There’s still over a month of 2020 left to go (seriously, it won’t die) but we’re already looking towards what’s coming in 2021. One of the VR titles we’re most excited about is Maskmaker from A Fisherman’s Tale developer, InnerspaceVR.
It’s no secret that we were huge fans of the studio’s 2019 puzzling masterclass but, next year, the studio is going bigger. Maskmaker trades in the cramped confines of the lighthouse for a new world filled featuring lush biomes and, at the heart, a workshop to craft new magical masks. These mystic items can transport you to new worlds which, for the first time in an Innerspace experience, you’ll have full freedom to explore, solving puzzles and collecting resources for new masks along the way.
There’s a lot to learn about the game before its release next year, so we spoke to Balthazar Auxietre, Co-Founder and Creative Director of InnverspaceVR, to find out more about the project.
UploadVR: Where did the idea for Maskmaker come from? How does it build on the success of the Fisherman’s Tale?
Balthazar Auxietre: My father is a collector of masks and so I grew up surrounded by them. As a young boy, I used to spend a lot of time in his workshop, where they were stored. So the idea for Maskmaker came from my childhood, but it wasn’t until I discovered VR that I fully realized the potential masks could have in an interactive project.
After making A Fisherman’s Tale, there were a lot of ideas left on the table and one of them was this concept of playing with magical masks. We were eager to move on to the next step of development, and we had the chance to meet the team at MWMi, who immediately supported the concept and the idea quickly became what is now Maskmaker. What I really like about masks is that they have something whimsical and wondrous about them, but also are a bit spooky, so Maskmaker became this dark fairy tale about masks and their magic.
The tone of Maskmaker is different from Fisherman. From the beginning, we wanted to explore something a bit darker and mysterious, but in many ways there is a strong lineage between both games, both in our design approach and in the way we try to strike a balance between the gameplay mechanics and the overall storytelling to create something engaging that is different in many ways for the players. In Maskmaker, we wanted players to experience the feeling of being challenged by the puzzles, while being moved by the story and being visually amazed by the environments.
UploadVR: It seems like you’re working with bigger environments than you have before? How are you tackling traversing those areas?
BA: Yes, for Maskmaker, we created a larger and a more open-ended universe for players to explore along with different levels – which are called ‘biomes’ – each having a strong and unique identity. The feeling of freedom and “awe” when exploring a huge landscape in VR can be exhilarating, so we wanted to tap into that feeling and surprise the players with each new biome they visit.
It was quite new for us since our previous work was constrained in terms of movement, but being able to expand the world is also tied to the evolution of the hardware. When we shipped A Fisherman’s Tale, a good portion of the audience only had “front facing VR”, so we had to adapt to that, but now people (even with the older hardware) are more accustomed to moving around in VR so we were excited to expand the boundaries ourselves. We learned a lot from other games that use larger areas and tried to find what worked the best for Maskmaker. Pretty quickly we landed on using the same ‘classic’ model of a free-move/teleport combination, but there was a lot of work and iterations that went into the environments, as well as creating a navigation path to have something that felt good for both methods of locomotion.
UploadVR: How do puzzles work in the game? Are they anchored around a core hook as with A Fisherman’s Tale?
BA: In the beginning we had a similar design approach with Maskmaker as we did with Fisherman, but we tried to find Maskmaker’s own “core hook”, which became crafting and wearing a mask that will transport players into a specific and different character, in a specific situation. Since with Maskemaker, we were aiming for a longer gameplay experience with larger areas, we also used this core mechanic to focus on discovery and exploration rather than trying to make another puzzle focused game. In comparison to our previous work, Maskmaker is more of an adventure game than a puzzle game, in the strict sense. The puzzles in Maskmaker appear for players across the different biomes, but the purpose of these puzzles is more to challenge the exploration of the players so they can discover new crafting components, and uncover the truth about the story. The puzzles have been designed specifically to match the type of “natural” environment and background story of each biome, so in that sense they’re more inherently connected to the level design than the individual puzzle set pieces.
UploadVR: You’ve hinted a bit at the crafting mechanics before – how does this work? Will the player be actually making a mask themselves?
BA: Solving puzzles in the biomes gives players access to new materials such as feathers, pearls, shells, animal hairs, etc., which will help them craft new masks. The materials are specific to the cultural identity of each biome. Finding them is one of the main goals of the players’ exploration, as per finding the blueprints for each mask, they will be guided to the crafting component. As players progress, they will unlock new tools and develop their crafting skills to make more and more elaborate masks, by sculpting, painting, and mixing the materials. We wanted to give the feeling of being a real craftsman in VR, which adds a really interesting sandbox component to the game.
As a maskmaker’s apprentice, players will have to master the art of crafting step by step. As they become more advanced with their crafting skills, they’ll be able to make more and more complex masks which will help them discover the truth about this world. Once they become a true maskmaker, they will be able to craft a mask of their own design.
UploadVR: Roughly how big is the game this time around? Are you aiming for a similar scope to A Fisherman’s Tale?
BA: The number one piece of feedback we had for A Fisherman’s Tale was that it was too short, so with Maskmaker we’ve been working hard to make a richer, more extensive adventure. Which means it will be a less linear experience in a more open-ended universe, with the total gameplay time set to be around 4 hours.
UploadVR: Any update on when in 2021 the game might be ready?
We are currently working around the clock! Production has not been easy during the pandemic, but we just passed the beta stage. We are looking forward to releasing the game soon and are eager for people to experience our magical masks!
Maskmaker comes to PC VR including Steam and also PSVR next year.