GamesBeat: Did the sword-fighting idea come to mind quickly?
Griesemer: Sword-fighting is an example of the interactions in the game, but it’s more that one-to-one control the Move gives you. As soon as you have a hand, you want to put a stick in it. As soon as you put a stick in it, you want to hit something. It’s a natural first progression, but we’re thinking of other things as well.
O’Donnell: The way I like it, anything you can hold, we’re going to do something cool with it. I’ve played tons of games that have swords, but they never seem to actually—I’m really excited that I have to block it like this. Once we have force feedback and everything gets a little smoother, it’s going to be a blast. I always wanted to be able to feel like I’m really doing something with a sword, instead of just a big slash and tons of people die. I’m blocking and parrying.
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Griesemer: The specificity of the control is cool.
GamesBeat: Was the 3D audio important to you?
Noftle: That was in our sights from day one.
O’Donnell: The VR environment is the perfect way to show 3D audio. Now we know where your head is. We know where your ears are. We know where every object is. If you’re holding something that makes noise, like the candle—The candle can actually go behind your head.
Griesemer: It’s not just 3D audio. It’s HRTF.
O’Donnell: Eventually I don’t know if people will even think about it. This will just be the way the world sounds and it makes sense. It’s a game, so we’ll give you objectives and things to do. The virtual reality part of it will sort of disappear, because you’ll just be absorbed in doing this cool thing. We want it all to feel believable.
Griesemer: And more than believable. I don’t know what your emotional reaction was like when that guy walks up and starts swinging his sword, but—Some part of you had this visceral reaction. “I’m in danger! This thing could hurt me! It’s way bigger than I am!” We want to capitalize on that.
GamesBeat: I thought it was bigger until I realized, “Wait, I’m one of these things, too.”
O’Donnell: When you’re the small golem and you see the giant bug, it feels like you’re small. Scale is another thing we’re having fun playing with. The sense of scale is going to be a game mechanic. You might at one point be in an environment while you’re really big and you’ll spot a crack in the wall that you can’t fit through. But if you become a little tiny golem, you can go through that.
Griesemer: Or if you’re the tiny golem and you see one of those giant monsters coming after you, you’re not going to pick up a sword and try to fight him off.
It’s all a balance between just how much possibility there is and how much a 10-person team can realistically execute on. We’re still finding that balance.
GamesBeat: It seems as if your platform is going to be changing. With future iterations you’re going to have more body control and things like that.
Griesemer: Yes. The hardware is a moving target as well. Even this headset that you played on, we just got that a few weeks ago. It’s a huge visual upgrade from the previous version. The hardware is getting pushed all the time and we’re getting better at using it.
O’Donnell: There are a lot of things to consider – what the final ship date might be, how many Moves we can think about, the headphone and speaker situation. That’s fun for us. We were there with the Xbox. I still remember, with something like a month to go, they said, “We’re not going to put the 5.1 surround chip in.” It was cancelled. And I was like, “NO!”
Griesemer: “Hey, we’re adding a cheapo headset in every box, so everyone online is going to be able to blather in your ear all the time.” We’re used to hitting moving targets.
O’Donnell: It’s fun. It keeps me young.
Griesemer: What’s great about it is that we get some influence on the moving target. When I was working at Sucker Punch, we got to see all the prototype Dual Shocks. We gave them all this detailed feedback on the stiffness of the thumbsticks and the placement of the triggers. When you’re part of that feedback loop, both products end up improving. You don’t just have to take what you’re given.
GamesBeat: Did you consider being cross-platform? Are the different VR systems compatible at all?
Griesemer: Of course we considered it, but—Sony’s a great partner. The PlayStation VR is a great piece of hardware. We’re happy to be making a game for it. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in even a year with VR. As I say, it’s a moving target. But this is a great gadget. A big part of the appeal to us is that you just plug it into a box you already own.
Noftle: What I enjoy right now about the PlayStation VR is how many tens of millions of PS4s are already out there. When the head-mounted display (HMD) comes out, it’s a peripheral for something that already exists. You don’t have to go buy anything else. We feel like that’s a good play, especially for Sony.
Griesemer: All those PS4s have the same hardware. One thing that’s very important in VR—If you drop frames, you’re making people sick. Having standardized hardware where you can predict all the variables lets us push a lot farther than we would otherwise. If you’re plugging it into your old PC that can’t handle it and you’re getting five frames per second, you’ll just turn it off. We can control the experience a lot better with a console.
GamesBeat: Is this the kind of game that needs to hit a certain performance level? Are you pushing the edge of what the PS4 can do?
Noftle: Yeah. You want to hit 60 frames per second at minimum, and ideally 90 frames per second. In VR you have to render to two eyes. There are lots of inherent technical hurdles right out of the gate.
Griesemer: There’s a floor, and that floor is a lot higher than 30 frames per second. That’s one of the reasons why we’re careful about how we present the visuals. If we just release a widescreen screenshot and somebody put that next to Uncharted 4—We can’t compete with that. We have to render four times as much, as fast as they do. A lot of it is leaning on the art rather than on the tech for rendering. We just hire really amazing artists and they do a lot with half as much.
GamesBeat: Did that influence the art style you chose?
Griesemer: It’s a sort of stylized realism. If you go too cartoony, then you’re in a cartoon and your brain says, “I can’t accept this.” You never get that sense of presence. If you go too realistic, your brain is picking at the little tiny details that aren’t right. We’re shooting for somewhere in the middle.
Noftle: It also ties into the technical art and how the content affects performance. We have to be very wary of how those play together.
GamesBeat: Jason Rubin spoke at our conference and talked about how this is still the experimentation phase. You may have to financially fail with more than one game before you end up in a position to take advantage of the gold rush. Did you also go into this thinking that you might have to have a longer path to success?
Griesemer: We know it’s going to be a slow burn. That’s another reason to partner with Sony. It’s more important for them to have good content on their hardware than it is for any one game to be financially super-successful. We know it’ll be a slow start, but hopefully we can then stay at the front of the pack.
O’Donnell: We’re all veterans. From a business standpoint, we’re not trying to—it’s not like, “Yeah, we got a bunch of money! Oh, wait, we blew it!” We’re not doing that. I feel that if we can make a game that solves a bunch of issues and is aesthetically pleasing and compelling, it’s going to be successful. Maybe it’s not wildly financially successful, but—
Griesemer: There are two ways to be financially successful, too. One is, you sell millions of copies. The other is, you make the game on the cheap. You’re as efficient as possible and you don’t go in for extravagances. This is a startup-ass startup. I get splinters from the floor of our studio. It’s 10 guys.
GamesBeat: You make it small, but you learn enough to make more out of another swing at the bat.
O’Donnell: Somebody asked me the other day if we’re building a studio or building a game. I said, “Yes. Actually it’s both.” We’re building a game in order to build a studio that builds games. You can’t have one without the other.
It’ll be interesting. There is no installed base. We can’t say that there are 30 million VR machines out there. Right now, commercially, there are zero. Even Jason Rubin—We’ve talked to Jason a lot. He’s been a friend for years. It’s a tough thing. Everyone is trying to figure out what VR’s place will be. Jason wants there to be a giant game component and so do we. But we’re all having fun.
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