In its current state, one could be forgiven for passing by Red Meat Games’ First Impact: Rise of a Hero. It’s in a pre-alpha build right now, with the bare bones of the mechanics and powers in place behind the superhero virtual reality sim. It’s meant to gather data for the actual game’s production. Still, they have demonstrated an eye for VR with the release of Bloxiq VR, and are determined to create a true game for VR headsets that takes advantage of all of the control options available on VR specific wands, empowering players to smite evil doers with metahuman powers. We caught up Keith Makse, CEO for the company, and spoke to him about his company’s goals and ambitions, as well as the future of virtual reality gaming. He is an extremely amiable fellow, who is thrilled to speak about the potentials of his company with a smile on his face and a “isn’t this cool!” attitude that makes him a very interesting interview. He is just excited to try new things out and wants to share what he has found with the world. Oh and Eternal Darkness fans should definitely check out the last part.
[Hardcore Gamer] So, you have said in the past that you were inspired to explore VR ever since you played Dactyl Terror back in the ’90’s. Was it the rise of consumer grade VR that convinced you to start making full games?
[Keith Makse] It was a couple of different things. I’ve always been trying to be as cutting edge as possible. We’ve done a few innovative mobile titles in the freemium space. The quality of (the current mobile market) is really good. With the mobile game industry, I wasn’t feeling a good fit in regards to how we conduct our business and marry it to the business models there. So I wanted to get more into the premium titles and get more back to my roots, which was console based gaming. I originally started working in AAA. The first game I worked on was a horror game called Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. We’re actually working on a horror game, as well, based on all of that. In regards to VR, we wanted to make sure that we got in as early with the commercial rise of the technology, as well as the market. Before the AAA studios get behind VR, there need to be really small games to help mature the market.
That’s the bear of it. I commented that there aren’t many games, because the market hasn’t heavy adopted the technology, and the technology isn’t being adopted because there aren’t many games.
This is where it comes in as a bit of a chicken and egg situation. We need the technology and we need the content. This is where the Canada Media Fund (a group that makes investments in the arts) is really helpful, because they are funding this in a major way that allows us to get the game out the door as much much longer form experience than any other (VR) game, a more complex game. One that I think the market is striving to achieve; to consume. I would say Space Pirate Trainer is my personal favorite right now and right after that would be Vanishing Realms. So I have a game which gives me roughly 10-15 minutes in Space Pirate Trainer, and Vanishing Realms was a great story, but I already finished it. Everything else still feels like almost a tech demo. So, I think, people are looking for a longer experience. Because of that, we were proud to team up with Blot Interactive and release their game Bloxiq as a VR title. They were already a PlayStation Vita exclusive title, then they went to mobile. I took a look at it and said, “Guys, this is a great game for VR.” It’s a very simple puzzle game, the building of it was simple. The port of it was simple. The game itself is very challenging. I mean, “IQ” is in the name on purpose. But, it has 100 levels in it, it has a lot of content. We took a look at what some other people are putting out on VR, and it’s ridiculous. They’r charging $15 dollars for a tech demo. So, we’re putting this full game out for $15. Rise of a Hero, I think, is going to go at a much higher price point because of the amount of investment in it and the amount of content that will be in it.
One of the things I noticed (during my demo of Rise of a Hero) is that the pace of movement is very deliberate. It’s not like other games where you can just teleport or blink from place to place to avoid motion sickness. You actually have free range, to the point where you can fly high in the sky and just drop yourself, and it’s not going to affect a lot of people. How much tuning and testing would you say went into that?
That’s where having a VR consultant on our team has been very helpful. Part of the research out there is that creating a layer of abstraction behind having an ultra-realistic looking game will create a higher sense of motion sickness. For us, by having it in that cel shaded art style really helps us out in a major way. We have had, from taking it to many comic cons all summer long, we have had over 1,000 demos of people testing it out. I would say that there’s still somewhat of a percentage, maybe 2-5%, of people who just put it on and say “Nope, this isn’t for me. I feel sick.” We have some canaries in the coal mine. Some people just can’t use it without getting sick. It’s like when first person shooters first came out. I used to suffer migraines when I watched it too long. I found that if I paced myself and built up a tolerance, then I could actually get through that. The same thing with VR sickness, which is different than motion sickness. Motion sickness I can trigger by moving a camera without your control. Like if I turn the camera to the left and your head stays straight, your brain won’t compute. If I drop the frame rate below 90 per second (the same thing will happen.) Time after time after time, this will happen. That’s why having someone dedicated to researching this will help us out.
