inform a player’s movements, how could you possibly make sword fighting work in VR?

“We can create tactile feedback in VR because every human being is already wearing a tactile suit and it’s made of muscles,” Schell says. “And if we can figure out ways to activate it, we can actually create tactile feedback.”

That was the basis for Until You Fall, a radically different experience to I Expect You To Die. Players would tackle an endlessly replayable dungeon, facing down different types of enemies in arcade-style melee combat. But the key to the game’s fighting was that it was lightning quick and reactionary – players would first block a series of attacks telegraphed by on-screen indicators. Eventually an enemy would tire and you could get in some fast-fire swipes. By keeping the combat light with only momentary contact between blades, Schell wanted to trick players into a sense of impact.

“When you know [where an attack is coming from] it creates a desire in you to move your weapons to that spot and stop. And when you quickly move a muscle and then stop your body, does this kind of pulse thing at the end, because that’s just how muscles work. And it sounds silly, but that pulse thing feels tactile, not necessarily the conscious level, but it’s at an unconscious level. It feels the clunk as you move your arm around. So we basically built a whole game around this notion of this, in this feeling of a thing that’s halfway between a rhythm game and an action game.”

Until You Fall took this concept and ran with it, creating one of VR’s most playable experiences (that still sits in our list of the 25 best VR games). The entire game is one big exercise in wish fulfilment, from slicing through the hordes of enemies to even little things like picking up a powerup and crushing it in your hand to activate it.

“To me, honestly, it is my favorite VR game of all time,” Schell says. “I’ve played it more than I’ve ever played any other VR game and not just because I had to work on it, but just because I just really enjoyed it. The whole, the way it involves your whole body. It’s just exhilarating, like physical activity in a virtual world can be really exhilarating and be really rewarding.”

Until You Fall was successful on a sales front, if not the runaway hit Schell had seen with I Expect You To Die, but the studio is planning more content in the future.

VR’s Lift Off

Perhaps what’s most surprising about Schell Games is that it has these two tentpole VR releases, with a sequel out to one of them, but it’s far from the only work the team’s done and doing in VR. Alongside those early mobile VR releases there’s been work in AR with Lenovo’s Jedi Challenges and Magic Leap, partnerships with Google for Daydream titles and Lego for more VR. The team’s also retained its focus on educational experiences, putting out Chemistry experimentation app, HoloLAB Champions in 2018 and HistoryMaker VR last year.

“VR is a tool for education,” Schell told me in a previous interview. “It’s an incredible tool for that. However, practically, so far that’s been in the realm of experimentation, the platforms that have been out, the PSVR and the Vive, the Quest, none of them are particularly friendly to educational institutions. None of them are designed for that. So that’s a little bit of an uphill battle market-wise to figure that out, but that’s going to come, that’s going to happen.”

So, no, Schell hasn’t always got things right. And, like every other VR developer, the path hasn’t always been easy. Schell, prone to firing off great quotes, once said that if Oculus Quest couldn’t make it the industry should “hang it up”. But Quest has succeeded, and it’s succeeded faster than the developer had predicted. Now Schell Games doesn’t have any reservations about pushing on in VR.

“We spent years trying to get the rocket to take off and now the rocket is launching and flying across the sky and we’re not going to jump out now,” Schell says. “We’re going to go, we’re going to ride this thing.”

“And for me, this is personally important because I really believe in the medium of video games. I believe in video games as just a powerful means of artistic human expression and VR is the most immersive most powerful video game experience there is. It might not be the number one most lucrative, but it’ll be in terms of human experiences that can be had and artistic experiences that can be created it’s going to be the sort of the vanguard and the most powerful and the best in the world.”

Vermillion Developer Interview: Making Realistic Oil Painting Accessible Using VR

Oil painting simulator Vermillion, available on PC VR and soon on Oculus Quest, is about as close to oil painting in real life as you’re going to get in VR. At least for now, anyway.

But this new unassuming simulator app for VR headsets is doing something interesting — people who were previously uninterested in the machinations of oil painting are picking up the virtual brush and giving Vermillion a try.

The app, developed solely by Thomas van den Berge, is all about wet-on-wet oil painting. Unlike other fast drying painting methods like acrylics, oil paints take a long time to dry, meaning that paint can be blended together on canvas. Different brushes create different effects, and texture can be built up, giving the painting a 3D element.

This meant that van den Berge had a lot of real-life effects, techniques and interactions to accurately reproduce and build from scratch into a VR application. However, the end result is an oil painting simulator that has enough depth that even actual oil painters are giving it a try and seeing great success. It has the same ephemeral, painting-in-the-moment feeling as real life oil painting, but without many of the barriers to entry associated with real life craft.

In Vermillion, all you need is your headset and PC — you don’t need a lot of space or equipment (the latter of which can add up cost-wise), nor do you need to devote a large chunk of time to doing something in one go. There’s also no clean up.

As a result, people are using the app to experiment with oil painting — a medium that, without VR, they don’t have the means, accessibility or equipment to try. Not only that, but the skills are seemingly transferable – while there might be slight differences in the technique, the basic principles of successful oil painting remain vaguely the same, regardless of if you’re using a real easel or a virtual one.

In the 20-minute interview embedded below, we sat down with Vermillion developer Thomas ven den Berge to talk about how he developed the app, the success he’s seen so far and plans for the future. We’ve also transcribed the entire interview below, for those who would prefer to read through instead of watching.

How Did You Start Vermillion And Why?

Harry: Hi everybody, it’s Harry from UploadVR here and today I’m here with Thomas van den Berge who is the developer behind Vermillion, which is a VR app for just PC VR at the moment, right? There’s no other platforms.

Thomas: Yeah. At the moment it’s just PC VR.

Harry: Yeah. So it’s on PC VR now, coming to Quest in the future. It’s basically an oil painting app for VR. It’s fairly realistic — it’s all wet-on-wet oil painting for any artists watching — but before we get into Vermilion, I wanted to talk a bit about you. What’s your history as a VR dev? How did you get into VR? Have you done non-VR development before? How did you get into this stuff?

Thomas: Yeah, so after my studies, I did an internship at a creative media company who built applications for museums and for brands. We got the Oculus DK2 in like 2016 just to make a couple of applications, for like, I think it was like a train company in Europe. I instantly fell in love using the DK2, and seeing the potential of the technology. And since then, I’ve been trying to get more into it.

