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The Ex-‘Halo’ and 'Destiny’ Devs at Highwire Games Know Virtual Reality is the Future


The Ex-‘Halo’ and 'Destiny’ Devs at Highwire Games Know Virtual Reality is the Future: 'Golem'


There’s a funny thing about Highwire Games: it wouldn’t exist without Halo. Master Chief’s Xbox debut put Seattle studio Bungie on the map in 2001 by defining an entire generation of console first-person shooters; Halo 2 followed suit by reinventing the paradigm of what online multiplayer gaming could be. For ex-Bungie vets Jaime Griesemer and Marty O’Donnell, precedents like these always presented a new technical challenge to solve—it was part of what made working at the studio for over a decade worthwhile.

Now fast forward to the present, when countless developers have turned their attention toward the seemingly limitless potential of virtual reality. It’s exactly the arena Griesemer and O’Donnell aim to explore with Highwire’s PlayStation VR exclusive Golem, a narrative adventure they hope will help crystalize the characteristics of virtual tech much in the same way Halo did for shooters. Only Highwire is made up of fewer than 10 people (other Halo veterans, mostly) and VR is still totally uncharted territory.

In fact, no one really knows what VR really is yet. A simple breakdown alone—that you’re wearing a high-powered headset that transports you to a virtual 3D space by mapping your physical position inside it—just leads to more questions. There’s the question of exposure, for one—VR has become common fodder for industry demos over the past few years, but any chance of commercial acceptance won’t happen until later this year, when the high-res Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets have been released into the wild. (Technically you can test out VR now with a handful of lo-fi devices that turn smartphone screens into digital viewfinders, though it’s not the best litmus test.)

There’s the rub—VR doesn’t have a one-use-fits-all solution, and how developers handle issues like virtual movement vary wildly: typically VR demos will track your head’s position in real time while using a standard controller for movement, which simultaneously fools your brain into thinking you’re inside the virtual space you’re looking around even as the headset is effectively relegated to little more than a very expensive pair of 3D glasses.

More sophisticated demos add more position-tracking through wireless controllers, usually subbing in for your actual hands. It’s a good setup for arcade-style shooting galleries with, say, London gangsters, though not every commercial headset will come bundled with everything needed for such Holodeck-esque levels of immersion. There are outliers too, ranging from the unexpected (like lightsaber fitness) to the downright weird (stationary bike as horse riding). Regardless of design, studios like Highwire seem to be in gaming’s newest wild west. It’s a lot to take in.

As for Golem, Highwire hopes to help define VR in part through the extreme simplicity of its controls. In a brief hands-on, you can explore environments with the magical creatures you inhabit in the game simply by leaning your head forward. Meanwhile, a PlayStation Move motion controller captures your hand’s precise position, acting as as an object like a flashlight or sword that you can point, swing or simply inspect in the virtual world.

How Golem’s design fits together with its smaller story of a paralytic girl and her golem companions is still unclear, but it is directly connected to the way Highwire views VR itself—and as I found out during the in-depth conversation below, the question also sheds some light on where a small team of grizzled industry vets sees games going in the future.

Read on for the full chat.

So you might say that Highwire is unlike a lot of other independent studios.
JAIME: We’ve got some guys that have been in the industry longer than your average game developer’s been alive, at this studio. It’s funny, we have three art directors and one [art] lead—so basically the team is so small the art directors all essentially lead departments made up of only themselves.

And that’s kind of the way it is across the studio, because if you’re going to build a small studio, I don’t think you have to build it with junior people, or people that have had kind of a junior role on a couple games and then went off to form a very small garage studio. This is basically the core of a triple-A team, just without the huge production wing, so that means we’re doing a lot of it ourselves.

Jaime, what does being Golem’s creative director exactly mean for you in such a small studio? What do you do?
JAIME: It means I’m the creative director and the lead designer and the mission designer and the grunt design intern. And that’s kind of the way everybody’s working.