We also do have teleportation and super speed that will be in (Rise of a Hero.) Super speed could cause motion sickness. What we are going to be doing is tracking each of these powers can figuring out what is most heavily used. We are probably going to find that flight or teleportation will be the most used, because people are going to go with the ability that they naturally feel comfortable with. For me. there’s a lot that went into choosing this pitch. Part of that is that I wanted to tap into base psychology. There’s the dream of flying. Everybody wants to fly. There are games like Eagle Flight that allow you to go really fast, and they do some really cool things on it to prevent you from getting motion sickness, like darkening out the side of the screen. I wanted to make sure that we are tapping into that as much as our ideas about superheroes.
We also try to adapt other aspects of psychology like power poses. Take a look at the movie The Incredibles. It’s not about animation. It’s about posing, and then going between the animations. Like, you have Mr. Incredible, who is taking this very specific power pose throughout the movie, and those power poses are ones that we actually tap into. (Puts his fist to his hips to demonstrate.) This has been proven that it’s not actually a power pose, it really helps your own psychology feel like you are more powerful; like you can take on the world. You chest goes out and you feel awesome. We want to use those same poses in our game to activate powers. Like, when you cross your arms over your chest, it brings up this earth wall in front of you. You feel like “Damn, I’m like Magneto. I can lift things with my mind.” It’s awesome.
We have to be careful with it, though. There’s powers like Gorilla Arm. We don’t want people to repeat the same gesture outwards fifty times because their arm would get tired.
You’ve definitely done your research. Now the demo I played was a sandbox. There’s four powers, some bad guys to knock around. It’s there to get in, check it out, and that’s it. You mentioned that there’s going to be a story, asteroids crashing into Earth, and the hero needs to discover the origin of his powers. Now, asteroids are dangerous and all, but what will we be looking at for a villain?
We’re not ready to reveal that yet, but I can tell you about something else. I am a big fan of the Marvel Team-Up comics and we actually do a team up with another superpowered person, because we realized that you can’t be the only one. It actually challenges the role of a superhero. We’re trying to create a more modern style as far as story, with modern geopolitical touches. We want to talk about foreign policy and science (from a political spectrum agnostic point of view.)
What is one thing you wish you could bring up about your game that you haven’t had a chance to?
I’ve always been focusing on the research. That’s one of the areas where we really pride ourselves: we’ve done our homework. We’re not just creating VR because it’s the next coolest thing. All of the games we are doing is based on, not only the research, but seeing how the research applies on a larger scale. All of this research that has been done the last 25 years has been done through academia and health. People are actually finding out that some results are different than expected (in wide application.) So, we are also double checking all of the research. I also really want to talk about our horror game.
The title is called Bring to Light. We’re working on a demo that should be ready at the end of September. The idea is that my producer and I were two of the original designers on Eternal Darkenss: Sanity’s Requiem. I wanted to go back to that psychological horror. Bring to Light is sort of that Cthulu-esque style. We have the Avatar of Darkness and we hear about him and these terrible things, and these shadow creatures. The game is all about solving these light based puzzles in virtual reality. There’s a lot of exploration and navigation that goes on, too. Part of is that we also want to skirt the edges of sanity for the player. We want to put (the player) into the shadows. To add that unease. By doing that, it will reward you. You’ll have whispers in the back of your head using positional audio that can give hints on how to complete puzzles. But, the longer you’re in there, the more likely you are to be turned into a shadow monster. So, you have to balance that out and cleanse yourself of a shadow energy that can bring more monsters towards you.
Another cool part, is that we won a contest with Microsoft Canada with a game that have a trivia component. It used this tool called D.A.I.SY, which stands for distributive AI system. The way it works is that we can modify gameplay in real time by using the player’s behavior. So, in out trivia game, what was happening is that if you are answering questions, and you couldn’t answer anything about 1940’s baseball, it would stop give you questions (on that topic.) And then if it notices that you answered a lot of comic book questions, it would give you more. The database was big enough to work with.
So, with this horror game we will get the information from your heart rate. So, we’ll strap on a heart rate monitor and find out how scared you are and then scare you more. So, some of it will be based on jump scares, and others will be psychologically terrifying, atmospheric tension. The goal is to take what has been done before with Eternal Darkness and marry it to modern technology, while calling out misuse of technology. The narrative hasn’t been fully sketched out yet, but we do have a doctoral candidate whose background is in fiction and virtual reality, and how the systems work together on a biometric basis. We might put it directly into Early Access later this month, but aren’t sure yet. We just want to make sure that there is something to experience first.