After five years of working there, I switched to a company here in the Netherlands, where I’m working solely with the whole institute and the Quest, building them interactive applications for a ship builder. I’ve never stopped, in my spare time, working with VR.

Harry: All of this is in your spare time? All the Vermilion stuff is spare time?

Thomas: Yeah.

Harry: Yeah, wow. Very nice. And so I guess my next question is, why the painting aspect? Are you an artist yourself? Do you have a history of painting in real life? Because it seems very realistic.

Thomas: Yeah, a bit of a funny story… I mean, I’m not a painter at all. I can barely draw a stick figure. But I just kind of rolled into the application. Last year, we were planning to do a six month trip around the world, my girlfriend and I, but it got cut short of course, because COVID hit. I was back home and I was looking for side projects and then I made a VR prototype of painting with Bob Ross and shared on LinkedIn, went a little bit viral.

And then I thought like, okay, maybe there’s something here and I just never stopped. I just kept working on it. Yeah.

Translating Oil Painting Techniques Into A VR Application

Harry: I’m not particularly a painter myself. My mum does a lot of oil painting, so I have seen her do it and know a lot about it and not a lot, but a decent amount. It has a lot of the real life elements that you would expect, like you can mix colors on the palette, on the canvas as well, cause it’s wet on wet oil painting.

How much research into like real painting did you have to do to get the feel right, for people who are painters?

Thomas: Yeah. So, I got all the painting equipment myself so I could play around with it and see how it feels, because I think with VR and making good VR applications, it really gives the opportunity to mimic real life in a certain way, but it needs to be as close as possible.

So I watched a lot of oil painting tutorials on YouTube really closely, seeing how the paint behaves, seeing how it mixes. And then during the beta testing phase, I worked together closely with oil painters, like a real-life oil painters, even professional painters and digital artists as well.

So I sorta feel like I combined the best of both worlds. Like I’m getting the feedback from oil painters, like, okay, the brush should feel like this, it should be stiffer or less stiff. The paint should be mixing like this. You know, you should have dry brushing on the canvas. And then the digital artists would be like, okay, I need to be able to change the canvas size on the fly because then it’s easier to block in large sections. Or, you know, need to have undo in there, this kind of stuff. So yeah, I think it was really the close cooperation with people who know about the subject matter and giving really good feedback, which allowed me to make Vermillion into the application it is now.

Balancing Digital Cheats With Realistic Simulation

Harry: And that’s one of the other things that I wanted to talk about, because what I find really interesting is that it’s got those simulation aspects that make it really close to real painting, but it does have some of those digital art things in it. Like you can undo stuff. You can even on the palette, if you stuff up a color, you can take that back or reset the palette. There’s limited layer support as well, which I didn’t realize until I’d done a few paintings in there and I found that in the menu.

How did you choose where to draw the line? Because it is a realistic simulation of oil painting, but there are a few like cheats, if you will, for VR. How did you choose the level at which you put in the kind of digital cheats?

Thomas: So I think at it’s core, Vermilion is about wet-on-wet painting. So I tried to be like sticking as close to the real thing as possible.

So the layers are in there as an option, but you can also just layer paint as you would do in real life, which is like thick over thin paintings — start with a thin coat, and then if you put thick paint over the top of it, it won’t mix. But there were a few things, which would make sense to like let go of the limits of real life and allow it to be a digital medium.

Undo was like a big one, where I immediately thought from the start, OK, I need to have something like this in there. Mostly because I was making videos myself, video recordings of myself trying to do like a paint along. I would be making mess ups all the time. And I was like, okay, this is costing me so much time, going back to a previous version or just trying to cover up what I did. This would be so much easier with an undo button.

And I think same with layers. And also on the palette, you will often accidentally mess up your color because you had something else on your brush and you’d be going back to the palette and be like, oh no, it just ruined my perfect toucan orange with some blue I had leftover.

So these things kind of came naturally, either from myself or from the beta testing community. Yeah, so try to be close to the real thing as possible, but the quality of life things like resizing the canvas and undo… It had to be in there, just to reduce the amount of frustration.

That was like a big thing I wanted, to be easy to pick up and play even for someone who has never painted before and then very forgiving by having the undo in there, for instance. Yeah.

Why Oil Painting As Opposed To Other Forms? And What Does ‘Wet-On-Wet’ Actually Mean?

Harry: Yeah. Well, it’s super interesting, because I’ve seen my mum do a lot of oil on oil painting… or wet on wet painting, I should say. I haven’t, I’ve done a little bit, especially back in school quite a number of years ago now, but not anything recently. But using this, it makes me almost want to do it in real life. And it feels like a way to test it out and kind of understand how it works and what I would need to be able to do it in real life. It’s like a testing ground. And then of course there’s the added benefit of no mess or, or nothing like that.

For those people who have never done any painting before — can you explain what ‘wet-on-wet’ painting means? We keep saying, you know, ‘it’s wet on wet’. What does that mean to someone who has no understanding of art or why that’s important or how that affects the painting?

Thomas: So, maybe first things first is with oil painting, the paint stays wet for… some people say even up to 10 years before it’s fully dry, but it takes days before it’s dry. So if you’re doing a painting in one session, like a lot of painters do — it’s also called alla prima like ‘in the first go’ — it means that you’re always working with wet paint.

So, with like something else like acrylics, it dries pretty quickly and you can do layers. So you start with a base coat and then you just go over top and your new color, which you’re doing over the top, will just not mix. It will be like a new layer. But with oil paints, because they stay wet, if you’re adding more paint over top of it, it will be mixing with what was already there. It also allows you to always keep moving the paint around.

So, you could do like reflections or pulling up grass, just because it’s always still flexible. You can always take a brush and make changes to what’s already on the canvas. Nothing is ever set in stone. And it has a very good benefit by allowing you to easily blend colors so they can make very subtle shades very easily.

If you’re doing a digital program like Photoshop, I want to do a soft skin fade. You would have to be constantly picking new colors and going over it with different tools. But with painting, it happens by itself, right? So you put on the base color, then you go over to the new color and it just picks up what’s already there and slowly becomes this gradient, just by itself and makes it very easy to get these smooth gradients. It also makes it harder for people who just want to do layering stuff. Who just want to be like, okay, blue sky, brown tree, and then like, oh no, my brown tree starting to become blue.

