Exclusive: Capcom Talks Bringing Resident Evil Village To PSVR 2, Future Plans & More

Resident Evil Village is easily one of the best experiences available for PSVR 2 at launch. Last week, we spoke to Capcom over Q&A about bringing Village’s VR Mode to life on PlayStation VR2 – here are the highlights, with a full transcript of the Q&A below.

Given Resident Evil Village originally released for consoles and PC in 2021, it’s quite amazing that the game’s subsequent VR Mode feels right at home on PSVR 2. While there are still elements that give away the game’s flatscreen-first design, it’s nonetheless an immersive VR experience with unique features that accommodate for the challenges and nuances that come with the medium.

“The main story mode [of Village] was not developed with VR in mind,” confirmed Capcom’s Kazuhiro Takahara, Director of Resident Evil Village VR Mode, in a Q&A over email. “The game contained a lot of elements that made adapting it to VR a very difficult project.”

One of these elements was the change in controls. On consoles, switching between weapons and item management is all done via the d-pad or other physical buttons. On PSVR 2, there’s not enough buttons to map those same actions to the Sense controllers, but the studio felt that something more VR-native was needed regardless. “Pressing buttons to switch weapons would have really deviated from our main goal of creating an immersive VR experience,” said Takahara. “We tried to think of an approach that would fit Ethan. That led us to paying attention to the coat he wears, and the idea of having his clothing serve as uniquely VR ‘equipment slots’ was born.”

Resident Evil Village

Takahara also cites designing how the player controls firearms in VR as another big challenge. The team wanted to accurately translate the Resident Evil series’ realistic deception of weapons without designing an overly cumbersome system that prioritized realism at the expense of exciting gameplay. “We put a lot of trial and error into getting the feeling right and making it seem like you were handling a real firearm while also having the inputs be intuitive and unobtrusive. That goes for aspects outside of control mechanics as well. One of the biggest challenges was to implement features like haptic feedback and extra sound effects to make everything as ideal as possible.”

According to Takahara, preserving the high fidelity of Village’s 2D release was not the difficult part of bringing the game to PSVR 2. “However, maintaining 60fps through every scene and creating an enjoyable VR experience at a good frame rate required a lot of effort,” he told us. “Of course, simply dropping the resolution could allow us to raise the frame rate, but we did not rely on that.” Instead, the team made use of PSVR 2’s eye-tracked foveated rendering, alongside other VR-specific optimizations, which resulted in the game running at 60fps, reprojected up to 120Hz in headset.

Village is now the third mainline Resident Evil game or remake playable in VR, with a fourth – Resident Evil 4 Remake’s PSVR 2 content – on the way. Takahara gave two main reasons why he thinks the series is a good fit for virtual reality. “First, it’s the realistic environments and scenery. These are ways the Resident Evil series communicates fear. There is a sense of elaborateness that is a unique characteristic of the series that goes very well with the immersive experience that is VR,” he said. “Secondly, there’s an appeal to becoming the heroes of the Resident Evil series.”

Resident Evil Village

When asked about whether future entries in the series might support VR, Takahara was tight lipped. “I can’t comment on our future plans, but I will say that our development teams are always looking to tackle new challenges.” Likewise, he told us that “at this time” there are no plans to bring Village’s Mercenaries mode or DLC content, such as Shadows of Rose, to PSVR 2. However, he did mention that a “very large majority” of PSVR 2 owners have tried out Village’s VR Mode on PSVR 2 since launch.

If you’d like to read more, the full transcript of our Q&A with Kazuhiro Takahara follows below. Alternatively, you can read more of our thoughts on the game in our Resident Evil 8 Village PSVR 2 Review.

UploadVR Q&A: Capcom’s Kazuhiro Takahara, Director, Resident Evil Village VR Mode

Harry Baker: First of all, congratulations on launching VR Mode for Resident Evil Village on PSVR 2. It is one of my favorite PSVR 2 experiences so far and I think the team did a fantastic job at bringing the game to life from a new, immersive perspective. How does the team feel after launching Village’s VR Mode on PSVR 2?

Kazuhiro Takahara: Thank you! It’s an honor to have Resident Evil Village be a PlayStation VR2 launch title. We’ve been thrilled to receive so much positive feedback from players and to see everyone enjoying the game. The development team is extremely happy that fans are having the exact experience we aimed for with VR Mode. It’s great seeing them having fun in VR due to the heightened sense of fear it provides – even if they’ve already played the non-VR version – and enjoying the VR gun controls and other new additions. Translating Resident Evil Village into VR took a tremendous amount of effort, but knowing all the PS VR2 players out there are in their headsets feeling what it’s like to become Ethan Winters makes it all worth it.

Baker: There are now three – soon four – Resident Evil games playable in VR, across many different headsets. What do you think makes the Resident Evil series such a good fit for virtual reality?

Takahara: I think there are two main reasons. First, it’s the realistic environments and scenery. These are ways the Resident Evil series communicates fear. There is a sense of elaborateness that is a unique characteristic of the series that goes very well with the immersive experience that is VR. However, that’s not to say the more realistic, the better. Using the high performance and impressive visuals we can achieve through RE ENGINE to portray a world that is both believable and outlandish, and fuse that with the experience and control methods only VR games can provide, creates such a uniquely unified result. Because of this, even if a different series were adapted to VR, it would not duplicate the experience Resident Evil provides in VR.

Secondly, there’s an appeal to becoming the heroes of the Resident Evil series. Ethan, who first appears in Resident Evil 7 biohazard, overcomes so much to save the world. And in Resident Evil 4, Leon is an agent for the president of the United States, who stands up against evil and manages to look cool while doing it. I don’t think any fan of the Resident Evil series would want to pass up the experience of seeing the world from their perspectives.

Resident Evil 8 Village PSVR 2 VR

Baker: When did you start work on Village’s VR Mode and what was the development process like? Was a VR mode always planned, or was it an idea you came up with late in development/after launch?

