Supermassive Games believes that there’s plenty left to explore in virtual reality game design. Jem Alexander chats to executive producer Simon Harris about the studio’s VR projects
Virtual reality is here to stay. So says Supermassive Games which, sure, has a vested interest in this statement being true, thanks to its extensive investment into creating games for the technology. But this also gives it a unique insight into the market, thanks to having several popular VR titles already on sale, along with two new projects (that we know of) coming soon.
“VR is incredibly important to Supermassive,” says Simon Harris, executive producer at the company. “We’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in building VR content for four years now, starting with early demos for PlayStation VR, and by the end of the year we will have launched four games for PSVR – the most for an independent studio. Sony remains an important partner for us, but our VR ambitions stretch across multiple platforms. We’re proud to have been able to build year on year with our VR experiences and will continue to push into different genres as we are with The Inpatient and Bravo Team.”
From our perspective, VR is delivering on what we hoped, which is an incredible new way to experience games
Simon Harris, executive producer, Supermassive Games
There’s doom and gloom surrounding VR emanating from some corners of the industry, but Harris feels this is premature. The key to making it a successful platform? Keep creating good content. Without that, there’s no reason for players or manufacturers to invest.
“There is a great deal of discussion and hype about the size and value of the VR business,” Harris says, “but the bottom line is that we have to focus on delivering the best possible experiences on the platforms we are working on. Only great content is going to encourage people to buy headsets.
“From our perspective, VR is delivering on what we hoped, which is an incredible new way to experience games. We think that we are only starting with what we can do in VR, so we have really high expectations on what we can deliver.”
NO WRONG ANSWERS
By continuing to push what's possible within VR games, developers can make the technology more compelling for more people. It sounds obvious, but there are so many best practices within the ‘traditional’ industry today that it’s easy to forget there was once a wild west of game development. That’s where virtual reality development is today.
“I’m a little reticent when using terms like ‘best practice’ when it comes to VR game design,” Harris says. “Regardless of whether you are developing for VR or TV based, you need to put yourself in the player’s shoes, test a lot and listen to people when they tell you things after playing your game. That’s the way you can truly improve your game.
“Last year when we launched our first games, I talked a lot about how we took some of the very early ‘rule sets’ that people were promoting as to what you could and couldn’t do in VR and deliberately went about debunking some of them through our games. We specifically looked to go against some of the initial sets of ‘do’s and don’ts’ that were being touted around in early VR development and the feedback we’ve had on our initial titles suggest that we did manage to prove a load of them wrong.
“As with any new platform, you have to design specifically to take advantage of that platform’s strengths and minimise its weaknesses. This will mean that genres are adapted from their traditional form, but as long as the game experience is great, then players will embrace the changes.”
With the studio’s upcoming titles, The Inpatient and Bravo Team, Supermassive is pushing two very specific areas of virtual reality. With The Inpatient, emphasis is on immersion. Something that VR is uniquely positioned to deliver.
“We have two key parts here,” Harris explains. “The first is that you are fully realised in the game world. At the start of the game you answer some key questions so that when you start the game you can look down and you see your own body, arms and legs. As you move around the environment we use the Move controllers (also works with DS4) to track your hands so you can see your hands and arms move as you do. You can interact with the environment, pick things up, pass things between your hands – even throw and catch stuff – all to make it feel as real as possible in the VR world. On top of this, when you are engaged in a conversation with the characters in the game we use voice recognition to allow you to add your voice to the experience. We’ve worked with Sony’s technical team to deliver the true experience of you voicing the character you are playing as you say the responses and listen to the conversations. All of this combines to create a world which you feel amazingly immersed in.”
With Bravo Team Supermassive is focusing on trying to fix problems inherent in VR action games.
“Bravo Team is a co-op, cover based, first-person VR shooter,” says Harris. “We built it from the ground up to support co-op play, so you can either play online, or offline with an AI partner. The features that make it stand out are our unique movement system and the level of immersion in the VR world.
“Our movement system does something I haven’t yet seen in VR, which is camera cuts. When making traditional TV based games, we use camera cuts a lot, just like film and TV, to set tone and emotion or to communicate to the player. VR has yet to really establish rules for cameras other than the player’s head being the camera and most experiences locking to either first or third-person views. We are mixing this up, and because the game is cover based it delivers an experience that is incredibly comfortable for our players and allows us to do cool stuff with our characters and scenarios which would not be possible with a straightforward first- person only camera.
“What happens is that you are playing primarily in first-person. You see your body and your gun, you can aim down the sights or fire from the hip and look around like in the majority of VR shooters. When you want to move to a new cover point, we cut the camera to a third-person view of your soldier, you watch yourself move to the new point (potentially taking fire on the way) and then when you get there, we jump back into first-person again. We do this using a series of rules which we’ve developed to ensure that the player is not disorientated or confused about what is happening. This system then allows us to expand on the basic movement motions, with actions such as jumping over gaps, taking out enemies with your knife, reviving your co-op partner or even blowing out doors with charges on the interior section.
With regards to co-op/social vs. competitive I think that they both drive different adoption markets
Simon Harris, executive producer, Supermassive Games
CO-OP VS COMPETITIVE
Multiplayer VR is something that is believed to be a big part of pushing the technology into new hands and markets. This is particularly true of social play, including co-operative experiences, of which we’ve not seen a huge number on VR. Yet.
“Multiplayer experiences are going to be a great thing in VR,” says Harris. “With regards to co-op/social vs. competitive I think that they both drive different adoption markets. Competitive appeals to a lot of the existing player base on platforms such as PC and PlayStation, so it is a great way of bringing them into VR. Co-op and social appeals to a different market and maybe has more of a chance of engaging people who aren’t already PS4 or PC game owners. If we can get all of them to try and have a great VR experience, that’s only good for everyone.”
The best advice that Harris has for developers looking to invest in virtual reality is to be proactive and forward looking. The technology is still evolving at a decent pace and that will bring new ways to interact and new gameplay possibilities. Be ready.
“There is a lot of focus on what’s coming next and what improvements there could be in the hardware,” he says. “There are some extremely interesting developments around tracking additional aspects, such as legs and eye tracking, which we make sure we are aware of and understand how they can improve our games. As these developments are included in future headsets we will be ready to make use of them.
“We’re very proud of the titles we have already released on PSVR – Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and TumbleVR. We are extremely excited to get The Inpatient and Bravo Team out into the market. We think that we are only just starting with VR, we are experimenting and learning every day and continuing to take strides to deliver better games, so we are still very heavily invested in the platform as a whole.”