So that’s why the layers are in there, for one. For two, it’s also a lesson about how to work with the medium. Normally you’d have to leave the space blank where you’re filling in your new layer. But, yeah, so that’s what it’s about. Wet-on-wet painting? It never dries.

Harry: Yeah. Did you choose to focus on oils? What drew you to oil specifically, over like acrylic?

Thomas: Yeah. It just seemed like the most interesting medium to me, because if you’re using a quick drying medium, like acrylics, I think you’re losing a bit of like the magic of the painting, which you would have with the oil painting stuff, because it very quickly just becomes like, okay, put on this color, put down another color over top and you would have a hard time making something like a painting, which would often look like just like something like very digital. So I think that’s why it drew me to oil painting just because it’s a lot more like a natural medium. And yeah, it just seemed more interesting.

Vermillion

Harry: Yeah. And on that note too, one thing that I noticed, which is really interesting and detailed, is that you can do lots of like quick brushes with it, with a thick brush and you get that kind of… I’ve forgotten the technical term again for it, but it’s the little texture on the canvas. It becomes like 3D. It’s not just 2D, it’s got like a 3D element to it as well. Was that something that you put in after feedback from the oil painters you were working with? Or when did that kind of come into it?

Thomas: Yeah, so it’s called impasto, which is like this very thick texture. It’s also just a very oil painting thing to have.

It started out with looking closely at these tutorials for oil painting and seeing when you’re putting down paint, you have to put down a very thick paint layer over top of a thin one to avoid it mixing. And you can really see the texture. And then when they’re pressing down on the brush to see like, okay, it’s like craziest little like valley in the paint.

I was like, okay, this looks very nice, and something I want to simulate as well in Vermillion. And then with the latest update, I’ve improved it even more, so it can get like really thick texture onto the canvas. And it allows you to create like a different style and different effects, which again, you would have a very hard time doing in traditional digital mediums, but here in VR, it just feels very natural with like ok put a lot of paint on there and then soft pressure on the canvas. Okay, you’re putting it on really thick paint, and if you’re like pressing it more, you can really like push it down again, and you can create interesting texture onto the canvas in this way.

Future Features and Content

Harry: Even today, I was amazed. I played around with the app again for like an hour or two today and it still surprised me. I was brushing and then I realized I wasn’t  connecting properly and there was little like gaps in [the paint]. And also then I was getting the big brushes and trying to quickly cover ground — I was noticing the more I pressed in, I was getting more of the texture.

It’s a really interesting and detailed touch. Is there anything that you couldn’t put into the app that exists in real life?

Thomas: Well, one of the things that you have in real oil painting, it’s called mediums. And it’s just another liquid, like another oil, [that] you’re adding to the paint to change its viscosity. So normally, straight from the tube, it’s super thick and you’re always mixing it with lindseed oil, just like a different oil to make it more flexible.

And then you have different kinds. Some of it makes it dry quicker or make it more like easily to spread on canvas. But it would make it a bit too complicated for the application, especially for beginners, because then it’s like, okay, I have paint and I have to mix it with something else in there. And then what does it even do? So it’s something I chose not to put in there just because it’s an extra layer of complexity.

Instead by default, the paint always acts like it has some amount of medium in there, like not straight from the tube. That was something I chose to simplify. Yeah.

Harry: Do you have any features, maybe like that or any other things, that you’re looking to add in the future? Or are you looking to add other modes of painting, like acrylic paints or anything like that? Have you got any future content planned?

Thomas: So, I will be focusing definitely on the oil painting aspect at first, because there’s still more things to explore there. One thing, which I definitely want to do, is just adding the paint tubes because it would be fun to play around with, squeezing them seems like a very cool interaction to do in VR.

And maybe another thing, which is like the most requested feature by now, which is kind of funny when you’re making an oil painting app, is just having graphite pencils, because many people want to sketch out what they going to be painting first. They have a thing from real life, where you’re always going to start with a sketch.

Something like this could be coming as well, but I’m not sure I will be adding other kinds of paint. I think I will be just sticking to oil

Harry: That’s an interesting point because today I had an image up on [Vermillion’s in-built] web browser and I was kind of like, hmm, I want to vaguely sketch this. And because I hadn’t been adjusted to oil paint, I used black. And then when I was later going back over it, I was like, oh, now I’ve got to find a way to mix this together and keep mixing to go over it, which was an interesting lesson. It’s funny that I can learn those lessons just like I would in real oil painting. I think that’s a testament to how in depth it goes.

Current Platforms and Oculus Quest Release

Harry: So it’s on PC VR now. It’s on Steam. Any other platform, or is it just Steam?

Thomas: So currently it’s Steam. I was hoping to do a cross platform release, Oculus and Viveport simultaneously, which sadly did not work out. So, I’m working hard with the people at the FRL to get onto the Rift store as soon as possible. It’s a little bit more complicated on the Rift store, but it should hopefully be sorted soon. So that should be dropping in the coming days or weeks.

[Editor’s note: Vermillion has since launched on the Oculus Store for Rift]

It might also be coming to Viveport, we’re also trying to work with HTC because there’s some issues with the Cosmos controller.

And then yeah, afterwards is going to be coming to Quest. That’s going to be the next big milestone, optimizing everything so it works at least on Quest 2, hopefully also on the first one, and be coming to the App Lab, hopefully in the coming months. That’s like the big priority right now, just to make it accessible to as many people as possible because so many people only have the Quest or just prefer being untethered. It’s going to be a big one.

Harry: Yeah. It’s coming to App Lab? Not the official Quest store? It will be on App Lab?

Thomas: Yeah, it’s going to App Lab first and then it’s also going to the Quest store later.

Harry: Ah, okay, cool. The other thing I was going to ask with the Quest is… As you said, even the paintings themselves when you’re doing them are quite detailed. Do you expect to have to make any changes visually or anything to get it to run on Quest?

Thomas: I already have a first version running on the Quest, which has pretty much full feature parity, but it’s not yet running at full framerate. So I’ll have to be looking at like, okay, how much can I optimize? And otherwise, what features do I have to scale down to get it running properly on the Quest as well. So I’m aiming at full feature parity, and hopefully it’ll work out.

Harry: Yeah. I remember we were talking over email and you contacted me and said, oh, it’s coming on Quest now. Was that something that you always planned or was it this just like, I’m going to make this, put it out for PC, and then, you know, you saw interest on a Quest version, so you kind of pivoted to that? Or had you always been thinking about Quest anyway?