MARTY: So I’m the audio director and composer and, you know, working on the story parts with Jaime. And the fun working with Jaime on stuff is that Jaime absolutely knows what he doesn’t know. He knows what he needs for gameplay and design and what’s cool—he’ll go way down this road and then say, OK, this is where my expertise stops. So make sure we handle it from there from someone who actually knows what the hell they’re doing.

JAMIE: That’s true. If you know that something’s not your thing then it’s easy to collaborate. Marty’s actually really good about taking feedback too, because he knows you can just say, no, we’re not putting a ukulele in here, or whatever. [Often] you get this whole mid-range where people are still figuring out what they’re good at, and maybe using politics or psychology to kind of get an advantage. That’s one of the big negative things that you find on a triple-A team, is people spending more time fighting for the right to decide than making good decisions.

Do you think that’s more of a function of size in a triple-A team or because often in those situations people lack experience?
JAIME: Man, so much of it is size. I think if you put a bunch of junior guys in a room, they probably would blunder into some mistakes that a more experienced team wouldn’t, but I don’t think they would spend nearly as much time politicking. It just requires a certain number of other people around for that to be effective. You know, I’m not going to go passive-aggressively garner support behind your back because there’s only one other guy. [laughs]

I think you could set up a situation where each of those three people looks at the other two as an obstacle to their success—like they’re the people that can undermine me and veto me and counteract me. It’s just a disaster—at that point you should just declare somebody the ruler. Whereas in our situation it’s more like these are the two guys that are going to keep me from screwing up so bad that the company goes under.

MARTY: I think our goal is to make a cool, well-oiled studio where we can make really good games that we like. But I guarantee you it’s not about growing. It’s about doing those things and making a decent living at it for everybody. But like, man, I am going to be really on guard when we get over a certain number of people. I still remember someplace toward the end of Halo 2, I was asked how many people work at Bungie. I named them all off, counted up to whatever was, 67 or something. I say I counted because I walked around the studio in my head and named each person at their desk. That was the last time I was able to do that.


Even 67 seems like a lot.
MARTY: It is a lot. I got asked today how many guys worked on the audio team at Bungie, and at the end I had nine people working for me. There’s nine people total here—total! [laughs]

JAIME: It’s not just a matter of knowing everybody’s names. It’s really easy to get into a situation we call feeding the beast, where there’s this enormous production team that isn’t allowed or isn’t capable of making progress on their own, so creative directors are always just trying to generate something for those guys to do. And you come in every day and you’re like, OK, there’s a line of like seven people waiting for me to tell them what to do, I guess I will just—as fast as I can—make something up. And that’s crisis mode.

Now we’re planned well in advance of what our production is capable of doing so we’re actually sort of having a problem the other way, like we have more plans than we can take action on. So we’re trying to increase the size of the team a little bit to get it more balanced. But yeah, I don’t want to ever put myself in the position where I’m just kind of making it up as I go along, because otherwise we’re paying people to sit around and twiddle their thumbs—or worse, talk shit about the direction of the game and the team.

Yeah, that doesn’t seem very productive.
JAIME: And I’m also a big proponent of kind of pushing down the responsibility so that the people doing the work are the ones making the calls, so—you know, if [our world art director] Vic [DeLeon] and I have a disagreement about how something should [look], Vic is going to decide. And it’s very rare that I would ever even try to convince him not to do it, let alone tell him not to do it. Because you know, he’s the one with the expertise, he’s the one who eventually has to do the work, he’s the one who has to have it in his head in order to execute on it. And so all I’m doing is making him less efficient if I’m pushing too hard for one thing over another.

MARTY: Plus when we were talking about people who we should tap to get hired, it was three of us that first talked about starting the company: me, Jaime and [our technical director] Jared [Noftle].

JAIME: Yeah, we very quickly said, OK, we have no technical aptitude at all, this is not going to work. [laughs]

MARTY: [laughs] Anyway, we’re all willing to learn new tools, we’re all willing to do all sorts of stuff, but the other thing we wanted to make sure with everybody here is—being a veteran is great, but they can’t be such a veteran in such a niche-y area, with such [specific] expertise that they can only do one thing.