Takahara: Since we saw the positive reception the VR mode for Resident Evil 7 had, we considered a VR mode for Resident Evil Village early on. However, the main story mode was not developed with VR in mind. The game contained a lot of elements that made adapting it to VR a very difficult project.

Baker: Two mainline Resident Evil games now offer support for VR headsets, and the upcoming RE4 remake will also support VR. Do you anticipate future Resident Evil games will also support VR?

Takahara: I can’t comment on our future plans, but I will say that our development teams are always looking to tackle new challenges.

Baker: What were the biggest challenges the team faced while developing VR Mode for Village?

Takahara: The biggest challenge was designing how firearms controlled. The guns themselves are very realistic and are close to the real thing. However, the experience we wanted to deliver with the gameplay was not only ‘realism.’ The Resident Evil series often has realistic portrayals of guns, but trying to create an operation method that mirrors reality using VR controllers would complicate matters. That wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing, so finding the right balance between realism and exciting gameplay was something we gave a lot of time and effort.

We put a lot of trial and error into getting the feeling right and making it seem like you were handling a real firearm while also having the inputs be intuitive and unobtrusive. That goes for aspects outside of control mechanics as well. One of the biggest challenges was to implement features like haptic feedback and extra sound effects to make everything as ideal as possible.

Baker: Are there plans to add support for Village’s DLC content and The Mercenaries mode to the VR Mode on PS V2?

Takahara: We do not have any plans at this time.

Baker: Do you have any indication of how successful VR Mode for Village has been, or how many PSVR 2 players have tried out Village’s VR Mode since launch?

Takahara: I can’t share exact numbers, but I have heard that a very large majority of PS VR2 owners have played Resident Evil Village in VR.

Baker: Was it a challenge to optimize performance in VR Mode to ensure the game runs smoothly on PSVR 2, while also still preserving the fidelity of the original 2D release?

Takahara: Displaying the same quality as the PS5 version of Resident Evil Village on PS VR2 was not difficult. The development environment of the PS5 and PS VR2 is very good, and with the abilities RE ENGINE allows us, our development team was able to do this without many issues.

However, maintaining 60fps through every scene and creating an enjoyable VR experience at a good frame rate required a lot of effort. Of course, simply dropping the resolution could allow us to raise the frame rate, but we did not rely on that. To make it possible to retain the same level of quality, we utilized foveated rendering, which involves eye tracking, as well as many other optimizations specifically for this VR Mode. In the end, we were able to implement graphics that take advantage of the unique aspects of the PS VR2 hardware.

Baker: VR Mode includes some VR-specific interactions, such as opening Ethan’s jacket for items and storing weapons across Ethan’s body. What led the team to adding in these VR-specific interactions?

Takahara: The PS VR2’s Sense controllers do not have a D-pad that you would find on gamepads like a DualSense or DualShock controller. The D-pad is what is used to switch weapons in Resident Evil Village, but that was not available for us for the VR Mode. So, we had to devise some other way to do this, and that’s where these implementations came from.

Even if we had had a D-pad to work with, pressing buttons to switch weapons would have really deviated from our main goal of creating an immersive VR experience where you felt as if you actually are Ethan, so we knew we had to come up with something else. From there, we tried to think of an approach that would fit Ethan. That led us to paying attention to the coat he wears, and the idea of having his clothing serve as uniquely VR ‘equipment slots’ was born.

Raising both hands to guard was also something that was rooted in wanting to create a natural method that felt as if you were playing as Ethan. Of course, a lot of trial and error was involved here too, but that is what led us to these VR-specific interactions.

Resident Evil Village

Baker: What other VR games inspired you or guided the team while creating VR Mode for Village? Did other popular VR releases, such as Half-Life: Alyx or The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, serve as reference points for the weapon and interaction design in Village’s VR Mode?

Takahara: In adapting Resident Evil Village to VR, one of our main goals was to deliver a VR experience that fans would be satisfied with and enjoy. So, honestly, much of our inspiration and reference was the feedback and impressions of Resident Evil Village players.

Baker: And last of all – what’s your favorite moment of the Village campaign to play in VR Mode on PSVR 2?

Takahara: The cutscenes where you first encounter Lady Dimitrescu and her three daughters are really worth seeing. Taking in the castle decorations, and encountering the interesting characters, all while seeing everything through your own eyes, combined with elements like the headset’s vibration, make these scenes packed with so many different experiences and emotions.

The Last Worker Interview: Bringing Satirical Factory Work To VR

The Last Worker brings a narrative adventure to Quest, PSVR 2 and PC VR on March 30, and we spoke with Wolf & Wood founder Ryan Bousfield to learn more.

Oiffy and Wolf & Wood’s dystopian adventure sees you playing Kurt (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the last human factory worker at mega-corporation Jüngle, led by its ruthless rainbow-haired CEO. Joined by his robot companion Stew (Jason Isaacs), you’re tasked with helping dismantle Kurt’s employer from within to end rising automation. The cast is rounded out by David Hewlett, Zelda Williams, Clare-Hope Ashitey and Tommie Earl Jenkins. I recently attended The Last Worker’s preview event and went hands-on with the PSVR 2 version.

Thanks to a fault with Skew’s programming, your journey begins with an erroneous first-day tutorial, despite Kurt clearly being a seasoned veteran. Once you’ve cleared this, narrative segments are broken up by Kurt’s day-to-day factory life, you’re tasked with ensuring packages are correctly processed, delivering as many packages as possible within the time limit through his hoverpod. That involves finding them across imposing warehouses, grabbing them with a gravity gun-style ‘JüngleGun’, and assessing whether they’re fine or shipping or need recycling. Every package details its size and weight, the latter being assessed once placed onto your pod. If the information doesn’t match the packaging labels or it seems damaged, send it to recycling.

