Everywhere you look in VR right now, you’ll see different variations of the same wave-based survival shooter genre. It’s a simple concept that’s easy to start with and iterate on for a new medium like VR, so it makes sense to tackle as a big draw first, but it’s already starting to reach the point of oversaturation in this early market. You can stand in the middle of a circle as enemies approach you only so many times before it starts getting old. When Steve Bowler and Jeremy Chapman left Phosphor Games after working on the acclaimed demo for The Brookhaven Experiment, they joined forces with Mike Fischer (a former Square Enix CEO) to create a new company named CloudGate Studio.
So what do you do after helping develop a survival horror VR game demo that gets featured on the majority of prominent media outlets and is lauded as one of the scariest VR experiences ever made? According to Bowler, you make a “deeper” and “meatier” experience about dinosaurs called Island 359. Naturally.
Breaking the Wave-Based Trend
“We are killing ourselves trying to make this so much more than just another wave shooter, but just with dinosaurs,” explained Bowler during an interview. “There is so much untapped potential in VR. We didn’t want to just make Brookhaven with dinos. That was an awesome experiment, we love how many people we were able to scare and terrify, but now we really want to give you a deeper and meatier experience. Something more than just an arcadey game. We really want Island 359 to be one of the first go-to experiences when you get your Vive and demo it to people.”
Instead of sticking you in the middle of a circle surrounded by slowly approaching dinosaurs, Island 359 actually begins by dropping you down into a jungle from a helicopter. You’ll touch down near a small camp and stock up on supplies and gear as you get ready to go hunting.
The whole jungle is at your feet ready for exploration in this “hunt or be hunted” survival-of-the-fittest journey. You’ll be able to find several different types of weapons from pistols, machine guns, bows, and even melee weapons as well. But what really sets Island 359 (pronounced Island three-five-nine) apart from the majority of VR games, is their innovative new movement system.
“You have complete freedom of movement,” Bowler tells me proudly. “You can pretty much get to anywhere you think you should be able to get to. You look, select, and then it seems like you are sprinting. We did it this way because teleporting creates a huge disconnect for players since it’s not natural. No one can actually teleport in real life.”
While that may sound a little odd at first, he insists that it avoids any motion sickness concerns and actually streamlines the gameplay well, sort of like hitting the “fast forward” button when moving from one spot to another. In ways it is similar to the location-based teleporting you see in games like Arizona Sunshine – the developers have laid out predetermined locations that you can move to and you select the spot by looking – but instead of instantaneous teleporting or “blinking” in the case of The Gallery or Arizona, your character quickly moves as if they were running at full speed instead.
Kill or Be Killed
In order to prevent this from being abused, however, the rest of the world speeds up a bit as well. They don’t want you outrunning dinosaurs by bolting from one spot to another. You’ll have to be a lot more careful in how you sneak around and navigate the environment.
“While you’re moving between points on the map, dinosaurs are trying to hunt you down,” Bowler explains. “They will be trying to eat you and you have to fight back with either loud guns, which can attract other dinosaurs, or silent weapons. We have stealth mechanics in place so the game knows if you’re ducking or not and you can even move in cover stealthily. If you move while crouched and they don’t see you move for example, they won’t continue following you. We’re working on making the AI relatively intelligent. Dinos like raptors will use pack mentality tricks to try and lure you into groups and flank you from the sides.”
Island 359 will also be split into two fundamental game modes: Survival and Story. The Survival mode, which is the first mode hitting Early Access on Vive later this summer, is all about exploring the island and trying to stay alive for as long as you possibly can. In terms of the lore, your team can’t actually get down to rescue you because of the flying dinosaurs intercepting helicopters from a distance. Instead, they’ll drop supply crates across the island giving you objective points to reach while you continually fight for you life as long as you can.
The Story mode, which is much farther away from release, seems to feature some very LOST-style undertones. You’ll have to go deeper and deeper into the depths of the jungle, uncovering secrets, and piecing together a rich history of intrigue along the way. It may not be something anyone can test quite yet, but it’s refreshing to hear a more detailed experience is at least seen as a priority by the development team.
The Promise of VR
According to a press release provided to UploadVR, the last half of the company’s mission statement makes their vision clear:
“Focused on creating premium, innovative games that defy the boundaries of VR, CouldGate Studio evolved out of a commitment to cultivate immersive, and transformative VR experiences. Passionate that games should never be mediocre, CloudGate is working to create deep games that elicit the feelings of Blockbuster films—energizing, vitalizing and exhilarating while always leaving players thirsty for more.”
During my interview, Bowler talked a lot about this vision for CloudGate, in addition to his own personal hopes for VR as a new medium. “I haven’t been this excited for a new technology since the original PlayStation,” he told me. “What Vive is doing right now with roomscale is just killing it. It’s super exciting and it’s the best way to convert people to VR. We’ve played Oculus Touch, we love it, the controllers are amazing, so we’re not going to say we’re just a Vive or SteamVR company.”
Island 359 is the first endeavor from CloudGate, but you can fully expect they plan on being a household name among VR enthusiasts before much longer. While they will not be at E3, they do hope to have a playable press build of the game available sooner rather than later. Check back with UploadVR for the latest developments on both Island 359 and CloudGate Studio.
Island 359 is expected to arrive on Steam Early Access for the HTC Vive later this summer.