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Dream Dev Talks Release, Optional Horror and Alternative VR

It would be a big shame if Dream‘s virtual reality (VR) support never saw the light of day. True, the developer has already incorporated supported for the Oculus Rift’s first development kit (DK1) into the title, but support for the second kit (DK2) and any later iterations has been halted by the lack of updates to Epic Games’ Unreal Development Kit. Instead the company is now pushing its Unreal Engine 4.

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It’s an unfortunate situation, given that Dream‘s exploration-based gameplay would go hand-in-hand with deeper VR support, but there’s still something here that’s worth exploring for both VR and non-VR fans alike. VRFocus recently spoke to developer HyperSloth Games’ Samuel Read about the title at EGX 2014. In the interview below, Read talks about the VR situation as well as how Dream plays, optional horror, and the future of VR.

VRFocus: What is Dream?

Samuel Read: So in Dream you take on the role of Howard Phillips. It’s a very narrative driven game, so you’re sort of playing as a character going through his story. He’s just left university but now he doesn’t actually know what he wants to do with his life. So he goes into his dreams and he sort of explores himself and who he wants to be. So in the gameplay we try and reward people for exploring these worlds and discovering new things. And when it comes down to gameplay there’s a lot of exploration, but also a lot of puzzles and horror elements.

VRFocus: Your Early Access updates suggest that the title might be nearing completion?

Samuel Read: When it comes to the games content, we are slowly, nearly getting there. And then we’ve got bug testing and localisation and things. It’s still a bit of the way off. But also when it comes to the VR stuff obviously there is very little support for UDK at the moment, so we haven’t announced anything but we’ll look into that later.

VRFocus: So Oculus Rift support might not be included at launch?

Samuel Read: Yeah, the VR stuff  might not be there. I mean when it comes to things like Hyrda and the Omni treadmill and the DK1 support, that will be there. But obviously when it comes to consumer VR, that won’t because of the troubles with the engine.

VRFocus: It must be kind of frustrating for you guys right now building on this engine and seeing another engine kind of being pushed far in front. What are your thoughts on that at the moment?

Samuel Read: It’s very, very frustrating. I mean, Oculus have been great, we get on with those guys really well. And the guys at Epic we got on with really well as well. Both of them are really trying to help incentivise doing stuff in the future, but it’s a bit of a pisstake. They basically said ‘Oh yeah come to this engine and do this!’ and we’re not the only ones, there’s loads of games doing it.

It’s hard; I get it from a business point of view. It makes 100% [sense], but for us as the people who have sort of got the short end of the straw, it’s just a bit of a bad situation.

VRFocus: Do you kind of feel left behind a little bit?

Samuel Read: Yeah, but I mean that’s just the industry we’re in, isn’t it? We’ve been working on the game for just over two years now. Tech moves on, platforms move on. It’s just we’ve been caught in that place where we’re cross-gen, just with hardware.

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VRFocus: Dream is split into three separate acts. What can we expect from each act in terms of variety and environments and story?

Samuel Read: So when it comes to the environments there’s definitely a lot we try to sort of play off the fact of how different they are. Each act is actually made of one large environment and then two side dreams. Now the side dreams, we try and make them much more surreal, where the main level is sort of based on more realism and sort of exploration.

When it comes to those environments as well, we try and play off what’s going on in the character’s life at that time. So environments change throughout the game. The first act, for example, is the desert that we showed off a lot. Now, in the desert at that point in time the character’s lost, so it’s this vast desert with you sort of following the signposts and sort of caves and mazes and things like that. So it’s how we try and bring the story into the environment.

VRFocus: What are you showing off at EGX?

Samuel Read: This is the new build, it’s actually the build that is currently on Early Access. I mean obviously it’s got things like we wipe the save so you can play from the beginning. When it comes to a narrative driven game we can’t really just drop everyone at a section so we just prefer to start people off at the start of the game and let them explore whatever they want.

VRFocus: If someone was to come to you now and asked ‘what can I compare Dream to?’, what do you say?

Samuel Read: This has actually been really nice, because when we started in the first few shows a lot of people would say Dear Esther and also some people would actually say Journey. I think that was actually purely because of the desert and the exploration. And then because we have a system much like Gone Home where you can spin round objects and look, we thought we were just going to be bombarded with ‘Gone Home, Gone Home, Gone Home’.