Warehouse work isn’t the most exciting premise for a video game but The Last Worker makes this monotonous surprisingly enjoyable, incentivizing you to do better through a ranking system. If you fail, you’re fired and even if you pass, your boss can’t resist providing “encouraging” feedback, which leans well into the game’s strong satirical humor. Unlocking that gold PlayStation trophy for top marks on my third try was particularly satisfying. The opening chapter does a great job illustrating Kurt’s situation, while the handpainted art style adds character to these depressing halls. I’m intrigued to see how writer/director Jörg Tittel handles this story and it didn’t take long before I was invested.

I didn’t get a chance to try the stealth sections but I left the preview feeling positive after finishing chapter 1. Following a lengthy hands-on session, I sat down with creative director Ryan Bousfield to learn more:

UploadVR: First off, thank you for talking with me. To start at the beginning, how did development and gameplay come together for The Last Worker?

Bousfield: So, Jörg Tittel had the idea way before meeting Wolf & Wood. It’s something that we were looking to get made and we did some tests, working with Mick McMahon (Judge Dredd, 2000AD) on character ideas. It’s something that he had in the background for many years. I was put in contact with [Jörg Tittel] through a friend who said, “We’ve been looking at making this game but something’s come up, we don’t have the capacity.”

Because Wolf & Wood have a background in narrative, he said “would you be interested in talking to him and just seeing what you think?” So, I chatted to Jörg; we sorted the pitch for The Last Worker and created an outline idea of this near-future dystopia that’s also colorful, bright and weird. The idea of having these robots flying around this giant facility with you as the last human in that set up. 

It sounded interesting and weird, something leftfield. That’s what we like making at Wolf & Wood. We’ve done horrors with Hotel R’n’R, smashing up hotel rooms for the devil. None of it’s just shooting and killing things; it’s always been something like scaring people. We’ve always leaned more towards narrative. From there, we got into some really nice ideas, I thought “let’s try and get a publisher on board” and, a year later, we connected with Wired Productions.

I think everybody involved is taking a chance on it, it’s quite an unusual pitch. But at heart, it’s a narrative game where we weave together different types of gameplay as you’re working through it. We were trying to move gameplay along, so you can keep players on their toes. None of it is massively taxing, stealth areas have a very quick turnaround on checkpoints. So, even if you fail the set up, you’re not dead; you get fired, and there’s responses from Josef Jüngle, the CEO.

The Last Worker

UploadVR: I’ve seen that first-hand while playing. I scored an F [during a warehouse mission], got fired, and on my second attempt, I scored a B. He then told me “you could B better.”

Bousfield: It’s that sort of light, almost adventure game-esque humor. We’re aiming for that nice pacing with everything that keeps you moving, you always feel a sense of progression. As we push the character, we push the player into more dicey situations where you get a sense of danger. We’ve been calling it stealth-lite, where you’re not looking and mapping out your route in minute detail. You can get an idea of the situation, then you can fly in, try a path and if something turns around, you can reverse and get out of the way.

UploadVR: Even in the stealth sections, are you still in the vehicle?

Bousfield: Yeah, and we’ve got full 6 degrees of freedom. In VR, you can obviously take yourself out of the space and pot around a bit. That gives us some interesting situations for stealth scenarios as well, there’s not many games where you’re in flying pods. It’s a new, unique challenge to this. We can’t just go to the rulebook of flying stealth.

UploadVR: It’s definitely not what you’d normally think of, hiding behind the boxes with the pod. Or like Solid Snake hiding in the box.

Bousfield: Considering it’s a game where you’re in a warehouse full of boxes, we don’t actually do that. There were definitely ideas about some stages but, yeah. We have flatter areas where you’re moving around avoiding boxes in a more traditional pattern… Each one is like a little vignette of a segment rather than a big open world.

UploadVR: You’ve also been developing C-Smash VRS alongside this, how has it been managing two projects of this scale side by side?

Bousfield: We just had to really work at it, we all pulled together and managed our time as best as possible. Wolf & Wood is only a seven person team, there’s people involved in both projects such as musicians, concept artists. It’s been a lot from that side, but as one’s kind of coming to an end, we’ve got the full version to do after that. I think we misjudged the timing a little bit with both landing so close together, but it does take years to do projects scale. So it’s very difficult to judge this stuff ahead of time. It’d be lovely to have a nice clean calendar but the nature of these opportunities that present themselves. There are some things that we don’t want to say no to.

The Last Worker Screenshot

UploadVR: Because you’ve got The Last Worker running on every major platform, was it always designed with VR first? Or was it flat and you then adapted into VR?

Bousfield: It’s been developed in tandem. During the course of development, we knew that the VR version would be the initial challenge with getting a player onto a vehicle and moving them around in a giant space. So we went there first and then into the flat version, which initially had these tank controls because that’s how you essentially move the pods. We tried doing that in flat but it didn’t translate, it didn’t feel snappy.

UploadVR: What did you do to get around that?

Bousfield: We went back to more traditional FPS control. The Pod, for the most part, it’s an extension of you. In first person, you don’t think about controlling the feet, you’re controlling the head and everything else follows. We refined that to get the snappy first person control, which really does translate well onto controllers. I think it feels good on Switch especially, which has the gyro controls. It has been crazy looking at all the different versions, control schemes and everything else we’ve got to consider. But at the core, it’s the same game. It should look and feel very similar across all platforms.

UploadVR: Thinking specifically with VR. You’ve got it running on Quest 2, Quest Pro, PSVR 2 and PC VR. Are there any big differences between how it runs on these headsets?

Bousfield: The biggest difference is the performance power you have. With controls and designing for all the different headsets now, they’re very in sync. When you look at the Quest 2 controllers compared to PSVR 2, they’re not that different compared to [Vive Wands]. From a design perspective, I do like that these controllers are becoming the standard. VR itself is not very standard anyway. You can do so much in the headset. You have to consider things like, what if somebody looks under a table? That’s something I didn’t need to worry about previously. Now it’s like, what if somebody puts their head in the corner? What if somebody tries to play lying down?