Thomas: The first prototype was I think at the end of 2019, and I didn’t even have a Quest. Just chipping away at the application on my original Vive. So it’s like very old school and yeah, I think I just figured, okay, I’ll just start with PC VR because that’s what I have. But I always planned like, okay, I should have a Quest port at some point, because the interest is a lot larger than what’s possible on PC VR.

But yeah, I stuck with a PC VR version first and I’ll have to try to get it running as good as possible on the Quest as well.

Harry: And are you happy with how the PC VR releases has gone? What’s the feedback been like?

Thomas: Yeah. So the feedback has been pretty great. So far all of the steam reviews have been positive, and people are like just like you were saying, okay, this gives me an option to play around with painting. Many people are, for the first time, creating their paintings and they are saying, OK I have zero interest in painting, I have zero artistic talent, but somehow this is really drawing it out for me and I’m just having so much fun painting with Bob Ross or… Someone was like, okay, I painted my own puppy and my mom was super proud of me or something.

It is just really funny to see this this feedback coming in, these reviews coming in. People just being active on the Discord channel and they’re sharing their art. Everyday, there’s like new paintings coming in and people giving each other feedback. And, yeah, it’s been a great experience, seeing so many people have an artistic side. I think the threshold was always too high to do it in real life. And I think that VR really offers the possibility to do so without the risk of messing up, like the fear of messing up. There’s no judging, just having fun, it feels good. Yeah, people are having a good time. So yeah.

Exporting and Printing Paintings, Taking Them Into Other VR Experiences

Harry: It’s the same thing with me. It’s not something that I’m opposed to doing, but it’s also like, you know, everything in the app, to get in real life… As you said, there’s a threshold… I need something to put the canvas on. I’m probably not going to want to get an easel… I need brushes… Which types of brushes? I need paints. And then as you said before, with oils, you’re going to need to mix it and all that kind of stuff. And then there’s the mess. You need a space to be able to do it…

So it’s really cool. It reminds me of Kingspray on Quest. That was something that I tried and I didn’t get into that as much, and I don’t know how realistic that is compared to actual graffiti art, but it was like interesting to do that and kind of have a go with the cans, which I would never probably have thought about doing in real life. It just makes it way, way, way more accessible

And it must be fun for you because you get to see everything that everyone makes in [Vermillion] too. I’m sure people are sending you these amazing creations.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Every morning I wake up and I check the Discord channel and there’s this whole list of new paintings. I’m so amazed every time, like what people are creating. I’m like, is that even made in Vermillion? I’m like zooming in and like oh that’s crazy, yeah. A lot better than I could ever achieve myself. And it’s just really a joy to see people creating stuff with my application.

Vermillion

Harry: Now the other thing I was going to mention before, we were talking about the impasto and the 3D texture… I can’t remember where I read it or in what capacity, but you were either planning, or have already added support, for you to be able to bring these paintings as 3D models, right. So you can take them into like, VR Chat or another app, and have the texture in there. Is that right?

Thomas: Yeah. So that’s coming very soon to have like, a GLTF export of the model. I already have the export of the maps themselves, so you can have a texture in there. Just also need to do the actual model, so you have the proper canvas.

But yeah, that will be dropping as an update soon, and then you will be able to take your paintings into other VR applications. I think it will be very exciting for people to be able to share their artworks in VR and be like, OK look at this piece here on the wall, I’ve painted this. It would be like a whole new aspect to it because right now it’s confined to one application, but once you can take it out and share it with other applications, with social applications, I think opens up like a whole new aspect to it.

So I’m looking forward to seeing people’s works in other applications, yeah.

Harry: Yeah, and outside of VR, you can export the painting as is, right? You can get, I think it’s up to 8K, is that right?

Thomas: Yeah, one of the painters of this toucan here, also did another piece, another bird portrait, it just so happens. And he actually printed it on a pretty big canvas print, and now it’s hanging on his wall. And it looks really convincing and it’s pretty amazing to see. He was like, yeah, it’s feels so unreal to see this thing in real life, which I’ve only made in VR.

Harry: Yeah. Well, that’s fantastic. That’s pretty much everything I had to ask. Is there anything you want to say to the users who are already using Vermilion or anyone that’s interested? Is there anything you want to put out there before we finish up?

Thomas: Yeah, I think mostly just don’t be afraid of thinking that you can’t paint. There are so many people already on the Discord, on the Steam community who are like, okay, I’ve never painted before, but this is so much fun to do. Don’t hold back. Don’t be like, ah, I’m not sure, I can’t even draw. Why would I even start painting?

There’s a lot of features in the application, like allowing you to trace images or just painting along with tutorials and yeah, I think just having fun with the application. So yeah, don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t limit yourself in thinking what you can’t do. Discover your artistic side.


Vermillion is available now on Steam and Oculus Store for Rift, with a Quest launch coming next year.

Pistol Whip Smoke & Thunder Marks New Era For Cloudhead Games

Cloudhead Games released Pistol Whip’s new narrative campaign Smoke & Thunder alongside a complete rebuild of the game’s modifiers system.

The release marks a key moment in Canada-based Cloudhead’s journey as its hit rhythm shooter expands in scope from the original 10-scene debut in late 2019 honed around an incredibly satisfying auto-aim system. Today’s release on PC VR, PSVR, and Quest grows the scene collection to 28 tracks and two tight campaigns with new weapons like BoomStick unleashing splash damage on baddies alongside a new modifiers and leaderboard system. Instead of a game that encourages players to get the highest scores by picking the hardest modifiers, now every combination of scene difficulty, modifier, and weapon choice carries its own leaderboard. So players can practice sharpshooting by making threatless targets who can only be hit in the head, or change a few modifiers to turn it into an intense bullet hell that’s kind of like a rhythmic Expert+++ mode.

On August 15th, three days after release, Cloudhead is also increasing the price of Pistol Whip to $29.99 from its original debut of $24.99. The move echoes a strategy employed recently by Aldin Dynamics with its Natural Magic update to Waltz Of The Wizard, reflecting the hope of long-time VR developers growing their teams to build deeper VR games. There’s no paid downloadable content in Pistol Whip, at least not yet, so the price increase is a bit like an exit from early access that rewards early-in supporters with a dramatically expanded game while those jumping in from August 15 support Cloudhead’s growing team and Pistol Whip’s expanding scope.