We need everybody here to be good in pre-production, good in production and good in post-production. They have to have something that they can do at all stages of the game. They can’t just be concept artists and just draw beautiful pictures and then they’re done. Everybody here can wear three or four hats and that’s really pretty cool.

JAIME: Yeah, and can really get into making [game] content. Which is not to say—I mean, we’re working with a writer and we’re working with a concept artist –

MARTY: Right, because you can work with them outside for a couple months, as freelancers.

JAIME: But [those experts] aren’t useful as full-time employees. It’s actually sort of destructive to hire them full-time, because you’re basically saying, hey, we’re only going to use you 25 percent of the time, and the rest of your time is going to be wasted. In a small studio obviously you can’t afford any waste, but even in a big studio, they’re going to move more toward that model, where more of the team is outsourced and contract.


Do you think there are parallels you can draw with other industries?
MARTY: Yeah, I think it’s going to turn out to be similar to the movie business, where you have the stakeholders of the film, the director, the producer and a few core people, writers and whatever. And then they hire in to finish pre-production, bring in all sorts of experts for production and then they go way down [in staff] again and go into the editing room in post-production. And they put it in the theater.

JAIME: And to be honest, that’s kind of how the industry works already. [Companies] just are not up front about it, so they get to the end of the project and lay off half the team. And it’s always the sort of mainline art production staff that they lay off, because they just don’t want those guys sitting around for the next nine months or year while they figure out what game they’re making next.

MARTY: There’s always this plan to dovetail. So as we’re finishing post-production on this game, we’ll be starting pre-production on the next game. Well, that almost never happens, because as you’re screaming to the deadline of post-production on a game you keep sucking all these people in that should be on the next project already. Then at the end, it’s like, oh, now we need to fire you because we have nothing for you to do. We never spent the time figuring it out nine months ago.

JAIME: Yeah, because the creative director doesn’t have enough time to guide them with even half their brain.

MARTY: I bet you every major studio you could name has at some point swelled up to finish a game and then fired people at the end. It just happens all the time. And that’s why.

And that’s why you read about so many layoffs at studios?
JAIME: Oh, yeah. They plan—the layoff is part of the budget. I mean, it happens before the game even is out the door. So they know it’s coming, they just don’t tell their employees until the game is in the box. And to me, that’s kind of treating people like cogs, like a resource. It’s not respecting them as professionals. If you bring somebody in and say, look, we’re not going to be able to pay you after the project ships, so you should be reaching out [to find future projects], but please do stay and help us ship the game. Ninety-five percent of the industry would do the right thing and stay until the game is shipped. And then they’d already have something lined up.

So it would be better to use more contractors for those cases.
MARTY: Absolutely. And I think some places are doing better at that. And [Highwire] is depending on it, that we can get to a point where suddenly we know what we need—say like, ten times more environments than we have the capability of doing [in-house]. So we hire an outside environment art studio that’s really good and respected, and those people have a job.

Plus less staff means you’re a more nimble developer.
JAIME: Yeah, our trailer [that debuted at November’s PlayStation Experience event] was a good example of that. Putting together an announcement trailer at a triple-A studio probably takes six months—that’s a conservative estimate—and probably takes two or three months just to come up with the rough plan.

It takes that much planning to make one trailer?
JAIME: There are a lot of different people that have to have sign-offs because you’re mobilizing so many different disciplines in such a large group. You have to get production involved and really carefully plan all the assets you’re going to have, and because that involves so many people basically guessing about how long they’re going to take, there are a ton of [potential] points of failure.

For us it was just like, let’s take the afternoon and figure out what our announcement trailer’s going to be. And the script that we came out with from that is pretty much what we showed at PSX. It was one of the smoothest trailer productions I’ve ever been a part of. Usually you have tons of redirection and then you have to get everybody together again to fix it, whereas redirection in this case could [be] just us saying let’s just make it darker so that you can’t see that problem on the horizon.