UploadVR: If people can, they will try.

Bousfield: Exactly. So it’s great that the hardware companies have kind of agreed to a design standard, which is great for us as developers. The biggest challenge is, how do you get something that looks good on PS5 and PSVR 2 running on a device that just doesn’t have the same GPU power?

The Last Worker Steam Screenshot

UploadVR: Is that where the stylized art comes in?

Bousfield: Definitely. That’s a big thing from a technical standpoint, everything is handpainted. We have that real-time lighting and shading on characters to give us a sense of depth. But the details, scuffs, all the marks, the hairs and beards, they’re all hand drawn in. That helps it looks really nice and embodies this chunky style, like when you see Kurt’s sausage fingers. That helps it excel across all different platforms, giving continuity between high-end and where we’ve got to optimize more.

UploadVR: As a quick technical question with PSVR 2 since it’s been a hot topic, what is the refresh rate and framerate for The Last Worker?

Bousfield: So, we’re currently running 60Hz with reprojection to 120Hz in PSVR 2. That said, we’re looking at all options and this may change.

UploadVR: Regarding the Switch version, did you ever look at using Nintendo Labo and the cardboard VR for it?

Bousfield: Ah yes, very early in the conceptualisation of The Last Worker, Labo was something we chatted about but it was one of many ideas floating around. A cardboard representation of the JüngleGun does still sound like fun – given that the game is, on one level, about dispatching cardboard boxes!

UploadVR: Finally, you’ve got such a strong cast that we don’t normally see in VR games, how did that come about?

Bousfield: So, Jörg’s background is in comics, films. He’s got contacts, so he hit them up, showed them a prototype. He sent me a video of [Jason Isaacs] at his house, testing it out one of the very early builds. We were frightened about showing it so early. When we were in lockdown [with COVID-19], it sounded like we could make the schedule work. You had people working from the kitchen, or with [Ólafur Darri Ólafsson], a studio in Iceland.

The Last Worker arrives on March 30 for the Meta Quest platform, PSVR 2 and PC VR for $19.99. A flatscreen release is also planned for PC, PS5, Switch and Xbox Series X|S.

Ghost Signal: How Fast Travel Adapted A Strategy Hit For VR

Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game arrives on March 23 for Quest 2. Alongside a hands-on preview, we sat down with Lead Designer Christopher Smith to learn more.

Grand strategy games never caught my eye like platformers or RPGs do, so I admit the original Stellaris flew past me. However, I’m fully aware that it’s often considered one of the best modern strategy titles, which leaves Fast Travel Games with much to live up to. A VR roguelite isn’t the first spin-off I’d think of, but Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game is making the transition well.

We covered gameplay during our Ghost Signal preview, but the basics premise is that the game plays out through procedurally generated runs. Captaining a small ship called the Aurora, you’ll investigate the eponymous Ghost Signal, and paths split between different biomes with unique mission paths, eventually ending in a boss fight. You could choose a low-risk route with standard battles or tackle riskier options with special events, which offer better rewards like new ship parts. Every level takes place inside a diorama, keeping the action relatively contained.

Despite never playing the original Stellaris, Ghost Signal drew me in with its simplicity. Eventually, I beat the first boss, desperately trying to keep my ship alive before inevitably succumbing soon after. While I had some issues with text boxes appearing too close to me and accidentally being skipped, it was an otherwise enticing premise that looks pretty good on Quest 2. I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

ghost signal stellaris

Back in January, I visited Fast Travel’s office and spoke with Lead Designer Christopher Smith, who answered a few of my questions. His passion for Ghost Signal was immediately evident.

“I think this has been my dream project,” he told me. “It sounds like I’m just saying it, but I’ve had so much fun developing this. I think we’ve created something truly unique. I know nothing else in VR or flatscreen that does what we do, which makes me very happy. I’m very proud of the team and what we have accomplished.”

I believe any genre can work in VR with the right team, though strategy games arguably aren’t a natural fit like FPS games. With that in mind, I queried why Fast Travel chose Stellaris for a VR adaptation.

“We’ve made several collaborations with Paradox, like [Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife] and Cities: VR, so [Stellaris] was part of that discussion. But we knew it would be difficult to translate the original grand strategy game into VR; there’s so many manuals. Everything can be done, but we found a more interesting angle was to zoom into that massive, wonderful universe, and do our own story in a setting at the edge of the galaxy.”

Following this train of thought, I then asked why the team made Ghost Signal a roguelite action game. Smith responds by admitting he’s a fan of the genre and tells me it “just sort of happened,” saying they want to let players explore space while comparing progression to flatscreen roguelites. “In Hades, you try to reach the surface. In Slay The Spire, you’re trying to reach the top of the spire. Here, you will reach the end of the gap in the universe to find this mystery signal. It felt like a nice fit.”

With all these changes, was it hard creating a tale that fits both the gameplay and the wider Stellaris universe? “It’s been surprisingly easy; it felt like a natural fit…” He’s evidently thrilled at how everything came together.

“The good thing with Stellaris is that it has this fantastic world with a lot of technology and species and is quite open. Any adventure can happen within the existing Stellaris universe.” He also confirmed that Fast Travel has worked closely with Paradox’s story and content designers during development.

Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game screenshot

Unsurprisingly, Ghost Signal ties into the original game beyond sharing a universe, though Smith carefully avoids revealing any specifics. “There are strong links to certain events that happened in the original game, but it’s hard to elaborate on them without spoilers. There are quite a few twists and turns; there is more story than you can imagine.”

I then moved on to Ghost Signal’s hand-tracking support, which Fast Travel revealed last December. Turning your hands palm-up lets you access menus, dragging a closed fist allows you to move around your environment, while open-palm aiming will enable you to scan and pinch gestures to shoot. Smith explains that the team implemented support after conversations with Meta.

