White Paper Games on Ether One: Staying Unique, VR and the Future
White Paper Games is gearing up to release its very first title at the end of this month. Ether One, a first-person, narrative-driven adventure, is due to arrive on PC on 25th March 2014, compete with support for the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset. The title puts players in the shoes of a Restorer, an agent that enters the minds of the mentally handicapped and attempts to restore them. It’s set in the mind of a client named Jean, where players will solve puzzles and uncover secrets in order to restore her memories.
VRFocus recently caught up with White Paper Games co-founder Pete Bottomley to talk about the impending release. The dev talks about what it’s like to implement Oculus Rift support into a title as well as how to ensure a videogame is unique and what the future might bring for the studio.
VRFocus: Where did the idea for Ether One come from?
Pete Bottomley: So we started off with a blank slate trying to decide what direction we wanted to take our studio in. We all find rich, narrative experiences the most rewarding when playing games, so that was definitely a focus. On top of that we also wanted to push visual styles and game design as a team, which would (hopefully!) stand up to AAA standards. The culmination of that, along with a lot of iteration (probably 4 games worth!) resulted in Ether One.
VRFocus: Were there any other titles that you’d count as inspirations for Ether One?
Pete Bottomley: We try not to let video games inspire us. I know that if there is a certain genre of video game that is similar to us that is released, then I won’t play that until we’ve finished Ether One. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of stuff on my list at the moment I REALLY want to play! It means that we hopefully have unique takes on our games design. We try to be inspired more by the life experiences around us, and also movies and books which we can adapt to be our own thing. Elements that I can’t help but be inspired by though are in titles such as Dishonored, Half-Life and Myst; which I think people will definitely pick up on in Ether One in terms of level and puzzle design.
VRFocus: What do you think VR brings to Ether One?
Pete Bottomley: Since we have quite an open game with a core path involving a purely narrative / explorative experience, Ether One works well in VR because it allows you to have a focused experience in around 4-5hrs. Since players at this stage generally only like using the rift for short periods, that approach works really well.
There is also a much deeper unfolding narrative, with optional puzzle solving throughout the core path, which can be anywhere between 9-12hrs of game time. So although that is the most interesting game path for Ether One, that may not be as suited for people wanting a shorter, more contained VR experience.
VRFocus: This is White Paper Games’ first title. Was it hard to make a VR focused title first?
Pete Bottomley: At the time, it definitely wasn’t a core goal to create Ether One for the rift. The rift implementation was around halfway through the development. Since the development kit for the Oculus Rift came with such good integration for UDK (Epic’s Unreal Development Kit), it only actually took us around 10-15 minutes before we were setup playing Ether One with the rift on! Obviously the base code wasn’t 100% set up for the game, and we’ve done a lot of fine tuning since then, but it definitely wasn’t a complicated process. We didn’t want to say anything about implementing the Oculus Rift for Ether One without first having played it, and making sure it was a good fit. The visual style of our game definitely feels great with VR, so we decided we wanted it to be a feature that Ether One shipped with.
VRFocus: Are there any risks in releasing a VR focused game when the Oculus Rift is yet to be released to consumers?
Pete Bottomley: I don’t really see it as a risk. People without a VR headset will still have the exact experience we’ve designed and created for the player. VR is purely an additional immersive tool to make you feel like you’re part of the world. It feels really interesting to play Ether One with an Oculus Rift, however I don’t think the experience is anything less without one.
VRFocus: Do you see the team sticking to making VR projects in the future?
Pete Bottomley: It honestly depends on the type of game we want to design next. I do have a few ideas about our next project, and if VR works well for it we will definitely include it. However if we feel like it isn’t the right fit, we wouldn’t include it just for a gimmicky marketing spin. I also don’t think at this early implementation of modern VR, we would design a game purely to only work for VR – I would definitely see that as a risk in the current environment.
VRFocus: When can we expect to hear more about future White Paper Games titles?
Pete Bottomley: We have a few more weeks left of the Ether One development which will be released on March 25th 2014. We’ll then possibly look into doing a console version if we feel like we can do a good enough job, and if it’s affordable for us to do, since we don’t want to outsource anything. In the meantime, we’ll also get prototyping a new game idea and see what direction that takes us in.
VRFocus: Another article recently mentioned that you were interested in bringing the game to PS4. Would you like to bring it to the rumoured VR headset?
Pete Bottomley: I’ve honestly done very little research on console VR and wouldn’t even like to speculate what may be going on behind the scenes. But obviously if the technology was available, and it was affordable for us to do, then I would see no reason not to. But I can imagine such things having quite a large cost attached to them, which would probably put it out of our scope financially.
VRFocus: Is there space for VR on the new consoles?
Pete Bottomley: I believe so. I can definitely see people sat on their couches at home playing a game with VR as it works great with a gamepad. I also believe that VR will grow to include much more social aspects, along with including things like extended desktops, so that people can quickly access different applications. So from a purely practical use I can imagine it taking off. I’m sure we’re still quite a few years away from that though.