’Auteur’ almost always means ‘I’m not disciplined enough to plan ahead’

Jaime Griesemer

So as a small collaborative team, how do you feel about studios that are seen as being run by auteurs with a singular vision, like [Metal Gear Solid creator] Hideo Kojima or [Heavy Rain mastermind] David Cage?
MARTY: You know, I’ve worked with film directors. If at some point I direct a film, I’ll be the director. And if I’m not the composer on the film, I’ll talk to the composer as the director. The composer doesn’t dictate the film—the director should be in charge. If Jaime is creative director of the game, well, I am not a game designer.

I have a lot of good instincts about game design and I have a lot of thoughts about game design, I know what I like, but sitting around thinking here’s this vision I have for a game, it’s just not where my brain goes. So I want to make sure there’s somebody at the lead like the director of a film who has that vision, and I’ll do everything I can in my areas of expertise to support that. But I think that’s different from auteur game development.

JAIME: I’ll be honest. I think the auteur version of game development works really well if you’re making a game by yourself. And actually a lot of those guys got started that way. You know, the first Metal Gear was—I think the team was like 10 people. I think once you get to bigger teams, “auteur” almost always means ‘I’m not disciplined enough to plan ahead,’ so I just have to react to everything and tell you I don’t like it. And a lot of those games end up going way over-budget and way under-delivering or just being a kind of a disorganized mess—

MARTY: You realize you just said David Cage and [BioShock creator] Ken Levine—[laughs]

JAIME: I’m just saying that model. I’m not calling out any name individually.

MARTY: OK, good. [laughs]

JAIME: And also, I think in those two guys’ case, I think it’s probably more of the press latching onto one person and sort of attributing all of the decisions to them rather than them actually walking into a room and saying, ‘Today we do this!’ That kind of auteur almost never gets to make a second game because their first game just doesn’t go anywhere.

I think the ideal is having a creative director with a vision so that everybody’s kind of going in the same direction, but has a lot of kind of flexibility so that everybody can get behind the idea and push it in a direction they like to. Like, I’m not going to make every decision about every color palette for every environment.

MARTY: And I think that that is a collaborative attitude that the best creative leads actually have, and you can get a bigger team around people like that. There are some people who are just so hands-on in every small detail that you get to that point where they really like—

JAIME: Bottlenecks.

MARTY: Yeah, things get backed up. And you suddenly see all these really talented people just waiting in a line, ‘Well I need to get approval for this thing.’

JAIME: Or leaving, because they’re sick of getting yelled at because they didn’t read the director’s mind.

MARTY: And even worse is when you’ve been backed up for a long time and you finally get up to present and they say, oh yeah, that’s not going to work. Or it goes through but is reconsidered later—like, yeah, we gotta start over from scratch on this huge thing. That’s not a good healthy way to make progress. And I just think the bigger the project and the more people there are, the more you can’t be that kind of a leader.

JAIME: But I do think a lot of it’s generated by the press. Most of the guys I met who are successful and often get credit for making an entire game don’t actually operate that way hardly at all. They’re just good spokesmen for the game and people latch onto that.

So what if Golem gets really big and that happens to you, then what?
MARTY: That won’t happen to Jaime, he’s not that good on camera. [laughs]

JAIME: [laughs] I mean, there’s a lot that a creative director can do to make sure that that doesn’t happen—like [Seattle Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson is a great example of this. He never gets up to the microphone without thanking every player on the entire team by name. With him it’s almost comical. Still, you gotta call out the people doing good work, or else they’ll let you have it. But you can even do that and then it gets edited out and fans draw the conclusions they want.

MARTY: Sometimes there are publishers who are trying to keep teams anonymous, and that ticks me off.


That definitely seems like it happens a lot with certain people and certain studios.
MARTY: Yeah. I don’t think that’s right. You know, I’ve said this before but people aren’t going to say, ‘I’m just dying for the next Microsoft Studios game, I’m just dying for the next EA game.’ [both publishers, not developers] They like a developer and they like certain people who they know that have done something cool in the past. So it might not be quite to the level of like, I’m going to go see Spielberg’s next film but—

Even Spielberg has a director of photography.
MARTY: Well yeah, and the truth is Spielberg has a whole team around him, if you look [at] his credits—just like Woody Allen. You see the same people in every Woody Allen film. He’s got a team that he loves working with and that’s what they do. So, there’s a brand—the Woody Allen brand and the Steven Spielberg brand, but there’s a personality behind it. And I think those things make sense.

