From the very moment that news began to emerge that major manufacturers were testing the waters with VR again, there was very little doubt that people were enticed by the prospects of VR and filled with a sense of optimism about its short- and long-term impact. While there are some skeptics out there in regards to VR’s success — and rightfully so, especially for something that has such high expectations surrounding it — headsets like PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are already creating a buzz about the new era that VR can potentially usher in for the gaming industry. Perhaps it’s for this reason why some gaming studios have devoted so much of their resources into building titles exclusively for VR, with one such developer being Secret Sorcery.
Based in the North West of England, Secret Sorcery was formed in April 2015 and its development team includes former members of Rage Software and Driveclub developer Evolution Studios. In March 2016, the UK-based gaming studio announced that it had formed a partnership with Sony, making Secret Sorcery’s debut IP an exclusive for PlayStation VR.
Hardcore Gamer caught up with Scott Kirkland, managing director at Secret Sorcery, who shared his valuable insight on VR, a history of Secret Sorcery’s formation and the direction that the studio is planning to take, partnering with Sony and also teasing what the developer’s unannounced IP will offer on a potentially competitive VR market.
[Hardcore Gamer] Okay, let’s begin with a brief history on Secret Sorcery: how did the studio come into existence?
[Scott Kirkland] Secret Sorcery was conceived in the spring of 2015. Alan McDermott, Ian Moran, Craig Beeston and I — all pioneering games industry veterans — had been working together at Evolution [Studios] on concepts, technology and prototypes for PlayStation VR. Ian had created an early Driveclub PSVR proof of concept, while Alan and Craig had been working on an original PSVR concept and prototype that the Sony execs really liked.
Based on our findings, we all passionately believed that virtual reality was going to be a major game changer for interactive entertainment. Unfortunately, Evolution’s racing pedigree meant that creative opportunities outside of this genre were rather limited.
When the opportunity arose to establish ourselves as an indie VR studio, we had no hesitation in taking the leap of faith. Driven by creativity and a desire to make VR universally enjoyable, concepting and rapid prototyping ensued. Three weeks after moving into our office, we took our first gameplay prototype to E3 in Los Angeles!
How big is the actual studio? How many developers currently work at Secret Sorcery?
We currently occupy around 1600 square feet with the capacity for further growth. This includes a VR playroom and a wall of windows overlooking a lake!
As of this week, we have fourteen superstar developers in the studio, many of whom had VR experience prior to joining us. We also have a number of awesome creatives working with us remotely, including Espen Sætervik (a concept artist who lives on a mountain in Norway) and Kenny Young (of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway fame), who’s not only lending his craft to the audio presentation, but is also composing the music for our game!
It’s an exciting team that’s thrumming with creative energy! We couldn’t have wished for better.
Out of curiosity, was there a particular reason that Secret Sorcery ended up being based in the North West of England rather than somewhere down south?
The North West of England has played an important part in the games industry, hosting many successful and innovative developers and publishers over the years. Sadly, in recent times, we’ve seen far too many of these great studios close their doors, but there’s still a considerable talent pool in the area and they’ve been busy!
Along with a growing number of creative start-ups, we’re delighted to have participated in and provided an outlet for this regional resurgence. The North West game development scene is very much in the ascendancy!
Which developers/studios have acted as significant influencers on the team at Secret Sorcery?
We’re all gamers with gaming families, so there’s no shortage of inspiration! While it has no bearing on our creative direction, we’ve all enjoyed watching the progress of the guys at Owlchemy Labs.
Owlchemy Labs’ Job Simulator is a real showcase for VR hand interaction and social integration. We’ve also enjoyed spending time with and learning from Lucky’s Tale (Playful Corp), Land’s End (UsTwo), Eve: Valkyrie (CCP Games) and Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments/David Braben).
What is it about VR that made Secret Sorcery use it at the heart of its debut title?
VR is the only medium that allows us to totally immerse players in our virtual worlds. It makes you feel as if you’re actually there, inside our creation, rather than sitting on your sofa and staring at a 2D screen. It’s provided an unparalleled sense of scale and paves the way for much greater emotional connection.
This interview continues on page two, as Kirkland discusses Secret Sorcery’s collaboration with Sony, the closure of studios in the UK gaming industry and how the developer’s debut VR title will stand out from its competition.