Nostalgia hits different in VR; it can recreate not only the things that what you once loved, but also the environment you were in when you loved it. There’s no better example of that all-encompassing nostalgia than Pixel Ripped 1995.
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Our rose-colored memories of how things used to be are a powerful force in their own right. But, blind to the world, headphones over your ears, tracking controllers mirroring the movement of your real-world hands, VR is more than just normal nostalgia.
“We have, as developers, the possibility to recreate other memories, not just the game itself, but the interaction of playing that game in that period, how it felt to play a game when I was in my bedroom at night and I had to hide the game from my mom,” says Ana Ribeiro, an indie developer at Brazilian VR studio, Arvore Immersive Experiences.
Ribeiro isn’t just referencing a common experience that many players share. She’s citing an actual example from Pixel Ripped 1995, which launched on Steam, PSVR and Quest earlier this year. Ribeiro was creative director on Pixel Ripped 1995 as well as 2018’s Pixel Ripped 1989, a similarly nostalgia-driven VR game.
Drawing Nostalgia During Development
In Pixel Ripped 1995, players assume the perspective of David, an American kid growing up in the 1990s, who is faced with a dilemma: he wants to play video games all the time and his mom doesn’t want him to play video games all the time.
This conflict is gamified in a few different ways. During one section, David uses a Nerf gun to shoot objects on the kitchen counter, using the sound to distract his mother. In another bit, David is sneaking in some gaming time in his room at night. But, his parents are asleep in the next room, and if he doesn’t manage to stop playing before his mom wakes up and barges into the room, she’ll turn the console off.
Throughout this process, players see the world through David’s eyes. The left and right tracking controllers become David’s hands, cradling the in-game controller. Pixel Ripped 1995 presents the experience of playing a game within a game.
“Because of the power of immersion we have with VR, we have a much stronger nostalgic experience, because you’re putting yourself in that world and we can explore all those little things,” Ribeiro says. “Having to deal with parents or people who don’t want you to be playing games. Things that people can relate to. Every gamer has memories of struggling to play games, because we always have to be so productive, right?”
Arvore drew on the diverse experiences of its team for this collection of memories. Ribeiro alludes to the childhood experience of Arvore CEO, Ricardo Justus, who was friends with the game’s art director, Rodrigo Blanco, while growing up.
“They were telling us, ‘Oh remember that time we were playing Final Fantasy and we had to play in the night, hiding from our parents because we had to get up, and we had no electricity from the room so [we] had to get electricity from the [bathroom] and someone closed the [bathroom] door and pulled the cord from the game and we lost all their progress and [we] had to play the whole Final Fantasy game again because it didn’t have the memory card?’” Ribeiro says.
“So we kind of tried to put everyone on the team’s memories [in the game],” she says. “And I think that really helped to make the game more relatable.”
Representing Diverse Genres
Arvore created this collage of memories in hopes of providing a “time machine” for nostalgic players.
“That was the reason why I created the game, and I’m happy this is still what shines the most in the game: the power of transporting people to their childhoods,” Ribeiro says. “I’m happy that it actually ended up being one of the best things about the game because it was the first inspiration I had when I started building this game. I wanted to make a time machine and I wanted to relive moments of childhood because I grew up in the ‘80s, and we’re never going to have this explosion in the industry like we had [then].”
Of course, the proliferation of new games in new genres provided challenges as Arvore attempted to distill a wide variety of nostalgic memories into one 3-5 hour game. Not everyone is nostalgic for the same things. You might have spent the ‘90s honing your beat-em-up skills in brawlers like Streets of Rage. I might have spent my time riding the sprawling plains of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda.
The small team at Arvore had to somehow make a game that hit nostalgia pressure points for as many players as possible. All while making their genre tributes fun to play in their own right. According to Ribeiro, that limited the depth of what Arvore could do with each.
“We can say that we reference a Streets of Rage, beat-em-up game,” Ribeiro says. “But, we cannot say that that’s a really, really good beat-em-up game like we want it to be, because we couldn’t explore each genre deep. So the beauty of the game is when you put it all together. But, if you have one of these levels separated and released as a full game, we wouldn’t be happy. We wouldn’t explore as much as we wanted, you know? But, putting it all together, I think it’s a big achievement.”
But, what makes Pixel Ripped 1995 unique is not just its recreation of ‘90s genres. It’s the way it uses VR to allow you to dip into the various locations from the era that aren’t as prevalent today.
“There were some locations — like the pier or the arcade and the rental store — that have that nostalgic feel, that [as] gamers, we all remember, like, ‘Wow, I’m going to the rental store.’ But, other locations, like the car, it was more related to let’s bring back those memories of being a kid,” Ribeiro says. “We all remember being in the back of the car… I had three brothers, so I would usually go in the back of the car and I remember looking out the window. So we wanted to [capture] that feeling of being a kid, and that feeling of imaging things happening, like when you start seeing Tetris blocks everywhere when you play too much Tetris.”
Recreating diverse locations helped the team to keep the game feeling fresh. Pixel Ripped 1989’s locations were pretty limited by contrast, taking place entirely in a school.
“But in 1995 we really wanted to explore [and] make more environments. The nostalgia you can bring [with] different environments, it’s so much stronger than if [you’re] in the same place, right?” Ribeiro says.
“And we can explore much more interesting things with VR when you change environments, change the set-up, change where the characters are coming from. ‘The mom is coming from that corridor and we can explore that.’ The main reason, of course, is nostalgia, [but] also it adds to the gameplay, adds to the overall experience, that feeling of progress when you go to a new environment.”
The Future Of Arvore’s Nostalgia
With Pixel Ripped 1995 completed, Arvore can begin looking to the future of nostalgia. The team still has a lot of ground to cover. Ribeiro says there are plans to hit 1978, 1983, and 1999 at some point down the line. There’s even a tease for the next game hidden in 1995. But, the team isn’t only looking to span time periods. They also want Pixel Ripped to span time zones. 1989, which Ribeiro began developing while in school in England, is set in the UK. And 1995 takes aim at the ‘90s in America. That’s great for those audiences, but neither game has given the team the opportunity to explore all the specifics of their own nostalgia in Brazil.
“At some point, we definitely want to set one in Brazil, because there is so much we want to explore and I think we could make something so amazing with the experience we have being Brazilian, it would be ridiculous not to explore that,” Ribeiro says. “We had this console called [the] Phantom System [and] it was just released here… This console actually is my favorite console. I grew up saying this is my favorite console, but no one knows about this console [outside Brazil]… It was a console released in Brazil in the period that Nintendo wasn’t releasing games here.”
Developed by Gradiente, the Phantom System was an NES clone that could play NES games. But, it didn’t look anything like the NES.
“You would play with controllers that were exactly like SEGA Genesis. It was bizarre. So you would be playing Nintendo games, and also they had Brazilian games just released here,” says Ribeiro. “You could play with Sega Genesis controllers, it looked like an Atari and it played Nintendo games.”
So, while Pixel Ripped 1995 serves up an immersive experience of American-inspired ‘90s nostalgia, it will be interesting to see Arvore dive deep on the intricacies of Brazilian bootleg culture perhaps sometime soon. 1995 hits hard on my nostalgia. But, I can’t wait to see Arvore fully explore their own.
Pixel Ripped 1995 is available on Steam for PC VR headsets, the PSN Store for PSVR, and the Oculus store for Oculus Quest for $19.99 on all platforms. You can read our full review of the game here and watch a previous interview with Ribeiro from our UploadVR Holiday VR Showcase in 2019 here.