The UK’s National Film And Television School (NFTS) might need to make space for VR in its name; a new Oculus Rift game from one of its Games Design and Development students debuts tomorrow.
That game is Into The Black, a gorgeous third-person adventure from the school’s Naomi Kotler and seven other masters students working in sound design, composing, producing, DFX, production design and cinematography. It’s set during the disastrous wildfires at the Yellowstone National Park in 1988, the largest in the site’s history. Rather than witnessing the event through the eyes of man, however, players will instead control a spirit guide that aids an unlikely pairing of a red fox and grizzly bear. They’ll work together to outrun the fires, but will also have to deal with humans that are trying to take advantage of the situation.
Kotler herself was first drawn to VR all the way back at the reveal of PlayStation VR – then known as Project Morpheus – in early 2014. “Developing for VR is an ever changing learning curve,” she tells me over email, “I’m consistently looking out for new ways to try things like camera movement because there isn’t an absolute way to move in a VR world, it’s all experimentation at the moment. That’s why I’m really drawn to VR development.”
To that end, Kotler is trying out some new things for VR, like the game’s charming low-poly art style. “A lot of my university projects have been photo real but for this I wanted to move towards a stylised, low poly design,” the developer says. “Reason being I haven’t seen anything quite like that in VR yet and I think it’s hitting a small niche in the market but also because there’s something about that art style that appeals to me both as a designer and a player.”
Mechanically, both the fox and bear will bring their own skills to the table. You can switch between the two at any time, allowing you to pass under objects as the fox and sneak around potential threats. The bear, meanwhile, will push logs and trees into useful positions as well as intimidate others with her sheer size. The spirit guide will also be able to take a higher view of the surrounding area, named ‘Spirit View’ to get an idea of what’s coming up.
If you couldn’t already tell, Into The Black has a bit of a message behind it. “The main message in the game is teamwork and how important it is to put differences aside and work together,” Kotler says. “But also real world issues such as fire safety, poaching and just general respect for nature.” There aren’t many VR games carrying those themes, which makes Into The Black one to watch for sure.
It’s not the first project we’ve seen from NFTS. Earlier this year I went hands-on with Polyphonia, a wholly different but equally experimental piece from the mind of student Blaise Imiolczyk. It’s great to see a recognized institution such as this incubating VR talent.
If Into The Black has caught your attention then you may want to get yourself over to EGX in Birmingham; the game will be playable for the first time there this weekend.