In the 15-minute video interview below with Game Director Joel Green we covered Pistol Whip’s latest changes and Cloudhead’s overall path to release. There’s chapter markers to jump to whichever section interests you — we talked about the size of the team, the new play styles and how they select music for the game — and we’ve transcribed the whole thing below if you want to read along below.

How Does The Styles System Change Pistol Whip?

[00:00:00] Ian: Hello everyone and welcome. We’ve got Joel Green in our studio today. He is the game director for Pistol Whip and the new update for Pistol Whip is out now you can go and play it. Joel, tell us what is in this latest update and how it changes the game.

[00:00:15] Joel: Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me. The new update is, you know we always say this but it is so far always been true, it’s the biggest thing we’ve done yet. It’s kind of a two-part update. There’s two huge new things in it. We’ve got of course our brand new campaign Smoke & Thunder, if you played 2089, it’s basically the same kind of format with five linked scenes that tell a story with cut scenes and voice acting and all that. And this time we went to the wild west, but it’s a bit of a weird west type of story with was some cool tech in there. It’s a really cool story about two sisters. I don’t want to spoil too much more than that but it’s super fun, a little more of a lighthearted adventure vibe than 2089 was, which was more of like a Terminator / Blade Runner kind of vibe. That’s the big story campaign. That’s five new scenes and whole bunch of new mechanics and all that. The second part of it is Styles system. So this is something we’ve been working on for a really long time. Basically what it is, is a revamp of our whole modifier and leaderboard system. And it’s designed to let players play the game how they want to play. We’ve always had modifiers in the game but we were never really happy with how they functioned in the game and we noticed that they really kind of pushed people towards just playing with the modifiers that let them score the highest. It’s basically a complete overhaul of our modifier and leaderboard system that lets you create crazy combinations of modifiers combined with weapon types and then kind of save them as these preset styles and remember them and use them in the future. And we also have ways to find the most popular styles. So it really opens up the game to a whole bunch of replayability. And then on top of that, every single style has its own set of leaderboards. So it’s a complete overhaul how we’re doing that and it’s really cool because instead of having one score on each scene, you can have a different score for each way to play and there’s so many leaderboards, there’s literally millions of leaderboards. So you can actually find new ways to play a new places to go and kind of bring your friends to those boards and discover different things every day. So it’s really just like all about replayability and making the game into this sandbox remix mode.

How Has Pistol Whip Grown From Start To Now?

[00:02:36] Ian: Recap for me sort of the story here for making Pistol Whip. Were you always the game director? How has the game sort of grown from start to now?

[00:02:45] Joel: Yeah, Pistol Whip was originally developed with a very small team, I think there was only seven or eight of us on the dev team. And it was quite a short, small project and we made it quite quickly and then started kind of showing it to people, showing it to Oculus, bringing it to conventions and things. And it was clear that people really latched onto the core gameplay. So we put a bit more time into it and a bit more effort and managed to get it out within that year. And the response was so amazing that we very quickly realized that we wanted to grow the team and figure out a long-term plan for the game. Cause we just had so many ideas for what we wanted to do with it. So we basically kind of restructured the team and hired a whole bunch of new people we now have, Cloudhead is over 30 people now. And the dev team for Pistol Whip I think is around 20, so I became the director around right after we launched. So the whole kind of post content plan has been something that I’ve developed with the rest of the team.

Why Are You Raising Pistol Whip’s Price?

[00:03:46] Ian: And the price is changing at this point, right? You’re going from $24.99 to $29.99 shortly after release. You’re actually giving a couple of days to get even all this new content at the lower price. Can you explain the thinking there and what you’re trying to go for?

[00:04:01] Joel: Yeah, totally. We wrestled for a long time with whether or not we should get into paid DLC. Like we have to be able to continue to fund the dev team as it gets bigger and as the game kind of gets more ambitious in scope. So of course paid DLC is kind of the obvious choice. And we wrestled with doing that for a long time. We weren’t sure if the campaigns were going to end up being paid DLC. But eventually we had a suggestion from one of our lead developers that like, what if we just keep it really simple and as we continue to add tons of content to the game, let’s just raise the price a little bit. And that way everybody who’s kind of bought in and is already fans of the game in our community, our loyal kind of base, t hey don’t have to pay any extra, but if you’re getting in now to the game and you’re getting all this extra content, then we think it’s still a super super good price and fair price for the game. So it just seemed like a really good way to make that leap and it really keeps our community together too. So you’re not like, ‘I want to play on the scene, compete with my friend,’ but I don’t have the DLC that they have. So it just felt really good to kind of keep it all really simple still.

[00:05:09] Ian: That’s a really interesting strategy and I saw it being done by Aldin Dynamics with the Natural Magic update for Waltz of the Wizard. They did the same thing, they upped the price, and it kind of reflects sort of an experienced developer’s attempts to grow an indie small team into something larger and increase the scope of their projects and keep people coming back, not divide the community, give them kind of an alert that this is going to happen. It’s like the reverse of a sale.

[00:05:40] Joel: That was super important part of it was that we give people time to get in at the current price, obviously we feel like the game is totally worth the new price, but we didn’t want to just like spring that on people right before the new update. So yeah, right now you basically have until I think three days after the game launches, like on the 15th is when the price goes up, you can get in and get Smoke & Thunder and all that. And then after that, it’ll go up and we’ll continue to keep updating the game.

[00:06:08] Ian: I’m really curious to see if this catches on with more devs, cause it’s such a unique experience of the VR ecosystem where you do have dev teams that were so small. It’s so important that we express to our audience out there how small these teams are and how that $5 difference really has a dramatic impact on the number of people being able to develop these things.

[00:06:30] Joel: You’re right, the industry is still growing, we’ve been very lucky and we’ve done really well with Pistol Whip and we’re super happy with that, but at the same time, when you’re talking about having a proper team of developers that isn’t working tons of overtime constantly, and is actually being paid the way they all deserve to be paid, it costs a lot of money and it’s super important that we find business models that work for the gamers as well as for the studio. So this one, after a lot of thought, just felt like the right thing to do cause, like I said, it keeps it simple, still lets people get in at the lower price. But also kind of acknowledges all of the work that we’ve done over the last year and a half. We started with 10 scenes and we’re going to be at 28 after this one. We have tons of modifiers that have been added. We now have five weapon types that have been added. There was one weapon type before, and now there’s five different weapon types that all feel different and play different. So yeah, we’re very confident that the game is totally worth that asking price at this point. And yeah, we’re happy, the community seems to have responded really well to it as well.