“They suggested incorporating hand-tracking into this game. It’s tricky with hand tracking because you can only do so much, which is why the ideal way of playing Ghost Signal will always be using the controllers. We have hand-tracking there for those who want to try it, you can judge for yourself, but it was a suggestion.”

ghost signal stellaris

Ghost Signal also includes asynchronous online features, like finding the abandoned ships of other players mid-run to give you a new power-up. However, I didn’t experience what Smith calls the “main feature” of this, the ‘Daily Journey.’

“You get a global leaderboard and local leaderboard for your friends. A new map is generated every day, which is the same for everybody,” Smith reveals. “We can challenge each other, you get scored depending on how far you get, and then you’ll rank on this leaderboard.”

On the topic of a PC VR or PSVR 2 port, Smith doesn’t dismiss the idea but confirms it isn’t a current priority. “We’re not closing any doors, but right now, we’re focusing on the Quest 2.”

Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game arrives on March 23 for the Meta Quest platform.

Peaky Blinders Developer Maze Theory Doubles Down On VR

Nearly three years on from its first release, Maze Theory is doubling down on VR.

After a few years away from the medium, expanding the initially VR-only Doctor Who: The Edge of Time into other versions for different platforms, the London-based studio is prepping the release of its next major VR title, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. At the same time, Maze Theory has hired 14 new staff, including developers from studios with VR experience like nDreams, Rebellion and Codemasters.

It’s also keen to push into the social VR space with its first multiplayer project, Engram (formerly The Vanishing Act). But why is now the right time to push further into uncharted waters? And what can we expect from the studio past the launch of Peaky Blinders VR? We spoke to Russell Harding, Chief Creative Officer, and Marcus Moresby, Creative Director, to find out more.

Peaky Blinders VR 2

UploadVR: Why is now the right time for Maze Theory to expand its staff and VR operations?

Maze Theory: We’ve been really excited and encouraged to see the prolific expansion of the VR market. With platforms such as Pico Neo emerging and PSVR 2 on the way. Quest has been evolving new headsets and the VR experience is really having its moment, having lived through some hard times! 

The socially connected experience within VR is also coming to the fore and it’s set to play a pivotal role in the future of the metaverse. 

It’s the perfect time to invest in our team and broaden our portfolio of experiences.  We want to capitalize on these opportunities. At Maze Theory, we’ve coined the phrase ‘Storyliving’ to describe our approach to gaming in VR. Never has there been a better time to develop this and watch it take root within the VR community! 

UVR: We’ve seen the success of Quest lead to renewed interest in the VR market. As a developer, is your approach to be Quest-centric going forward or do you foresee new hardware that will be equally as important?

MT: Quest is very much the leading platform at the moment. So naturally we’ve been focused on finding the best way to make the most of that and ensure we can deliver the quality and experience the IP we work with – and develop – demands. 

Now that PSVR 2 is on the horizon, it’s of huge interest and something we are working towards. It makes sense to keep exploring new platforms. 

In addition to these two established formats, we are also very interested to see what impact Pico will have in the future.

UVR: Tell us more about Engram and the strive for original IP. Why is that important to you after close partnerships with the BBC and Banijay?

MT: It’s part of the studio’s intention to develop its own IP. We have amassed a huge amount of experience and learning from working with titles such as Peaky Blinders and Doctor Who. We want to use that experience to push the boundaries of VR. We have developed specialist knowledge and an incredible team, and an understanding of creating lore. It’s the natural next step to bring this to Engram and other projects that will be announced forthwith.

Engram VR

With Engram, we are also exploring the wealth of possibilities around multiplayer and social VR. The core premise of the game is exploring memories, and we’re working on ways to achieve a heightened range of emotional experiences. 

We are not announcing a launch date for Engram at this stage. But we feel very excited about it! For us, it’s a symbol of exploration and experimentation within VR, as well as the creativity and aspiration that feeds into all of our games. Some of this will also spin off into other products and IP. It’s the ultimate expression of what Maze Theory is about. 

UVR: Peaky Blinders and Doctor Who are single-player experiences. Why, with this experience, is it important for you to push into social VR in the future?

MT: Community-driven gaming and shared experiences are gaining traction and people are really enjoying this aspect. It means you can be in the story together and that makes it ultimately more powerful. That in itself changes the way we approach the development of the story. It’s an exciting proposition! 

UVR: After the release of Doctor Who you turned to some flatscreen adaptations, presumably because VR is a tough market. Are you anticipating continuing flatscreen development considering VR’s momentum going forward?

MT: Within the Doctor Who universe, it was part of our remit to think about different ways of telling the story. So the multi-platform approach was more about delivering different types of experiences for fans. The community has a deep involvement in the IP, so they are drawn to crave Doctor Who stories told in different ways, across different windows and platforms. 

Our dedicated focus on VR  – at this point – is because that market has changed and grown. We’re still aiming to deliver in a space where fans can have the best experiences. 

Green Hell Quest Dev On VR Differences, Design Choices & Future Support

We sat down with the developer of Green Hell VR to talk about the just-released Quest version of the game.

Green Hell is out now on Quest and it’s A. very good and B. quite different to the original version of the game. Developer Incuvo has gone back into the Creepy Jar original and worked out how to get the experience to properly work for mobile VR, redesigning areas and reworking mechanics to work with motion controls. We spoke to the studio’s Radomir Kucharski about some of the changes and the work to bring the game to Quest.

Kucharski also talks about the future of the game, including progress on the already-confirmed co-op support and if the original game’s DLC expansions could make it into the Quest version too. Need more? Check out our video comparing the Quest and flatscreen versions right here.

Don’t forget that this is just one version of Green Hell VR. The PC VR version is still in development and is expected to retain a lot of the core elements of the original game. We’ll be looking forward to testing that edition out in the future.

Are you playing Green Hell VR this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!

GDC 2022 Day 1: Walkabout Mini Golf Content, Zenith Dungeons & More

Day 1 of GDC 2022 is done and dusted and we have interviews straight from the show floor, talking to developers about titles like Walkabout Mini Golf, Zenith VR and more.

