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Exclusive: ‘ROM: Extraction’ Is The Debut VR Shooter From ‘Call of Duty’ Vets, First Contact

by David Jagneaux • November 11th, 2016

Think of a Call of Duty game that was released in the past decade and not only have one of the two dozen or so developers at First Contact, probably worked on it, but they also probably have the box art framed on one of the walls in their Santa Monica, CA studio.

In addition to Activision’s flagship franchise and working at both Infinity Ward and Treyarch over the years, senior leadership at the company have backgrounds with companies like Blizzard and Starbreeze as well. It doesn’t get a whole lot more AAA than World of Warcraft and COD. When we first broke the news about First Contact’s initial investment, Hess Barber, Co-Founder and President of the company, told us that they wanted to create more “expansive” VR content by taking “proven mechanics and added some new ones to create a very unique and enjoyable gameplay combo.”

After going hands-on with their debut game, ROM: Extraction, I can confirm that they’ve done exactly that.

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“We built the original prototype for ROM: Extraction in just a week,” says Barber during my visit. “It’s been polished a ton since then obviously, but the core of it’s functionally is the same. We came up with this really addictive combination of mechanics in the first week and just ran with it.” Barber was joined by First Contact’s Vice President, Josh Ochoa, and Director of Community Management, Jessica Ward, during our interview and tour of the studio.

Whereas a lot of developers may workshop a world first, then build a game to fit into that setting, the team at First Contact opted for the reverse. With how visceral and immersive VR can be, they decided to hone in and perfect a particular gameplay loop from the outset, then build a concept around that core mechanic. In doing so, everything in the experience feeds into itself to enhance the gameplay.

It’s simple, but incredibly engaging. From the outset, you choose a dominant shooting hand — right hand for me — and are given a pistol that shoots quick laser bullets with a satisfying ‘pew’ sound. In my left hand is where the real magic happens. With the press of a button, I can spawn a bright, glowing orb. If I throw the orb, it bounces around walls like a supercharged pinball and if I shoot it out of the air it emits a massive burst of energy as it explodes. But the real catch here is that, not only can I throw and shoot orbs, but I can slow down time as well. Simple to pick up, not too complex, but addicting and fun like a classic arcade shooter. In ROM: Extraction, this is the secret sauce.

“That’s the heart of the game mechanic: spawn, throw, slow, shoot,” says Barber. “You get into a rhythm with it eventually and it has a very distinct look when you’re just watching someone play the game inside the headset. That’s the magic. We found out it was fun as hell and wanted to build something around that specifically.”

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“The premise of the universe is that in the next several years humans are on the moon digging for diamonds and other resources,” explains Barber. “They unearth these chambers that look like a nesting ground almost, kind of like where a turtle would lay its eggs, and they find these orbs around the size of baseballs. They discovered that if these things were dropped, or hit, they started to ignite internally, bounce around, and explode. Naturally, us humans decide to weaponize them.”

In ROM: Extraction, everything takes place several decades in the future from the initial mining and humans have established an entire industry around the orbs. Earth’s moon is eventually depleted, so we venture out to other moons to continue scavenging. That is, until the aliens have had enough of us capturing and destroying their eggs.

In the feature image at the top of this article you can get a glimpse of what the aliens might look like in ROM: Extraction. I say might because that isn’t an alien actually — it’s a robot they’ve built. Just like humans create cyborgs and robots that look like other humans, the aliens have created these robots in their likeness as well. So while we don’t get to see the aliens yet, we have a pretty good idea of what they may look like. They deploy these robots to try and stave off our harvest, a sign you’d think would be enough to turn us away.

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For my demo, it was a simple level that’s reminiscent of games I’ve already played before, but the orbs add a bombastic twist that’s hard to explain without experiencing. I’m standing in the center of a sci-fi console platform within a circular room as a timer ticks down. I can’t move around the environment at all, but I can maneuver around my physical room space. Enemies start to emerge, opening fire on me from all around. It’s a multi-tier level as some enemies sulk on the ground floor, peeking out from behind cover, and others take aim from the safety of windows above me. My instincts kick in.

Drawing my right arm up, I open fire and rapidly blast robots with my pistol, only to notice it takes a dozen or more shots to defeat even a single one. As I should have expected, the standard pistol isn’t very effective. So I pull my left arm back, throw an orb, slow time, and blast it just as it nears the head of one of my adversaries — then my jaw falls open. The huge explosion rendered in sl0-mo sends the robot cartwheeling across the environment using glorious rag doll animations. A smile creeps onto my face as it clicks for me; never mind the fact that I’m exploding alien fetuses to defeat an army of hostile robots, these explosion are incredible.

Some robots are crouching down behind pillars, but no worries, I throw an orb, wait for it to pass the pillar and — BOOM! — dead. Power-ups start to appear around me — some make the orbs stick, some make them split off into other orbs, and some result in deadly streaks behind them as they bounce. Before I know it I feel like a mixture between Gambit from X-Men throwing orbs instead of cards and Deadpool, bending and dodging bullets as I mow down my enemies. After the three minutes are up, my platform descends downward towards what I can only assume is the next phase of the mission: actually extracting orbs.

