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Nevermind Dev Talks Biofeedback-Based Horror, VR Support

Second chances don’t come often in the videogame industry as any developer will tell you. But when they do come along they are to be savored and made the most of. Indie developer Flying Mollusk is doing just that with its second Kickstarter campaign for upcoming virtual reality (VR) compatible horror title, Nevermind.

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The developer failed to secure crowd-funding in an initial campaign held earlier this year but has now returned with a more modest goal, having already secured basic funding from Intel. VRFocus recently spoke to the developer’s Erin Reynolds about the project, its second chance and VR support.

VRFocus: Where did the idea for Nevermind come from?

Erin Reynolds: Nevermind started as my masters thesis project at the University of Southern California. The thesis year at USC’s Interactive Media & Games Program is an opportunity to invest dedicated time into developing a project that represents something you’re deeply interested in.  I’ve always been passionate about positive games and knew that I wanted my thesis to ultimately be an experience that would both entertain and benefit the player. Additionally, I had become increasingly more interested in the possibilities of biofeedback-based gaming and wanted to research its potential as part of that year of development. Finally, I always wanted to create a horror game but had not yet had the opportunity to do so. Each of those goals sounded like they could almost be mutually exclusive, but after bouncing ideas off of mentors, faculty, friends, and family, the concept that became Nevermind started to really take shape and ultimately evolve into what Nevermind became.

VRFocus: How has the title progressed since the last Kickstarter campaign?

Erin Reynolds: Big things have happened for Nevermind since the last Kickstarter Campaign! We have since partnered with Intel to develop an Intel® RealSense™ camera-focused revamped experience of the old, academic proof of concept version of Nevermind. Starting this summer, we have been upgrading the first level (the one most people are familiar with), the “Clinic” area (which serves as a hub for all levels), and have been planning out a couple of future levels as well. It has been a very exciting and encouraging few months – which, of course, makes us all the more enthusiastic about the possibilities of expanding it even further via new platforms, additional sensors, and more levels.

Although of course we have always believed in the project, with the progress that has been made since the last Kickstarter, we’re more confident than ever in Nevermind’s potential!

VRFocus: How does Nevermind increase in difficulty when players are scared?

Erin Reynolds: In Nevermind, the environment dynamically responds to the player’s fear and stress levels. When the game senses that player is starting to feel a little scared, a few things might happen. First, there is a universal indication that the game is detecting fear – currently, that manifests as the screen becoming more static-y. This visual noise doesn’t harm the player-character in any direct way, it simply serves as a warning indicator that the player may want to take a moment to try to relax before proceeding further.

On top of that, there are areas in the level where the world around you will actively punish you when it senses that you’re getting scared. These different areas respond in vastly different and unexpected ways.

For example, in the current level there is a kitchen area. When the player starts to become stressed out, milk starts flooding in from places like the sink, toaster, knife-block, etc. – continuing to flood the room as the player stays in that stressed-out state. If the player is unable to calm down, the milk will begin to impede his/her ability to easily walk – causing the player to have to slosh his/her way through the room. If the player still can’t calm down, then the milk will eventually reach his/her sight-line, making it very hard to see anything. Finally, if the player still is unable to relax, then the player will eventually “drown”.

It should be noted that, in Nevermind, players don’t “die” in the traditional video game sense. Instead, we see the player’s inability to relax within a certain amount of time is an indication that the player may be too scared or stressed out. As a result, the game will remove the player from that area and place him/her into a calmer section of the level. Once the player recoups, he/she is welcome to pick up where he/she left off. Of course, if the player were able to calm down at any point while in the Kitchen, the milk would subside and drain out of the room – allowing the player to proceed normally. So, the key is to learn to recognize your own internal stress signals and figure out the best way to manage them so that you can take on even the most horrific and challenging things that Nevermind can throw at you!

VRFocus: What are some strategies players might use to calm themselves?

Erin Reynolds: There are so many ways one can combat sensations of stress, tension, and anxiety on the fly. Visualization of relaxing scenarios, conscious breathing, reminders of safe and happy moments of the past, looking at photos of kittens on the internet, etc. Some techniques work better for some people than others and, in many ways, this is part of what Nevermind is all about. Although we will present a variety of these techniques to the player as part of the intro to the game, it’s really up to the player to experiment with and practice in-game different calming techniques to discover and practice what works best for him/her. Then, with this knowledge and skill-set, he or she can employ those same techniques that proved effective in-game out in the real world!

VRFocus: How did Nevermind’s funding from Intel come about?

Erin Reynolds: Intel discovered us based on our previous Kickstarter campaign, and they approached us given the obvious fit with their upcoming RealSense camera technology – which can detect a player’s heart rate simply using their camera alone, without any other additional peripherals.

VRFocus: Your previous campaign mentioned a health-centric version of Nevermind. Is this still planned?

Erin Reynolds: Absolutely! Exploring the therapeutic applications of Nevermind continues to be deeply important to us. In fact, there are currently two academic studies being conducted at the University of Southern California involving Nevermind and we’re eager to learn from those results and iterate further.

Additionally, we’ve been in discussion with several experts in behavioral health and remain as excited as ever about the possibilities ahead. The more funding we’re able to get via Kickstarter, the more resources we’ll have available to deepen this exploration and, hopefully, create some meaningfully helpful content.

VRFocus: How does VR enhance the Nevermind experience?

Erin Reynolds: Atmosphere and immersion are two key components of the Nevermind experience. In many ways, Nevermind is a mystery game – every element is a clue, everything the player sees, experiences, and feels is significant. Bringing the player one step closer to inside the world – to see the very walls around him respond to his emotional state – will be a very powerful experience and would make everything that we love about Nevermind all the more impactful.

Furthermore, VR allows for some very unique tricks and twists that we can’t wait to explore. As just one example, imagine a horror game that plays with the fact that we know exactly what is/isn’t in your peripheral vision…

VRFocus: Your campaign is hoping to raise enough money to create an Xbox One version of Nevermind. Would a PlayStation 4 version with Project Morpheus support also be possible?

We’re actually open to exploring all platforms. As far as consoles go, Xbox One is a natural fit due to the built-in heart rate sensing capabilities of the Kinect 2.0 sensor. However, we aren’t opposed to exploring the potential of bringing Nevermind to the PS4 and integrating Project Morpheus support. That said, for the time being the options for biofeedback integration are a little less clear for that platform than they are for Xbox One, PC, and Mac. However, there are so many great new consumer friendly biofeedback sensors coming to market seemingly every day that anything is possible! We’ll see what the future holds!

VRFocus: Do you see the team at Flying Mollusk continuing to work with biofeedback in other videogames?

Flying Mollusk is dedicated to creating unique, entertaining games that help people using cutting edge technology. It’s no secret that I am a huge believer in the power and future of biofeedback technology in video games and I can easily see us continuing to work with that technology for many of our projects moving forward. However, I also don’t want to necessarily limit Flying Mollusk to just using only one type of technology. First and foremost, we want to craft the best experiences we can – what tools we use to do so will depend on the project and the technology that is at our fingertips.

For now, however – all of our focus is on making Nevermind the most amazing experience it can be. Thanks in advance to all of our fans for their support!