This year, the team from Between Realities are our UploadVR Correspondents at GDC — Alex and Skeeva are on the show floor for us, talking to developers about the latest and greatest in VR titles.

Our Day 1 Wrap-Up video features talks with Mighty Coconut (Walkabout Mini Golf) creator Lucas Martell, CEO of Ramen VR (Zenith VR) Andy Tsen, CEO of MobX Games (Everslaught) Gihad Chbib, as well as Jonathan Ovadia and Albert Ovadia from AEXLAB (Vail VR).

A few spicy tidbits were dropped in the interviews. Most notably, Walkabout Mini Golf developers Mighty Coconut seem interested in going further with licensed content in the future, hinting that there might be more IP-themed content to come after the upcoming Labyrinth course.

Andy Tsen from Ramen VR also gave a bit of clarity on the schedule that Zenith players can expect for content releases. “We’re really excited about the next major content update. I can’t give you guys an exact launch date on that yet. What I can say is that we plan to push our major content updates roughly once a quarter, and minor updates monthly. So you should start to see some news coming out about that soon.”

He also spoke about the philosophy towards future dungeon designs, indicating the want the environment to be more of a focus compared to traditional MMO dungeons.

“We really want the dungeons that you guys encounter in the next major content update to really embody that same sense of open exploration that you felt when you’re seeing Zenith for the first time or gliding around. So more environmental puzzles, more parkour things, and we want it to feel different from what you might get in a traditional MMO.”

Keep an eye out for more GDC news over the following days. 

Polyarc Talks Moss, VR Sequels And Future Tech

We sat down with Polyarc to discuss the upcoming release of Moss Book 2 and the future of the VR industry.

Moss Book 2 comes to PSVR on March 31, marking the launch of one of VR’s first major sequels. We got a first look at the game earlier this week and thought it was shaping up well, but we also got the chance to chat to Polyarc engineer and designer Joshua Stiksma about the game.

Read on below for a chat on building sequels, exploring player connection, and where the future of VR is headed.

UploadVR: It was really cool to see this demo because I think there was a danger with the sequel that you guys could just fall into the trap of just doing more. You already had such solid foundations. And it would have been easy just to essentially, make new rooms for Quill that would last 10 hours.

But what I really liked seeing this gameplay was, it seemed it was a much more interactive experience for the player this time around. And that’s why I asked the question about, what we are of the other influences, because it seemed the players were reaching into the world more, for example.

And yeah just to talk a bit about that.  The thing that came into my mind was it almost felt in some ways Quill was becoming. As much of a cooperative partner as she was a playable character.

Joshua Stiksma: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s one of the things that, when we finished the first game, we knew we wanted to do it more.

And I forget, I think we talked around the time of Twilight Garden or might even be just talking more about Moss 2 in general. But one thing we’re just really excited about is what these weapons and these new abilities that we’re going to give the player provide.

Moss Book II_FoundryThat is our goal. We want the world to feel physical and for that, we need to have you reaching in a whole lot more. And, there’s the world, that’s a conduit for reaching in but when it’s with Quill it feels so much more powerful because it’s like she’s looking at you, when you’re reaching in and charging her weapon or reaching in and– in the case, of the hammer, setting off this big hammer that she created for you, you feel more involved.

And, we spent a lot of time exploring, what kind of elements we’d have that would provide that gameplay and feel powerful for players. Experientially powerful and in the case of the hammer physically powerful, but it really amps up the interaction that’s required without needing to have big devices everywhere. It allows us to leverage a smaller device, which is Quill, throughout the world in more varied ways throughout the game.

UploadVR: Is there a part of you that wishes that you had the standardization of the two-handed motion controllers so that you could have potentially two points of interaction at the same time? Is that something that you were looking into, but decided to stick with gamepad for now?

JS: I think we absolutely want to do more with the new tech. With us being committed to PSVR, how do we utilize this as best as we can and play to the strengths of it? So I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the way things are headed and where they’re going and how we can utilize that more for Moss as a franchise and as a series.

There’s still a lot that we’re able to do with the existing single tracked control. With the way that we do that motion tracking for PSVR and by setting proper constraints and understanding where the strengths are we can still come with some pretty powerful experiences.

But also keeping in the back of our minds, how do we level this up for whatever the next thing is? So, yeah, excited about releasing on PSVR and excited for the future.

UploadVR: What about the storytelling this time around? Cause obviously I expect we’ll return to, the kind of page-based narrative when you’re not directly in the world, but is there going to be anything more in terms of much more direct in-game cinematics and moments of communication?

JS: That’s a good call. We didn’t really talk about that in the session, but yes, we will be returning to the storybook narrative, the chapters. They’re going to go through the game. And I am pleased to say we are going to have I would say substantially more in-game storytelling that we couldn’t quite pull off for the first game, mostly due to just limitations for the studio.

We definitely had a desire and players were asking, they want to see more happening in the game. So players can expect a mix of powerful scenes that are happening within the book within the library, but also some very powerful scenes that are going to be happening in-game.

Moss Book II_CastleHub

UploadVR: What about the direct communication with Quill? Obviously you have so many cool ideas in the first one. And there must have been so many ideas leftover that you had more time to hopefully implement in this one. Are there new ways to, even just in any given incident, you can stop her from walking and just talk to her essentially in new ways?

JS: Yeah, there are. I’ll try not to go into too much of them, but mentioning talking to her we are excited to, pay attention to what is going on with the mic on the PSVR headset. She’s not going to intelligently be able to make out what you’re saying, but understanding that there’s somebody there who’s speaking, maybe her ears might react to that in some way.

Or perhaps if somebody is blowing through the microphone, that could actually be wind that might affect her. Some exciting things along that vein, I think would be, or could be things that players really enjoy and make it feel they’re in the world a little bit more.

