At this point in the year (or my life, even) I’ve played a lot of VR games. In fact, I’ve played a lot of VR puzzle games. Even more specifically, I’ve even played a few VR puzzle games that deal with getting ball-shaped objects into goal-locations through the use of a series of objects and gadgets. Grav|Lab and more recently, Bounce, both come to mind. But despite it all, Awaken, the first game from new game studio Blueprint Reality, still managed to iterate on the concept and deliver something fresh.
For starters, they actually have a dedicated writer on their development team to build out the universe.
“The game is a physics-based puzzler, but we asked ourselves how do we make this feel like an epic journey?” said Tarrnie Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of Blueprint Reality. “Awaken takes place in a fantastic world, we have a dedicated writer on board, we’ve built out this massive mythos. As a player, you are an architect of light. You are a new beginning. You must awaken the universe, for it has too long been enshrouded in darkness. You must use your powers to guide the light. As you harness the energy, you will awaken the guardians. Together you can push back the darkness and once again bathe the universe in light. And then life.”
That concept was immediately on display in the demo I tried. After the company’s logo splashed across the sky, the scenery bled into view through the use of water-color style art work that appeared both enigmatic and precise in its style. A dome-like environment spread out around me, shrouded in darkness, with an orb of light floating in front of me. After I grabbed it and tossed it through a ring, the area came to life. Objects appeared, pillars off in the distance, and the aesthetic immediately reminded me of Land’s End, one of the best Gear VR titles from the creators of Monument Valley, Ustwo Games.
Williams has been in the game industry since 1988, specifically on the production side of things for most of his career. He worked at Electronic Arts for 14 years and was part of the original team that made the first Need for Speed title. Since then, he’s gone on to work on Medal of Honor, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes, and several other game franchises. A puzzle game is a bit of a break from habit for him. He’s joined by Ben Sheftel, CTO of Blueprint Reality, who brings years of mobile game development expertise into the mix, such as Sports Jeopardy, Redbull sports titles, and an Iron Maiden RPG.
“At its core, Awaken is a physics-based puzzle game similar to Grav|Lab and Bounce,” explains Sheftel. “We wanted to start experimenting with making rails and items to let balls interact with realistic physics, then that grew to have gutters, trampolines, and other mechanics.”
Those specific items and mechanics is part of what made my jaw drop while playing Awaken. While the two games they liken themselves to employ a very specifically sci-fi aesthetic, Awaken looks like something ripped from the halls of an art gallery. Every time an item is placed or a ball touches an item, it makes a specific sound, combined with the slow smooth tones of the backdrop, creates a unique dynamic soundtrack. Completing levels is equal parts cerebral puzzle game and rhythmic music experience.
“While you’re solving these puzzles, you’re also expanding the music,” says Williams. “We created a procedural dynamic music generation system, so going down a ramp leads to a down pitch effect, for example, while going up the ramp may sound like something else.”
And the items themselves that you use add to what makes Awaken feel unique. You’ve got ramps, just like every game of this nature, but you’ve also got rails too. These items can be extended and manipulated into curves and other angles or directions so that you guide the orb along a specific path. And unlike in let’s say, Bounce, you don’t trigger the orb falling — it’s just always falling in a steady stream. So once you complete the course, you can stand back and watch as all of the successive orbs continue to fall and not only follow the same path, but also create the same sounds. This loops a special, one-of-a-kind soundtrack for each time you complete a level. Combined with the striking visual style, it’s a revelation to experience inside a headset.
Plus, it’s launching with a level editor as well. “We discovered that making stuff in the standard Unity editor wasn’t good enough, so we made an entire level editor inside VR itself to create the game,” explains Williams. “So once we realized how fun that was, we decided it’d be great to launch with that feature and introduce a community sharing feature right away as well.”
The core game will release in Early Access with 2 different worlds and 30 levels, which should add up to about three or four hours of content, reportedly. More levels will be released regularly, building towards a full launch with a campaign of 5 worlds and 150 levels and over 30 hours of expected gameplay. Community feedback will be a big part of Early Access, but so will letting players run amok and create things on their own and eventually, once they add multiplayer, together with friends too.
“We think we could become like the Mario Maker or LittleBigPlanet of VR puzzle games,” states Williams.
Awaken is scheduled to release in early 2017 in Early Access for both the Oculus Rift with Touch and the HTC Vive.