But EA and Activision and all these different places, they’re publishing organizations, they don’t have that emotional attraction as a brand to the fans. I think they’d all do better if they actually acknowledged the creative talent that’s there on the team. This is the thing that I call the goose that lays the golden egg. The goose is not a person or a single individual. It’s always a team of people.

Jaime, Golem is your story, right?
JAIME: I was driving [it], yeah. I usually work kind of from the player out, so I almost always think about the controls and camera and the core gameplay loop before anything else. Lots of people start with story, but I just feel like story is so flexible, and ultimately it’s easier to match a story to gameplay than it is the reverse.

So we were like, OK, we want to have a game [you play] sitting on a couch, otherwise it’s not safe and it’s exhausting. So what is the story conceit where that makes sense? How about you’re in bed and you can’t get out because you’re injured?

MARTY: Yeah, I mean we had talked about early games that sort of start with new technology. Like Myst was the first game that you could play with a CD-ROM, and it had all these constraints because of early CD-ROM speeds and what you could actually show. But [developer Cyan] said, these are the constraints, let’s make them actually inherently part of the narrative in our game’s fiction. All you could do with Quicktime were scratchy little postage stamp-sized things—so they said, here’s fictionally why that’s all you could see in this world.

They didn’t try to push the technology to something it wasn’t capable of doing. It made sense for what I was able to play. I think Halo did it too, with the dual thumbsticks controls. The game was built around that. So [with Golem] we sat down and I was like, ‘Here’s a new thing for you to solve, Jaime. What is VR—and how can we make the story feel right organically with the constraints or conceits of the technology?’

JAIME: And games are a new media, so they often need to almost fictionalize the mechanics a little bit. So, Mario 64 takes a moment and shows you that there’s this [Lakitu] flying around behind you with a camera. No third-person game after that ever had to do [that], but the first one did just so you could wrap your head around it.

And I think because being in VR and out of VR is such a complicated new concept for people, being able to convey the rules through the fiction explicitly is necessary for us. So not only do you play as this kid who can’t get out of bed—that’s why you are always seated when you’re playing—but the kid can reach out and control these golems using a very similar idea—I mean, she puts this cloth over her eyes and it emits blue light. It’s almost too on the nose as to what PSVR [PlayStation VR] looks like.

MARTY: Yeah, and who knows if that conceit will ever have to be part of anything ever again, but it’s a good way to introduce it. But to me that’s the unique thing about VR. You’re there and you have a physical 1:1 relationship with who you are in the game. As gamers we’ve sort of gotten away from believing that. We can make sort of fine tuned thumb muscle controls and do amazing things—now you actually have to do it. If I want to look over there, I actually have to physically tilt my head.

We’re not going to have six months of user testing. We’re going to ship it and basically we’ll see how people do

Marty O’Donnell

Yeah, VR definitely takes some getting used to.
JAIME: Sure, and with the story, some of it was just playing connect the dots, as in what story connects all these technical limitations? But I also think there’s kind of mood and tone stuff that definitely came from me. This is VR. It’s a very intimate technology. Let’s do an intimate story about just a couple people. You’re not saving the world. The basic outline of the story is very simple. Then it got fleshed out as the other guys started adding ideas that they thought were cool—you know, somebody would come up with a piece of concept art or a reference and we’d be like, yeah, we need to get that in there somewhere. And now we’ve got our writer involved.

MARTY: Jaime’s more concerned about how do we start each act?

JAIME: Yeah, like what the environment is in that you’re in.

MARTY: Which is good.

JAIME: That’s been my process. It’s almost like archeology. Like, we’re going to stake out the area we’re going to search—just throw out everything else outside of that. These are the bounds. Then we’re going to dig to see if there’s something over here and remove areas until we’ve found a bit a skull. So, OK, there’s definitely something here. Now we’re going to carefully kind of excavate it.