What Is Your Favorite Style Of Play And Why Is It The BoomStick?

[00:07:34] Ian: So let’s talk about this update. What is your favorite way to play?

[00:07:39] Joel: I have a few. We haven’t really talked much about the BoomStick yet, but I’ll talk a little bit about it here, I guess, cause this is Launch Day. So the BoomStick is a splash damage weapon. It is super fun, if you’re into rag dolls, it’s like the fun thing to do, when you have groups of enemies, you can blast them and you’ll get an AOE and kind of like throw the rag dolls all around. One thing I love about it is that you don’t actually have to hit the enemies, right? Like any good splash damage weapon, you can hit the ground or environment, and near enemies, and it’ll still take them out. So I actually love combining BoomStick with Deadeye because that way, like the auto aim isn’t sucking the bullet towards the enemies. And you can kind of like pick spots on the ground to initiate the splash damage. And sometimes you can even hit like more enemies than you could by hitting an actual enemy directly because you’re kind of like maximizing the AOE. So I’m a super big fan of that one. I’ve been enjoying playing through scenes- just like sometimes when I get surrounded by enemies- I’ll just point straight down and shoot the BoomStick and have it take out anyone around me, like stuff like that you just couldn’t do before that’s super fun. Another one that I really like which surprised me, cuz I’m not usually super crazy about deadeye, but I started playing deadeye with headshots, which is called head hunter is one of the new mods and that one makes it super tough to hit anybody because you basically have to hit them in the head and there’s no auto-aim, which sounds really painful, but it’s really cool. Maybe if you combine it with threatless, which stops the enemies from firing, so it’s almost more like a target practice and then you get these really small targets, but they’re not threatening you, so it almost becomes like kind of a sniper mode or you’re really focused on just taking them out without dodging too much. So it’s like just feels totally different than anything we’ve done before. And the cool thing is those are all leaderboards, right? Like previously in Pistol Whip, if you put on modifiers like that there’s probably no way you were going to be able to beat your high score or really get anywhere on the boards with a weird combination of modifiers like that. But the cool thing about the Style System is that now, even that kind of strange way of playing still has its own set of leaderboards. So anyone who enjoys that and thinks that’s cool and unique, they can still compete in that exact style.

How Do You Select New Music For Pistol Whip?

[00:09:59] Ian: So I did the campaign and, no spoilers here, but I was pretty hooked on the new music, incredible stuff in there, really, really fun to hear that different style. I’m curious, how are you going about getting new music for the game? How does that selection process go?

[00:10:17] Joel: Good question, Ian. It’s not easy. I’ll say that, as the person who has to do the music licensing, for the most part of course there’s other people helping, it’s tricky, music licensing is really, it’s a tricky world of lawyers and contracts and terms, you know, a lot of different parties involved, but it’s also the beating heart of this game. We know that, it always has been. As the audio lead, I’ve always known that the music in Pistol Whip was by far my most important job, like getting the right music for the game was really the most important thing I could focus on as an audio lead. So I put a lot of time and effort into it. We always wanted to kind of push into different genres, right? Like with each update and just get some variety and see what else we can do. The whole team actually spent like a week just listening to stuff on YouTube and Spotify and wherever, trying to find stuff that might fit. And they just were kind of spewing it all into a slack channel, just constant links and all this stuff. And I kind of went through it all and, and took all of those suggestions and found the ones that seemed like they were really good for the game and also were going to be like possibilities for licensing. And then we just start emailing and calling people and making deals. It takes a while and we managed to get pretty much everything we wanted with this one and I’m super happy with it because finding rock music that fits Pistol Whip is tricky. Because you need a strong beat in Pistol Whip, for the gameplay to really know when you’re supposed to shoot. You have to have just the right kind of music, but I think we really nailed it with this one. I hope people love it.

Are There Dream Songs You’d Love To Have?

[00:11:51] Ian: I’ve asked the licensing question from some other devs and it’s such a hard thing. You’ve got to be a certain size to be able to bring those people to the table and talk. Do you have this list of dream songs you would love to see in Pistol Whip? You just haven’t been able to bring them to the table yet?

[00:12:06] Joel: Of course there’s a world music that would be amazing for this game, absolutely. Our kind of philosophy around music and Pistol Whip is that the game requires really great music for everything to work well, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be like top 40, stuff that you totally recognize. For us, it’s just about the music tracks being great and being right for the game. So we try not to focus too much on like whether or not it’s some huge artist that everyone’s gonna recognize and more just about really getting the right track. And when we’re building these campaigns, it’s even more important than just five good tracks. Like we actually have this story kind of planned out in advance, and then we go and look for the music that’s going to help tell that story. So every track is picked specifically for the tone that it sets and making sure that lines up with that moment in the campaign. So, yeah, it’s about a lot more than just kind of the overall popularity of the song for us. It’s almost a little more like traditional game music licensing and scoring where it’s about: how does this serve the game rather than just like it being a cool song that everybody knows?

Is Paid DLC In Pistol Whip’s Future?

[00:13:15] Ian: It feels like this game as it is now is starting to resemble so much of what you kind of set out to do at the start. And you found this incredible way of evolving it and still keeping this audience, like the community together, like you talked about earlier, not doing the DLC packs, even though I think we have talked in the past and I knew that it was kind of an open possibility. Are you going to be able to keep from doing DLC or are you going to go to the DLC route? What does that look like for you?

[00:13:45] Joel: It’s a great question, the truth is we don’t know. We’re basically taking it one step at a time. This was the decision this time to up the price a bit, but down the road, I think my take on it personally, is a paid DLC can be done really well and it can be done really badly. I think we all, as gamers have seen examples of both. So if we do it, we would do it really well so that people felt like they were getting what they wanted out of it for a great price. We would do our best to adjust the game systems to make sure that it wasn’t too much of a hindrance in the game itself. But there are zero plans to do that right now. We’re just pretty much focused on getting this update out, and obviously we have some plans for the future too, but we’re not really making any decisions.

Is There Anything Else You Want To Add?

[00:14:30] Ian: Is there anything else you want to add about this update today and where you’re going with Pistol Whip next?

