Gamescom is fully underway today and while the news on the hardware front for VR has been rather stagnant, content continues to shine through. Today, nDreams released a brand new gameplay trailer for their upcoming VR launch title, The Assembly.
We had a chance to play The Assembly at E3 this year, and walked away rather impressed. The game combines a compelling narrative with gorgeous graphics, all in a package that has been “designed for VR from day one,” according to nDreams’ CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh.
The Assembly is an adventure game set in a secret science lab where all sorts of morally questionable work is being done by scientists looking to make “progress for the sake of progress.” The game puts you in the shoes of two different characters, a lead female character by the name of Madaline who is being brought into the mysterious facility against her will, and a scientist named Cal who is already working at the facility but “is not quite comfortable with what is happening.”
The interplay between the two characters allows for nDreams to experiment with different types of gameplay and pacing. Says O’Luanaigh, “you’re always jumping between a slightly slow pace, looking around and examining experiments, and then very high tension spectacular stuff when you’re playing with Madeline.” The differences in the perspectives in VR especially can be really fun to play with, for example some gender differences like height change the way the game is played. “We got a lot of guys going, ‘oh the camera is way too low on that in this first one,'” says O’Luanaigh, “well, no it’s not, it’s what it would be like if you were [Madaline’s] height.”
The sometimes slow and deliberate pacing of the game means that players will spend quite a bit of time examining the environment, which can manifest itself differently in VR than in a standard game where the player has less control of the camera. Because of this, the team has made a number of moves to increase the game’s realism, switching from Unity to Unreal Engine 4, as well as changing how they render art in the game.
“If players can lean in,” says senior designer Jackie Tetly on the commentary video, “then textures on the models need to be more detailed than ever before, and places you could never look with a normal camera need to be rendered… the whole world needs to be much more realistic.” In the short time I was able to spend with a build of the game, that attention to detail really shone through as objects and models look great, no matter where you look at them from or how close.
One of the other things that and his team have had to figure out with The Assembly is how one can tell a full compelling game-sized narrative in VR. One of the things that the team learned early is that you can’t go to the typical cutscene style shot in VR to move the story along. “Any game that relies on cut scenes in VR is going to have a problem,” says O’Luanaigh, “it’s not comfortable having the camera cut from one place to another, specifically if you go to a first person camera and you feel like you’re there.” So to solve this nDreams is telling the story through the eyes of the character, “We tell stories very much like Half Life did, where you’re moving around whilst the story is being told to you, whilst characters are talking to you, you’ve got free movement, and I think that works very nicely.”
The game is broken up into twelve chapters, each “about 20 to 30 minutes long,” giving players a natural way to break the game up, which is important at this early stage of VR where people need to get used to wearing an HMD for hours at a time. Also, coincidentally, 12 chapters that are 30 minutes each adds up to 360 minutes, a length that seems apropo to say the least.
The Assembly is looking to launch on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony Morpheus with the release of each of the HMDs. Speaking with O’Luanaigh, about the first of those headsets expected to arrive, the Vive, we learned that despite the platform’s room scale ability The Assembly will still be “the same cool game” on that platform. “What we won’t be doing is having full one to one walking around, because our Assembly is miles in size and we have corridors and rooms and things; there is no physical way we can map that one to one,” says O’Luanaigh, “the right approach is to have you static, rotating around, using your hands, and using the controllers to move around rather than actually having you physically move around the two mile size underground bunker which you’ll see just doesn’t work for most people. It wouldn’t work. The big difference is the control system and making sure it’s working really nicely and that’s something focused now.” So those looking to physically walk miles and miles around an underground bunker should look elsewhere.
We will be sure to continue to follow The Assembly as nDreams progresses towards its release hopefully later this year.