MARTY: As much I like story, there’s something that—games can grab you in a way that movies can’t, and vice versa. So that doesn’t mean story’s not important, but I still think that game design should be king, and story should support and flow from that.

So going back to Myst, is there a narrative reason that you lean forward to move in Golem?
MARTY: Well, when you actually walk, you can’t have your center of gravity behind you. You always lean forward. I think what we’re just trying to do is just make it so you’re in this world and there’s no controller.

JAIME: That’s definitely a mechanics-first decision. We want you to be able to fully explore a 3D environment, which I think is almost a requirement for a game, because you have to be exploring something. And you can’t explore it by teleporting around or being on a rail—that’s not real exploration. I didn’t want a controller in your hand—It has too many connotations for one thing, and also it’s just too complicated. If you can’t see your hands, it’s too many buttons, too many functions. This is going to be one of people’s first VR experiences. It’s hard enough to put on the headset and headphones, and now you’ve got your hands full?

So simplifying the controls as much as possible is always the first step for me, that’s where the leaning comes from. Although it is fictionally represented. [If] you’re walking around on the floor [as a golem] and you look up on the bed, you actually see yourself, the kid that you’re playing as, leaning. That’s how she’s controlling the golems. It’s in the tutorial too. the current plan right now is the first golem—the first doll golem you jump into, is up on a shelf, and you actually lean forward to look at the room and that will make it start walking forward.

That takes care of translating the leaning design, then.
JAIME: That’s the thing—like when I did the tutorial for the original Halo, I had this long list of controls that we had to teach you—what this stick does and what this button does. This one is going to be very short. All you have to do is say move your head a little bit and then you’ll see how it all works.

MARTY: Yeah, I mean we’re not going to have six months of user testing. We’re going to ship it and basically we’ll see how people do. And what’s also interesting to me is that there’s all these different VR experiences that are going to be coming out around the same time and everybody’s solving these issues in their own unique ways. I can’t believe that all of them will continue to be successful—some things are going to be just a way better way to do that. Whatever that is. We just don’t know what that is yet.

It also depends on what type of experience it is too—like if you look at the London Heist for example. That works really well as an arcade game. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a completely different experience from what you guys are trying to do.
MARTY: Yeah, when I played London Heist I wondered, what’s the rest of the mechanic to it, because it was fun to be standing up in front of a desk and shooting and ducking—

It’s like a new Time Crisis.
MARTY: And then it’s like, am I just teleported to all these new different places? Because once I’m done I can’t walk away, I have no way of getting out of there.

Right, and there’s that new one where you’re in the van shooting guys on motorcycles. It’s basically an on-rails shooter.
JAIME: Also, we have way less going on in our game, and I think that people sense the potential for there to be way more in the way of gameplay.

And of course, no one knows how long any of these arcade-style experiences can last or what sort of shelf life they have.
JAIME: Yeah, you can only play it as long as they’re generating these content-heavy vignettes.

MARTY: I can tell you so far the thing that I’ve enjoy about what we’re working on is all in the details. At one point we had this lantern that was dangling. And when you were holding it, just like with your sword, you could subtly turn it and the sound would go, krrchh. And you could put it up next to your ear and you’d hear it right next to your ear and over your head.

So of course from a sound [perspective] I’m getting a big charge out of all these little details that make you feel like something’s really there. And I started believing I was holding an actual lantern. And when you’re holding the sword and you see it glint in the sun when you do these really subtle movements with your wrist—that’s not “gameplay” but there’s something cool about it.

How did you decide that you wanted it to be VR in the first place? Was it because of something like 3D audio?
JAIME: For me, my favorite times in my career have been when we were on brand new hardware helping to define a platform with some design problems that nobody had run into before [with Halo] and—basically because we were all those things, [we] had pretty good funding to succeed. 20 years ago that was Microsoft’s console and 10 years ago that was Xbox Live or whatever—you know, we’ve been able to hit those things. And so looking around now, it’s like VR is where all those circles in the Venn diagram overlap.