So yeah, things like that and, we do want to have plenty of opportunities for you to, interface with her directly. Players loved giving her high fives. They loved petting her and all of that. We’re going to have more of that in the game for sure.

UploadVR: You mentioned a winged creature following her throughout the story. Is that going to be almost– I don’t expect it to be this dynamic of a system — but the Resident Evil Tyrant kind of thing of this big force, just showing up from level to level, unexpected moments that cause these kinds of real panic moments.

JS: I wouldn’t want to draw any comparisons like that. I think it’s going to be more story-based and emotional with moments of this character coming in. We wanted to build upon what we have from the first game where we didn’t just be like “Here’s your big boss character at the end.”

We wanted to through not just gameplay of that, yes, this character will show up at various points throughout the game, but also in terms of story and learning about these characters in the world. We want to make sure that you understand who this villain is and understanding motivations for that character as you’re exploring the world and we reveal more of the story to you as a player.

Moss Book II_Conservatory

UploadVR: And just moving, to the industry a bit more generally what does it mean to be releasing in 2022? We started the year with the hope that we’ll be getting PSVR 2 potentially towards the end of the year, maybe early next, Project Cambria is coming.

There’s talk of Apple and everything like that. It seems like a transitional year for VR hardware almost. So it’s an interesting time to be releasing in some ways.

JS: Yeah, it is. These are interesting times for sure. I’m going to stick to the VR landscape with the interesting times that are hitting us.

It’s exciting. I’m in my sixth year working in VR and there’s just been– hearing about these advancements and these new things; it’s faster now, we’ve increased the processing, it’s real, tangible, cool hardware that’s coming out.

And I think for me, one of the big bits of excitement is seeing what the larger playerbase really push hard on on VR AR and mixed reality kind of stuff. Where you see that there’s potential to, for Polayrce as a studio, to keep growing and creating new experiences on these new sets of hardware.

Because we’re a creative studio we’re focusing on VR at the moment but, as these new things come out, we’re going to evaluate that new tech. And that’s really exciting because we have what I think is a really cool and powerful IP that we’re working with.

And there’s so many different ways to tell these stories. It starts to get your mind spinning about what potential opportunities there might be for us as a studio for VR as a medium or as a platform players to engage with this stuff. For me, I’m excited and you see just even the leap getting to Quest and now, you’ve got a Quest 2 and you start hearing about a PSVR 2, and you mentioned the Apple thing.

Personally, I’m very excited about Apple just because I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy, but it’s exciting.

UploadVR: I feel specifically with Cambria, obviously you guys aren’t confirming any other ports for Moss 2 right now, but that’s eye tracking and that’s face tracking and that certainly seems like something. You could shoot  Quill a smile or she’ll know when you’re looking at her, right?

JS: Yeah. That tech specifically is amazing. I’m really excited to see what everybody’s going to do with that kind of technology, but I think you kinda hit it there on what’s exciting for Polyarc. The ability to try to communicate with the character through a language we can all understand.

Smiling is a great example. That’s powerful. And as developers, that’s something that’s really exciting. And then the eye tracking, obviously, being able to know where you’re looking and she can understand, hypothetically she understands where you’re looking and can react in some way.

It’s amazing. If you’re having a conversation with anybody at all, those are key things that make that conversation real. And with us being able to connect in that way, it’s only gonna mean that we’re able to have our experiences feel more real. And I don’t want to downplay how tough that probably will be for us to implement and pull off because there’s probably going to be a fine line between, oh, this is just a quick reaction and then skirting over it too, “Wow this is a real person or a real character that I feel is real.”

We’re going to have to spend a lot of time making that, but it’s powerful. And if we can keep creating those kinds of powerful experiences I think that the future is bright for VR.

Lost Recipes: How Schell Games Wrote A Perfect Recipe For Virtual Education

When Lost Recipes launched a few weeks ago, one of the questions that seemed at the forefront of everyone’s mind – my own, my colleagues and even the team at Schell Games – was whether this was actually a game, or something slightly different?

“I would consider it an experience more than a game, even though it definitely has some game elements,” said Lost Recipes Project Director and Schell Games Senior Game Design Manager Melanie Harke. “Of course you’re being scored and there’s lots of different mechanics in it. But in the end, the real goal was for it to be kind of like a vacation.”

Melanie and I had a lengthy conversation in VR last week in UploadVR’s virtual studio. We discussed Lost Recipes’ origins, development and the reasoning behind some of the decisions made by the team at Schell Games during development.

What makes Lost Recipes so unique is that it blends VR gameplay into a much more relaxing, educational experience than we’ve ever seen before in VR. You travel back in time to three ancient cultures and learn recipes in a relaxed, stress-free and educational manner. You can even take what you learn with you back into your actual kitchen — the VR cooking process informs the same process in real life.

This was all part of a plan from Schell Games to appeal to a different kind of crowd – those who don’t necessarily think of themselves as ‘gamers’, especially when using a Quest headset. “I personally think everyone’s a gamer, but you know, they might not title themselves that – instead it’s people who want to use the Quest as maybe like a lifestyle tool,” said Harke.

“We got a bunch of people when they were play testing [Lost Recipes] that said, ‘You know, I haven’t played any games. All I play is Beat Saber, that’s it.’ And they don’t consider that a game either. They’re like, ‘That’s my exercise routine.'”

This idea of the Quest as a lifestyle tool is becoming increasingly popular – just look at the many options for fitness and workout apps on the platform, which Meta itself is using as a marketing angle.

“We wanted to get those people [lifestyle users] in and have them play this. We had a lot of people after the play tests that were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they made games that are like this… For me.'”

lost recipes quest

Even if it doesn’t quite fit into the traditional ‘game’ label as we understand it now, there’s a lot to love about Lost Recipes’ approach. It’s one of the few games on the platform that doesn’t just copy mechanics or gameplay beats from traditional, flatscreen games. This is an experience that only works in VR, and delivers educational content not through lecturing or instruction, but more like a field trip or hands-on activity with game mechanics applied.

