Despite the lack of a consumer headset, we’ve already become used to a lot of locations with virtual reality (VR) videogames. Be it haunted mansions, cyberpunk futures or the cockpits of advanced spaceships, we’ve yet to see a truly diverse landscape establish itself. It’s something of a relief, then, to look upon the snowy peaks and cabins of Kôna‘s Northern Quebec.
Currently running a Kickstarter campaign in search of funding, indie developer Parabole seems to be onto something promising with Kôna. This is a first-person adventure title that, like many others, takes a little inspiration from 2013’s Gone Home, but quickly establishes its own identity with its unique setting and intriguing premise. Players will control a private detective initially called in to investigate vandalism to a rich industrialist’s summer home, only to arrive on the scene and find it deserted.
VRFocus recently spoke to Parabole’s Alexandre Fiset about Kôna. In the interview below the developer discusses everything from the development philosophy to support for the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display (HMD). A demo of Kôna can currently be downloaded for free over on the crowd-funding page, and is compatible with the Oculus Rift.
VRFocus: Where did the idea for Kôna come from?
Alexandre Fiset: It all started last winter here in Quebec. Max, my co-worker, coded a snowmobile vehicle just for fun during his spare time. It was basically a quick demo of a snowmobile moving on a terrain with no texture. We really enjoyed this quick demo, so we started brainstorming about what world could possibly be built around that.
We pitched ideas and added various things in the scene. At some point, it looked so good that we decided to allocate all our resources in building the snowy world. We also contacted one of our friends, David Bélanger, who happens to be a professional writer. He helped us design the character and add a context to the game’s world. We also announced on Facebook that we were looking for a band to do the music for the game. CuréLabel, a folk-rock band from Quebec, quickly replied to us.
At that point, things slowly evolved in what became Kôna, a survival-adventure game.
VRFocus: You’ve made it clear that Kôna won’t hold player’s hands with waypoints etc. Why is this approach important to you?
Alexandre Fiset: Two years ago, I quit my job at Activision because I did not like the traditional way of designing games. In these big companies (Activision, Ubisoft, EA, Nintendo), everything is built for the mass market. They ask a lot of people, even non-gamers, to try the game and if they are stuck somewhere, they find ways to “fix” it. In the end, the games are filled with time-wasting tutorials and easy challenges.
At Parabole, we believe that there are some gamers who don’t need tutorials that show them how to move a camera or how to pick up an object. The average gamer is more than 32 years old. We think that an adult gamer know that in order to open a locked box, he somehow needs to find a key.
That being said, this way of thinking opens up a world of possibilities. In Kôna, because we don’t have to introduce everything with lengthy and useless tutorials, players can expect to do many diverse things. It is important to us that the games we make avoid any kind of unnecessary repetition.
In short, we want to create great games made for gamers.
VRFocus: Players will have free control over vehicles. Does the title feature a large open world for exploration?
Alexandre Fiset: The first episode takes place around a mid-sized lake. Its map is about 3km2. To put things in perspective, here’s a partial top view of the map layout:
The red square is the approximate size of our atmospheric demo everyone can download on our Kickstarter page.
There are also big interiors to explore, so in the end we believe it’s the perfect size for a first episode. The other episodes are planned to be more than twice as big as this one.
VRFocus: Unlike other recent story-driven adventure titles, you’ve decided to include some combat in Kôna. What role does it play and why is it important to the experience?
Alexandre Fiset: Combat is about 5% of the experience. We can’t say much about it without spoiling parts of the story… but let’s say that these sequences are not really meant to test the player ability to use a gun, but more of a way to remind him that there’s something wrong with the place that somehow needs to be fixed. Also: There are ways to avoid most combats.
VRFocus: You recommend playing the title at least once with the French voice work and subtitles. Do you wish more developers from countries speaking something other than English would take this approach?
Alexandre Fiset: Definitely. We believe games should be made in the language its developers speak and then be translated by professional in English, not the other way around. We speak French everyday and 85% of the people around us also speak that particular language. When we sit with friends around a campfire and talk about various things, we don’t switch to English. We think games should always take that “natural” approach, especially for storytelling. This is already the case with films. If you watch the La grande bellezza movie (The Great Beauty), it feels very different than watching 99 Francs from France, even if you watch both of these films with English voices (I would still suggest watching these in their original languages with subtitles). When a group of people crafts something with and for the people around them, it results in something feeling way more personal and thoughtful, at least in our opinion.
VRFocus: Why did you decide to go with an episodic structure over one experience?
To be honest, we did that to decrease the financial risk of making the game. With an episodic structure, we can create an episode with less money, push it to the market at a low price and use sales to fund the other episodes development. We can also gather feedback from the community in order to adapt the series to meet our fans expectation.
VRFocus: How does VR support enhance Kôna?
Well, It is so immersive and amazing! Our game looks and feels really good with a VR headset. Driving the snowmobile and exploring the world feel in any way better with the Oculus than with a flat screen. We believe VR is the future of gaming, well at least for first-person perspective gaming.
VRFocus: You eliminated a VR stretch goal once you simply tested out Oculus support. What would you say to other Kickstarter campaigners with high VR stretch goals?
Well, I kind of understand them because creating a game requires a lot of money. Most campaigners put a low base goal to increase their chances of success and put a lot of relatively cheap things in the stretch goals. If the stretch goals were simply: “the more money we get, the better the game will be”, people would not take extra care in giving more to the project. In our case, we wanted VR but did not have access to a kit, so we put the idea aside and only mentioned it in the description. As soon as someone asked for it, we searched for and found an Oculus kit. Then we tested and decided to make it part of the base goal because it is simple to implement… and simply awesome.
VRFocus: Are you aiming to bring the experience to other platforms? Possibly PlayStation 4 with Project Morpheus support?
Yes, but we cannot confirm we’ll support it until we talk in details about our project with a Sony representative.