MARTY: And for me it’s real 3D audio—I actually know where your ears are because the camera knows where your head is. And that’s just a much different experience than we’ve ever been able to do before.

So what were your initial ideas for the game in terms of gameplay? Because obviously right now you have exploration and sword combat, at least.
JAIME: That actually wasn’t on the list of things you could do. Initially we had ranged combat, which works really well [in] VR, and feels very different from a first-person shooter. All the thumb mechanics go out the window and you just kind of point the thing where you want to launch projectiles.

Pretty quickly we found that people wanted to be more physical than that, they wanted to bang on stuff. As soon as we gave them an object, they would try to hit guys. So it kind of evolved out of that. And then it was a case of, well, are there other platforms and other games that have done melee combat in a way that we could? And my go-to is always Punch-Out.

It’s kind of the pace that we want. if you could just run up to an enemy golem and go like this [hitting motions] until one of you was dead, that would not be fun. So we were kind of looking for something to slow down combat a little bit, give it a little bit of a skill base. And then I’m a huge Dark Souls fan, so.

golem-in-the-arena-screenshot 1920.0.0

Yeah, you can see the influence there.
JAIME: And—everyone always says Dark Souls is so hard. But really it’s not. It’s demanding in that you have to real learn what’s going on and you have to execute pretty much flawlessly.

It expects you know to what you’re doing.
JAIME: Yeah, but once you have that knowledge it’s actually not that hard. You just have to be patient. And I think that’s kind of where we’re aiming? Even less demanding than Dark Souls, but man, that feeling that everything is at risk is great in VR. Because it makes you slow down and be very careful and be very aware of your environment because you know if you blink you could screw up. I think that matches VR very well.

MARTY: I just like the idea that you’re holding something and you see your hand in the game, and then we can turn what you’re holding into anything we want it to be, it can be something you look through, it can be something you’re smashing, it can be something that lights up or something that has projectiles to it.

JAIME: Yeah, and the sound—when you block an incoming hit [being in the game] it’s sort of a new experience that people haven’t had before.

Yeah, and that precision of having to actually rotate your wrist while swinging the sword you the blade is connecting—that kind of thing is new too.
MARTY: Yeah, if you hear the sounds, I just threw in a pile of sword impact sounds. Some of them sound like sword scraping and some of them sound like a clang, or a double-clang and all this stuff. And [after testing it] I thought, well some of these won’t work because that’s not what’s actually happening on screen. No—[when you play it] you listen and think, oh [the enemy golem] scraped that time. Oh, I just barely got away, he’s double hit me there. And so it’s amazing how forgiving it can be if it happens right and it might sound like what you’re seeing you’re willing to accept everything.

JAIME: And it doesn’t occur to you that the game just played the wrong sound—you just force it to conform to what you heard.

MARTY: Your brain says that must’ve been what happened.

Well, it’s not like most of us have any experience with sword fighting.
JAIME: Well, you have to sell it too—like there’s a bunch of games where basically they cut your hand off the wrist and they have a floating hand out there. It’s like how can you expect people present and really buy into it if they’re constantly seeing the inside of their wrist?

Right. Though from the trailer, it seems like it’s more of an adventure game and less of a combat game.
JAIME: Yeah, it’s not a series of fights—it’s a lot of exploring and discovering. I think what’s great about VR is being in a place that doesn’t exist and when a 20 foot giant is actually swinging a sword at you, you don’t usually get to [feel] that very much. And also it’s just you’ve got to have different intensity levels in a game or else it’s kind of one-note.

MARTY: Also, you might be able to see something when you’re 18 feet tall and say, gee, I wish I were small so I could get through that hole or something. So maybe I can come back with my little doll golem, and now I have to fight a rat, or whatever. Suddenly something you didn’t care about when you’re 18 feet tall you care about because you’re small—I’m seeing that same place from a different perspective. There’s a lot of potential there for that kind of stuff.

Steve Haske is a freelance writer whose work can be found regularly on Vice and Motherboard. He lives in Seattle, WA and tweets from @afraidtomerge.

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