Now just as the exploration genre’s growing just with things like Ether One, we actually don’t get a lot of that, it’s just that it’s an exploration game. When it comes to horror sections, we get Amnesia a lot. But also for those we understand that fans may not want that experience, so all the horror is skippable.

VRFocus: The horror is skippable. Do entire sections of the story go?

Samuel Read: At the end of each act there’s basically what we see as a boss battle in air quotes. And basically it’s the horror section. So everything you do in the game when it comes to exploration and discovery ties into the endgame. So you will basically lose some points in the scoring system for the endgame. But all of this is stuff no one will ever see and that’s still a bit up in the air. But I’m pretty sure if you do everything else you’ll be able to get full points without the nightmares. But as I say this is all back stuff. It’s really just the more you discover, the better the ending.

VRFocus: It’s an interesting idea to remove the horror elements because there’s a sort of barrier for some people. This is actually the second VR videogame that’s done that, the first being Crystal Rift. What do you make of that? Is there a place for optional horror?

Samuel Read: For us, actually, if you sort of forget about the layer of VR, there are definitely people out there that just wouldn’t want the horror, which I think is totally understandable. But also I think when you add on all the VR on top, I think even some horror fans might find it too much. So I think we’re just in that point at the minute where no VR is officially out so everyone’s just finding their way. So in five years or so it might be a totally different answer, but at the minute we just see it as a good way of letting it be available to everyone.

VRFocus: The exploration general is a funny one in general because games like Gone Home and Dear Esther have come under fire for a lack of mechanics. How does Dream stack up to those and how do you think it fits within the genre?

Samuel Read: So originally actually in the GDD we were planning for something to be much more like Dear Esther. And then Dear Esther launched we sort of stood way back and said ‘Okay, these guys have done that. That is superb, we don’t want to tread on any toes.’ So when we actually made a list of things that were more sort of gamey that then I guess hardcore gamers or generic gamers would like. So things like a collectible system, an inventory system, maybe enemies in the world, the boss battle type feel, all this kind of stuff.

So we have a collectible system that goes into the scoring of the game. That comes in two; models you can find and these bubble pages that give you some background story. And we have an inventory system to try and promote exploration. You can go and find items that will help you either with more discovery or with puzzles. The puzzle elements again just come under mechanics, so we have items that can interact with the environment, we have PCs like in Deus Ex so you can actually log on and hack into programmes and use that kind of stuff.

So we really tried to say that we’re not an AAA game, but what will that audience like in an exploration game.

VRFocus: So after release what kind of future do you guys see for Dream? Are you moving onto the next project? Maybe consoles or something along those lines?

Samuel Read: We started yesterday technically but we’ve actually gone back to uni. So this was actually going to be a year-long side project that turned into a two year side project so we put our studies on hold and now we’re going back. So at uni we’re going to prototype loads of stuff. We’re still really excited about VR but the main thing we’re actually excited about is VR that isn’t first-person. So we really wanted to do either third-person stuff or god game stuff where you interact with this world.

But we definitely feel like that first-person, at least generic first-person, is going to take a long time for people to get right, and we’re not the people who are going to work that out so we want to explore other avenues first.

VRFocus: That’s something you see with Lucky’s Tale stuff like that. You can actually replicate a good VR experience now, but as long as you’re not trying to convince yourself that you’re another human being in another world. That’s an interesting approach, when do you think we might see something along those lines?

Samuel Read: I don’t know. I think there are definitely some demos out there that try and do things like boardgames or god games. I mean obviously there’s the support for DOTA2. That’s not the game for it but maybe something like Populous might work better. I hope really soon, but maybe at launch I guess.

But the other thing I actually love is Couch Knights. Couch Knights is probably one of my favourite demos. Obviously that’s first-person but it’s not, because it’s third. So all that kind of stuff to me is really interesting actually in the same vein as Couch Knights, I would love to see board games. I love board games in real life, but I’ve never really loved the videogame versions of sort of Ticket to Ride or Scrabble or Monopoly. I just don’t think they hold up as PC games. But I think it could hold up and then it could let me play board games with people on the other side of the planet.