What I played was a brief and exciting glimpse into the world that First Contact is building. There are plans for an exciting asynchronous cooperative multiplayer experience, various maps, new enemy types, more weapons, unique power-ups, and more. So while what I played was just the beginning, it could grow and expand exponentially from here.

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First Contact is planning to release the first phase of ROM: Extraction later this year onto Steam, with regular content updates planned every one or two months into next year. It’s a good business model that has been working for other VR studios, as long as the updates are meaningful. While I came away impressed with the polish and quality of the experience I saw, it’s far from the “expansive VR play that mixes real gaming and narrative content” that they originally alluded to when their investment was announced. But Barber assures me they’re working on expanding ROM: Extraction and debuting other, larger projects as well. Unfortunately, First Contct was not ready to show gameplay footage of ROM: Extraction the game at this time, but a teaser trailer is slated to release in the coming weeks.

ROM: Extraction is scheduled to release later this year for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with regular updates throughout the next several months. They’re interested in bringing the experience to PS VR as well, as long as they can preserve the 360-gameplay with the limited tracking of Sony’s headset.

You can keep up with First Contact and ROM: Extraction through the official website and following the company on Facebook and Twitter. Check the Steam page for more details.

  • Mane Fit

    there was no talk of locomotion. is it just teleport or will there be the option for traditional movement. this is important info in if I will be putting my money up for this game

    • Angelo Overmeier

      Yeah pretty weird that he hasn’t mentioned anything about it.

      • Mane Fit

        I hate how they hide this and those of us who don’t want to play a game teleporting around sometime don’t find out we don’t get the option not to till after we spent our money. I for one refuse to buy any games till I know if there is multi-locomotion option in the game

        • I didn’t hide anything:
          “I can’t move around the environment at all, but I can maneuver around my physical room space.”

          You stand still.

          • Mane Fit

            what? really? I was thinking that was just the start of the stage. this is worse than teleporting. now I know i’m not buying this game

        • Uncle

          Same here, if we wont push back and the Nausea clans wins, every VR game will be either on-rails, standing still or teleporting/blinking.
          I wont buy such games.

          • Mane Fit

            just how I see it if we don’t fight back in the early days of vr we’ll be stuck will these kind of game…

      • I did mention it:
        “I can’t move around the environment at all, but I can maneuver around my physical room space.”

        You stand still.

        • Angelo Overmeier

          Oops sorry accidentally mussed that!

          To bad 🙁

        • Buddydudeguy

          ie: wave shooter. Lame 🙁

        • Nicholas

          So…yet another wave shooter with robots. How original. Next.

        • talos

          i understand designer trepidation regarding action oriented movement in VR. but gamers will adjust to movement in VR (balance, motion sickness), just like people adjust to life below decks onboard a ship at sea. just do it (motion controls), and if the game is good enough, we’ll make it work.

        • DougP

          With all of the grumbling about “wave shooters” & lacking trackpad/teleport locomotion, I understand this design decision for some games.
          Additionally, it seems apparent that this approach is a benefit for larger room-scale games.
          Whereas teleport/trackpad locomotion tend to root players in place, just using controller to move about….which can also be immersion breaking (/less immersive) as they’re not physically moving their bodies about.

    • sirlance

      No locomotion… no buy…im not going to teleport around playing any first person game…vanishing realms was the exception just because it was one of the first vive games I purchased…

      • RoJoyInc

        that is a good one. The teleport actually works pretty nice in that – you can do it so fast it feels like walking.

    • Alan Scott

      Arizona Sunshine looked good for this

  • Doctor Bambi

    Hmm, I’ll look forward to seeing some gameplay footage. The concept seems pretty interesting, but throwing a globby ball thing and exploding it sounds to me like it could get repetitive fairly quickly. Obviously the team is still working out what all they want to do with it, but hopefully they expand the idea and give it some more depth.

    It would be interesting to have the characteristics of the ball evolve over the course of the game, like maybe later down the line, the balls become sticky and if you stick an enemy, you can mind control them for a few seconds. Or perhaps others could be thrown at the ground to form barriers to help mitigate incoming fire. Or, since these ball things are actually alien fetuses, you could hold onto one for a time and it hatches and become your little henchmen. And now I’m just rambling.

  • Mario

    Thanks for the article.

    The best part about VR, for me at the moment, is how you don’t really know what to expect. This is changing how we think when creating content for VR which naturally will evolve into something we would have never thought of before. This goes from what is fun in a shooting game to making high level education accessible and affordable for anyone with a VR capable device and an internet connection.

    The possibilities.. I would say are endless but that doesn’t really do it justice. The possibilities even if limited, have the potential to change the world but most of all, unite the world in a way that truly hits the human spirit.

  • Pistol Pete

    I’ll be buying this for sure!

  • xebat

    What is it with all these Robot VR shooter games ? How about creating alternatives for Onward ?

    • Ken

      Graphics are limited because of minimum FPS limits and resolution. It’s easier to have a bunch of robots on screen than passable human characters.