It is so brilliantly unique and specific to VR that it is arguably more, not less, of a proper VR ‘game’ than many other titles on the platform.

But before finding its way to Lost Recipes, Schell Games developed lots of varied experiences that would later inform this new venture. There was a mixture of both more straightforward education content, developed for flatscreen platforms, and more ‘traditional’ VR games that the studio has become recently known for — namely the I Expect You To Die series and roguelike action game Until You Fall.

Harke herself joined Schell right back at the company’s beginning, well before VR was part of the picture, working initially in QA and then in design for titles like Disney Pixie Hollow, the Disney fairies MMO, and then later other VR educational experiences as well as mobile educational games based around PBS’ Daniel Tiger show, a spin-off from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Lost Recipes China

After running the gamut on many types of games on many platforms, Schell Games worked with Oculus Education on ideas for a new experience exploring what made education in VR so powerful.

“It’s really about presence,” said Harke. “Being there in the location.” The studio took what it learned from its other educational experiences – Water Bears VR and HoloLAB Champions – but aimed to make something less formally educational in nature. “We knew we didn’t want to be like a classroom experience. We wanted to be something that just a normal, everyday person who’s curious about things – cause we all like to learn – might want to experience. And so that’s really where I think cooking came from.”

With development beginning during the pandemic, the idea of escaping to another location – a virtual vacation – also became quite appealing.

I just don’t want to cook just in my normal house, because I’m in my house 24/7. I want to cook and experience these places that maybe – right now, especially – I can’t get to. That really helped push us into exploring what if you were cooking in locations that are not like your house? How did people cook in ancient times? How did they cook in like prehistoric times, even? That was one of the conversations. And that really got us excited.”

But how did the team decide what cultures would be featured, and how they could be represented in a way that was properly authentic and respectful, even if they were from time periods that have long since passed?

“It really came down to what could we get good data for. That was very important to us, because we did want this to be a very authentic, real experience,” explained Harke. “We wanted to make sure it was a place that we could find a human that was willing to work with us for the long-term. We wanted to have people at the very early [stages], to research, but also looking at the art later on and everything.”

The final game features voice actors playing the chefs, one for each culture, voiced by people representing the closest modern analog for each ancient culture. But it wasn’t just the voice acting that had to be authentic. The team wanted everything — the food, recipes, environments, art — in the game to be as authentic as possible.

They achieved this through connections with subject matter consultants at the Kenner room at Carnegie Mellon university, collaborating and talking to them during the development process. “We had oftentimes weekly meetings with them, because we had so much to talk about. It’s not just the food, it’s… what’s the language that you would use? How would the scene be arranged? What’s the decoration on the walls? What sort of material would they have?”

They didn’t always have the answer – sometimes they would point us to resources, books to look at – but it was just good to have someone who was connected to the culture, working with us the entire way.”

For Harke, the authenticity that the subject matter consultants and voice actors lend the game is what makes it so potent as an experience. “Without them, we wouldn’t have a game,” she said. “And really, I just hope everyone gains some new appreciation of both how different and also how similar all of our cultures are. How familiar cooking is and how it connects us all together as people.”

Harke’s hope certainly isn’t unfounded either — cooking the recipes in the game does give you a new perspective, with transferable skills and methods. While playing the game for review, I was able to recreate the game’s steamed fish dish in real life, using methods and recipes learned from the game.

“We definitely wanted people to try these recipes in their own homes. We didn’t want people to get bogged down in like super details, and in fact, a lot of ancient recipes, they’re not going to have those super details anyway,” said Harke. 

This was an approach discovered during play testing. Early versions of the game had more details for each recipe, providing more specific instructions than what ended up in the final build. “People got really bogged down in the detail of making sure that the color of the liquid that they’ve made exactly matched the picture that’s on there, and that they’ve measured it exactly… It started to feel really stressful to people. That’s not what we’re going for at all. We want you to feel accomplished, that you can do these things in cooking.”

This was when the team transitioned to using ratios and other looser measurements, focusing less on outcomes and more on process. It was at this point that adding in some tricks from traditional games also helped improved the feedback loop – the little sparkles that shine once an action is finished, for example, help players know when something has been done correctly and avoids unnecessary worry.

Early versions of the game experimented with implementing support for the Quest’s controller-free hand tracking, but it ended up being a less than ideal option. “Really it just became much harder to do things [when using hand tracking],” explained Harke. “People started to look at the technique of how they’re holding the hand and I think it took some of the enjoyment away.”

Lost Recipes Screenshot

Hand tracking also made some of the actions, like stirring a pot, problematic — when using hands without any controllers, it often became harder to manage what Harke described as the ‘fakery’ behind some of the physics interactions.

So while the finished product opts for controllers-only, the overall community and critical reception of the game has been positive.

“We’ve got lots of feedback of people sort of saying that this is not like other cooking experiences.” Other VR cooking titles – like Cook-Out or Cooking Simulator – focus on being frenetic and chaotic, but Schell opted for the opposite direction. “I certainly love those games, but we did purposely try to make something different and unique. People have really picked up on [that]. This is a game where I can sort of relax. I can chill in it. And that’s, that’s definitely the vibe we were going for.”

Speaking hypothetically, Harke says the team still has plenty of avenues to investigate. “We have like full lists of other environments that we are excited about exploring, even with some reference people that we might reach out to. I think that that is certainly something that, as a team while making it, we’re definitely thinking about and very excited about. No promises or anything, but…”

When it comes to potential updates, new content or DLC expansions for Lost Recipes, Harke’s lips are sealed.  “Stay tuned. I can’t really speak to that yet. But we really liked the product. We really enjoyed working on it, and we’d certainly love to do more.”

This feature piece is an edited version of our full conversation with Melanie Harke from Schell Games, available in video format on our YouTube channel here

You can read our full review of Lost Recipes here

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.”