Jesse Schell is a leader in the game industry, as the author of a book on game design and a professor at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. But this academic is also the CEO of Schell Games, the Pittsburgh game design studio that focuses on “transformational games,” or those that seek to have some kind of impact.
And he is all-in on virtual reality and augmented reality games. In fact, Schell Games will publish four VR titles and three AR titles by the end of the year. The company is the creator of I Expect You To Die, the funny VR title being published for the Oculus Touch hand controller and Oculus Rift VR headset.
I spoke with Schell about his enthusiasm for VR at the Oculus Connect event in San Jose, Calif., last week. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
GamesBeat: I got a chance to play I Expect You to Die. It’s a different kind of game for you guys. How did that come about, doing a spy game?
Jesse Schell: We started on that a couple of years ago. It was really the first serious VR project we had at the studio. It came out of an argument, which was all about what worked and didn’t work in VR. We had some people who really wanted games about locomotion. I was arguing against that. I’ve been working on VR for 20 years. Don’t do that. It makes people sick. One of the devs got really frustrated and said, “This is stupid. This is why VR sucks. You put on the headset, you want to feel like a superhero. What kind of superhero gets tied to a chair?”
Then we all looked at each other like, “That happens all the time. It’s just no one’s ever made a game about it.” We had this idea. What if we had a game where you couldn’t move, you were stuck in a chair, and you had to MacGyver your way out of a death trap? It sounded so fun that we built a prototype and loved it. Then we just kept at it.
GamesBeat: Where did you get the title?
Schell: Oh, we were talking about famous death trap situations, like Batman and Superman. Then we thought of James Bond, and the famous scene in Goldfinger. He’s tied up and the laser beam is gonna cut him in half. “Do you expect me to talk?” And Goldfinger says, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” What a perfect title. Especially because we knew you’d be dying a lot in the game. That could be a big part of the fun. All these things would go wrong and you’d die over and over.
GamesBeat: Do you think of this as a purely fun game, or did you have any other angle on it?
Schell: No, it’s very much a game. It’s puzzle-solving. It requires a lot of thinking. But it was very much just the idea that it would be super crazy fun. It would use VR as a medium very well.
GamesBeat: Two years is a lot of work going into it.
Schell: Definitely. There was a library prototype we first put up on Oculus Share, and later we put up the car prototype. That’s the one that really got attention. It was the top rated game on Oculus Share for nine straight months until they shut Oculus Share down. It gave us confidence to invest in this and make it into a full game. We’ve been working on it quite some time. We wanted it to be great.
GamesBeat: How soon is it debuting?
Schell: It’s going to be released with Oculus Touch. That’ll be December 6.
GamesBeat: How much content will be in the full game?
Schell: It’ll be four complete missions and some bonus content for the initial release. We haven’t announced pricing yet, but it’ll be between $20 and $30. If you’re all about solving the puzzles, most people can do it in about three hours. But there’s a lot of bonus content and achievements to get. I’d say you could easily squeeze six or eight hours of fun out of it with all the replay value.
For right now we’re not trying to use the model from console games as far as price compared to hours of gameplay and bring it to VR. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when it comes to budgeting. The experiences are so different.
GamesBeat: Did you consider doing some teleporting in this game? It seems like that’s becoming popular with some of the titles here.
Schell: We talked about it a bit, but the game didn’t really need it. We opted for telekinesis instead of teleportation.