      • James Butlin

        Not really

        • LIV

          Well that, and.. capping a real person looking person in the face right now using the same motions you would with a real gun… scares game developers.

          • tbray

            yeah that’s the thing – we think kids are desensitized now, VR could open up a whole new level of detachment.

          • Janus Kramer Møller

            I saw the review of DOOM in VR and it was an orgy of bloodspatter and literally ripping heads of with your bare hands. This can’t be good for anyone.

  • Jamie Barth Ball

    Aside from the alien theme, I am pumped to get my hands on this. It sounds like it has extraordinary graphics! I am familiar with Barber’s work and it does not disappoint!

  • RoJoyInc

    Now raw data? (I have it and I’ve played it about 15 minutes once) On the other hand I’ve had elite about the same amount of time and I have around 150 hours in it. It worries me when I read “we had the original concept coded in a week”. I would LOVE to have a COD game in VR… Even gamepad/keyboard/mouse movement intact. I’m not into the point n click to go there movement system in most games.
    If it’s another wave shooter… I’ll pass. I have over 150 VR games and finally got a clue. I said NO MORE JUNK… I don’t play it. I demo it once and move on. I am enjoying Titanfall 2 – even with no VR. Since VR is best suited for cockpits… where are the MECH games?!?! Room scale and motion controllers are (gimmicky and fun to TRY) but when I game I want to lean back up my feet up and relax. I found Damaged Core to be interesting concept for motion. (I use revive on my VIVE). It’s one of the better titles. Still I’ve played about 40 minutes and have gone back to elite.

    • Denny Overlordd

      “I have over 150 VR games and finally got a clue. I said NO MORE JUNK” “I would LOVE to have a COD game in VR” and you’re still playing elite dangerous?brah, have you even seen onward? you couldnt ask for anything more real and COD like.

    • Tom Foolious

      Onward is somewhat COD…you won’t want to run and gun, but it has the military simulation aspect nailed down.

  • wheeler

    * no locomotion, not even teleport
    * robots
    * waves
    * “we had the original concept coded in a week”
    * “That’s the heart of the game mechanic: spawn, throw, slow, shoot”

    Wow, reading this I almost thought it was a parody of today’s VR content situation. You’d think former CoD developers would be tired of rehashing the same tired concept over and over. But nope, let’s get the most unambitious thing we can think of out to consumers starving for content in the shortest amount of time. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    • So true. Trite news and trite content.

    • Matthew Wilson

      Moving is hard in VR. Most people get sick after about 5 minutes.

      • Newbtastic

        Have you played Onward? It’s probably the most popular VR multiplayer game (maybe just for pure shooters) and it uses trackpad locomotion. Most people actually seem totally OK with it. I couldn’t use trackpad locomotion in Vivecraft, but after playing Onward I can use trackpad in anything. It’s amazing. Somehow that game was able to train my brain to get used to it without ever going through a sick period.

      • dave hug

        no one has figured out simply jumping or dashing instead of porting everywhere is more practical without the motion sickness. The trick is to not feel like you are moving at a walking pace.

      • Gilbert

        Not sure what rink-a-dink VR headset your using. Get out of here.

  • laast

    To all the people asking “Why another VR robots shooter?”, the answer is pretty simple: manufacturers and devs don’t want people to kill humans in VR. Destroy robots, zombies, or whatever you want, but no humans. At least on a realistic way.

    They don’t want to give a bad advertising for VR content, and I do think they’re right.

    • Nicholas

      No, it’s because zombies and robots are cheap and easy to animate without complex motion capture rigs (which presumably puts them out of reach for indie devs). They really need to start coming up with some different ideas to the formulaic wave shooter that’s now saturating the VR market (I’m sure it’ll impress the Touch fanatics when that gets released….for a short while anyway). But if they can’t improve on Space Pirate Trainer, Brookhaven, or Raw Data, then they really should stop wasting their time.

    • polysix

      “manufacturers and devs don’t want people to kill humans in VR.”

      LOL. No, it’s not, it’s really not. It’s as the other guy said. Robots are easy to make for indies.

  • LIV

    The game with the most potential in my opinion is “The Art of Fight”, but that game is pretty buggy, bad textures and not enough players. You get into a good Deathmatch in that game though, you feel the future of Esports.

  • Dexter

    Yup, my last hope has gone. I just sold my Vive.

  • Tom Foolious

    So…They are making their own version of Raw Data? With a different storyline/universe? Not exactly one of a kind as the author makes it seem to be…Raw Data has shooting, slowing down time, throwing orbs (shooting orbs, but no bouncing) and it is a wave shooter. Raw Data also has teleportation…

  • flavortang

    Another shooter… *sigh*

  • JustNiz

    Great. Yet another zero depth robot wave shooter.

  • AW Concentrates

    they need to make a better version of onward with a co op campaign and maps like a small version of planetside and hell let ppl grind killing monsters etc for upgrades
    and if i cant move around in a game its not real vr in my eyes as wave shooters are kinda a joke