[00:14:36] Joel: I would mostly just like to say thank you to the team. I’m super proud of what we’ve built and this stuff comes out and it just kind of feels like, yeah, those are cool ideas, but really a lot of this stuff has been like a year and a half in the making and it was really difficult to pull off. And the team knows how hard it was to do. Everybody’s really proud of it and really happy with where we ended up so I just want to mainly give a shout out to them and then huge shout out to all of our community and fans. We have a really loyal fan base that loves the game and gives us tons of good suggestions and we really listened to that. So thank you to everybody who loves the game and everybody who’s been making it.

After The Fall Dev On Quest Development, Delay And What’s Changed

Last month brought news that Vertigo Games was delaying its anticipated co-op VR shooter, After The Fall, to later in 2021.

It’s the latest in a series of delays for the title, which was first announced back in 2019. Since that time the VR landscape has changed a lot – headsets have come and gone and we’ve seen the bar for VR gaming raised. We sat down with Richard Stitselaar, Creative Director at Vertigo Games, to talk about the decision to delay the game once more, and what’s changed over the past few years of development.

UVR: Which specific areas of development are challenging with After the Fall? Is it a case that the PC version is the lead platform but porting to PSVR/Quest 2 is what’s taking time?

RS: I would vote for the multi-platform development approach, with which we are developing for three (four!) widely divergent VR platforms in parity, as the number one area that has been the most challenging and time-consuming with After the Fall. 

Strictly taken, no version of After the Fall can be considered a port: all content is developed for all platforms in parity, while a core framework of VR development tools ensure the unique strengths and capabilities of each platform are leveraged (Yes, that means crispy high-end graphics on PC are possible). It also lays the groundwork for rolling out a meaty post-launch support plan to the various platforms simultaneously, so that our team can continue to expand the game world with content and features with as little platform-specific overhead as possible.

Behind the scenes, our technical team has spent close to a year building this beast of a framework on top of the Unity engine before we truly kicked off multi-platform production of After the Fall. Meanwhile, the main chunk of our development team ported Arizona Sunshine to Oculus Quest – an immense job that we spent almost as long on – the learning lessons of which we brought back into the framework afterwards. I would even go as far as to say we have developed a Unity-based VR engine layer that will serve us for future VR games as well. 

UVR: Was the game always planned for release on Quest and, if not, has the port affected the original scope in any way?

RS: Originally, no. But when the Quest was announced, we realized the potential of untethered VR and made the decision to familiarize ourselves with developing for the platform by jumping into familiar territory with Arizona Sunshine. This has helped us understand the device and its unique strengths and weaknesses, before jumping in with an ambitious title such as After the Fall. We have had to be critical about our development roadmap in some areas: some features and content have been moved around on our timeline, while others have made way for new ideas. Launch has always been just the start for After the Fall however and this has meant we have made our post-launch support plan a little meatier.

UVR: This will make ATF the first game to get a Quest 2 version before a Quest 1 release – was this a decision you had to plan with Facebook?

RS: The Oculus Quest 2 was introduced midway through our development cycle, and it became apparent that the differences with the original Quest required us to re-evaluate its impact on our development approach. Facebook was very understanding and supportive of our desire to maintain the level of quality we set for ourselves. We’ve worked closely with the team at Facebook to secure that additional development time our team needs to bring After the Fall over to the original Oculus Quest properly. 

After the Fall - Screenshot - 03

UVR: How much later in the year do you expect the game to arrive?

RS: Let’s just say we are confident the rolling “After the Fall” release date joke, that our community has happily been torturing our CM with, won’t age well! Although we’re having quite a bit of fun seeing him try and come up with witty replies…

UVR: We first saw the game in summer 2019. Exactly what’s changed with the project since then?

RS: The 2019 demo is largely still a good representation of our vision for After the Fall – essentially being a sideways step from our work on the Arizona Sunshine universe – in which we have broken basically all its rules for surviving an undead apocalypse. You’re no longer saving bullets in a struggle to survive – this is a full-blown power fantasy in which you play the role of a Runner. Runners are special survivor forces who venture out into post-apocalyptic LA, take out the snowbreed, and bring back the resources required to secure mankind’s continued survival, all the while upping their skill, loadout and status within the community. 

Some things did change. Aside from the changes to the development roadmap we already covered, once we had the core framework mentioned above in place, we cranked up the co-op support to 4 players in-mission as the standard for internal and external playtests. These taught us that players really enjoyed faster-paced co-op action, as they fully embraced the fantasy of being a badass running headfirst into all sorts of danger with their squad. A lot of us played games like Left 4 Dead to death back in the day, so this didn’t bother us in the slightest.

UVR: Since this announcement some have predicted the Quest version will eventually be altogether canceled. Is this a possibility?

RS: We absolutely intend to bring the game over to the original Quest and development for it has come quite a long way already. By splitting off the release of this version, we are able to spend more time on the necessary optimization for it while taking away further pressure on our development schedule for the other platforms. 

UVR: Will the game’s beta be coming to all platforms? When can people expect to be able to try it out?

RS: The moment we have more details to reveal, you’ll be the first to know!

After The Fall Dev On Quest Development, Delay And What’s Changed

Last month brought news that Vertigo Games was delaying its anticipated co-op VR shooter, After The Fall, to later in 2021.

It’s the latest in a series of delays for the title, which was first announced back in 2019. Since that time the VR landscape has changed a lot – headsets have come and gone and we’ve seen the bar for VR gaming raised. We sat down with Richard Stitselaar, Creative Director at Vertigo Games, to talk about the decision to delay the game once more, and what’s changed over the past few years of development.

UVR: Which specific areas of development are challenging with After the Fall? Is it a case that the PC version is the lead platform but porting to PSVR/Quest 2 is what’s taking time?

RS: I would vote for the multi-platform development approach, with which we are developing for three (four!) widely divergent VR platforms in parity, as the number one area that has been the most challenging and time-consuming with After the Fall. 

Strictly taken, no version of After the Fall can be considered a port: all content is developed for all platforms in parity, while a core framework of VR development tools ensure the unique strengths and capabilities of each platform are leveraged (Yes, that means crispy high-end graphics on PC are possible). It also lays the groundwork for rolling out a meaty post-launch support plan to the various platforms simultaneously, so that our team can continue to expand the game world with content and features with as little platform-specific overhead as possible.

Behind the scenes, our technical team has spent close to a year building this beast of a framework on top of the Unity engine before we truly kicked off multi-platform production of After the Fall. Meanwhile, the main chunk of our development team ported Arizona Sunshine to Oculus Quest – an immense job that we spent almost as long on – the learning lessons of which we brought back into the framework afterwards. I would even go as far as to say we have developed a Unity-based VR engine layer that will serve us for future VR games as well. 

UVR: Was the game always planned for release on Quest and, if not, has the port affected the original scope in any way?

RS: Originally, no. But when the Quest was announced, we realized the potential of untethered VR and made the decision to familiarize ourselves with developing for the platform by jumping into familiar territory with Arizona Sunshine. This has helped us understand the device and its unique strengths and weaknesses, before jumping in with an ambitious title such as After the Fall. We have had to be critical about our development roadmap in some areas: some features and content have been moved around on our timeline, while others have made way for new ideas. Launch has always been just the start for After the Fall however and this has meant we have made our post-launch support plan a little meatier.

UVR: This will make ATF the first game to get a Quest 2 version before a Quest 1 release – was this a decision you had to plan with Facebook?

RS: The Oculus Quest 2 was introduced midway through our development cycle, and it became apparent that the differences with the original Quest required us to re-evaluate its impact on our development approach. Facebook was very understanding and supportive of our desire to maintain the level of quality we set for ourselves. We’ve worked closely with the team at Facebook to secure that additional development time our team needs to bring After the Fall over to the original Oculus Quest properly. 

After the Fall - Screenshot - 03

UVR: How much later in the year do you expect the game to arrive?

RS: Let’s just say we are confident the rolling “After the Fall” release date joke, that our community has happily been torturing our CM with, won’t age well! Although we’re having quite a bit of fun seeing him try and come up with witty replies…

UVR: We first saw the game in summer 2019. Exactly what’s changed with the project since then?

RS: The 2019 demo is largely still a good representation of our vision for After the Fall – essentially being a sideways step from our work on the Arizona Sunshine universe – in which we have broken basically all its rules for surviving an undead apocalypse. You’re no longer saving bullets in a struggle to survive – this is a full-blown power fantasy in which you play the role of a Runner. Runners are special survivor forces who venture out into post-apocalyptic LA, take out the snowbreed, and bring back the resources required to secure mankind’s continued survival, all the while upping their skill, loadout and status within the community. 

Some things did change. Aside from the changes to the development roadmap we already covered, once we had the core framework mentioned above in place, we cranked up the co-op support to 4 players in-mission as the standard for internal and external playtests. These taught us that players really enjoyed faster-paced co-op action, as they fully embraced the fantasy of being a badass running headfirst into all sorts of danger with their squad. A lot of us played games like Left 4 Dead to death back in the day, so this didn’t bother us in the slightest.

UVR: Since this announcement some have predicted the Quest version will eventually be altogether canceled. Is this a possibility?

RS: We absolutely intend to bring the game over to the original Quest and development for it has come quite a long way already. By splitting off the release of this version, we are able to spend more time on the necessary optimization for it while taking away further pressure on our development schedule for the other platforms. 

UVR: Will the game’s beta be coming to all platforms? When can people expect to be able to try it out?

RS: The moment we have more details to reveal, you’ll be the first to know!

Arashi: Castles Of Sin Dev Talks VR Combat, Stealth And Progression

Arashi: Castles Of Sin was a very welcome surprise when it was announced at the beginning of June, but we haven’t learned too much about the game since then.

We decided to change that.

Tom Doyle from Endeavor One spoke to us a bit about the upcoming PSVR title, which takes us back to feudal Japan. The below interview covers a lot of the basics that we’re still yet to learn about the game, such as movement systems, combat approach and how stealth works. The game itself is out later this summer, so keep your eyes peeled.

UVR: Jump was one of the earliest games out there for VR headsets. How much has the team changed since then?

TD: Wow! Thank you for remembering JUMP. That was a long time ago – especially in VR years. The dev team for JUMP was just two of us. Since then we have gotten the opportunity to work on some great LBE VR with projects like Halo Recruits and Dome of the Dead. Those projects helped us grow our team slowly, with Arashi we had to double to about 15 full-time members in order to meet the ambition of the project.

Jump VR

UVR: Structure-wise, how does the game play out? Is it that there are six castles and that you can tackle each in a way you see fit or is there some linearity to it?

TD: Arashi is a story-driven single player campaign game. The narrative is framed around you hunting the Six Oni and infiltrating their strongholds one by one. The missions themselves are what is typically coined as “wide pipe” level design where the Players have a lot of freedom in their movement and strategies to take down their adversaries. You’ve got an arsenal of 10 weapons and a friend in battle from your wolf, Haru – it’s up to you how you approach each mission.

Arashi Level

UVR: How will locomotion work in the game on the Move controllers?

TD: We are using a dual PlayStation Move controller setup. We think the input scheme is pretty easy to use considering how many movement modes we are supporting beyond standard on foot locomotion. Arashi blends Smooth Movement, Sprinting, Jumping, Climbing, and using, one of my favorite weapons, the Grappling Hook.

Arashi stalking

UVR: What can we expect from sword fighting in the game? Is it more arcade-driven or realistic? Is there another VR title it compares closely to?

TD: It is pretty lethal. We have a lot of fighting game fans at Endeavor One. While there are a lot of great vr melee combat games out there, I think our title has more in common with Street Fighter or Bushido Blade. Our sword fighting is somewhere between arcade and realistic. It is very pickup and play for people, but don’t let that fool you. As the game progresses you need to be pretty advanced to take on the later levels… and the 6 Oni.

Arashi sword_clang

UVR: How does stealth work in the game? What factors keep players hidden, how do they know if they’re about to be discovered and is it possible to hide once again?

TD: Because the levels are big open sandboxes, enemies see you, they hear you – so you need to be careful in how you approach every encounter. There are some fun features that affect your concealment, like grass to hide in or taking out lights to get a better drop on the enemy.

We have a pretty diegetic way of informing the player of being discovered. It is equal parts audio, visual, and some non-intrusive UI design. We also have a lot of tools in our design to let the player know when they are completely hidden or not.

Arashi Backstab

UVR: Are there plans for Arashi on other platforms?

TD: We have a lot of ideas on how we want to explore and grow Arashi, but right now it is only available on PlayStation VR. I cannot believe I just did an interview where we didn’t talk about petting Haru. Cheers!

Arashi Haru