Today see’s the long awaited release of Double Fine Productions first virtual reality (VR) title Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, an exclusive for PlayStation VR. Prior to release VRFocus spoke with Lead Programmer Chad Dawson about the project and its development.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin takes place directly after the original, filling in the story gap before the release of Psychonauts 2 which is due out next year. A first-person adventure, players assume the role of Raz as his psychic powers – such as Clairvoyance, Telekinesis and Pyrokinesis – to manipulate the world around them.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is available now for PlayStation VR for $19.99 USD/£15.49 GBP, with PlayStation Plus members getting a limited time discount. Checkout the interview with Chaz below and for any further updates keep reading VRFocus.
So what sparked the interest in creating a VR title?
I did some VR stuff back in the 90’s during grad school, so early prototype research, mostly little projects, but left that to come do videogames for the next 10/15 years. But recently with the Oculus Kickstarter a bunch of people got excited about it, as Double Fine has always taken on new technology. We made a bunch of Kinect games for Microsoft Kinect, when mobile started becoming popular we made a bunch of mobile games, we did some Leap Motion games, so we always like to play around with new technology and see what it could create.
So we started playing around with doing a VR game about the same time Tim (Schafer) started looking towards us approaching Psychonauts 2. And as we started trying things out in VR, figuring out what types of locomotion, what type of systems we liked from our experiments, it began to feel like Psychonauts might be a good fit for VR as far as psychic abilities mapping on to the mechanics of VR.
Tim also had an idea for a story in the middle of Psychonauts one and two, sort of a lost chapter, as Psychonauts 2 is going to kind of start ‘hey do you remember when we rescued Lily’s father’, it kind of assumed those events had happened, but as we started looking at the story we were building it looked like we could tell that chapter as well in VR, that’s what melded the two together.
What can you tell us about development?
We started about a year and half ago doing some prototypes, as a studio we wanted to explore using a new engine, this is built with Unreal 4, so we wanted to test out new technology with that as well. And initially like most people do in VR it’s a big open space, there’s all types of experiences you can do, we tried a few prototypes of locomotion, moving around with characters, as well as artistic exploration on what would it take to take Psychonauts characters from ten years ago and bring them up to modern standards, as far as materials, animation or detail. We knew in VR you’d probably be up close to them as opposed to the original Psychonauts being a third-person platformer, other than cut-scenes you look from far away, in this case you might have one right up close to your face so the expressiveness of eyebrows, their eyes, facial animation had to be up there as well.
Any particular challenges implementing Psychonauts into VR?
It was tricky to adapt, all of our modelers and world builders we made sure that they had VR headsets. Typically you make something that looks great on your screen then you go into VR and the whole sense of scale and space are different, it maybe feels small on your screen once you put yourself in VR it feels like a life sized room. Initially we new that the Psychonauts would be held captive so we started with some prison cells, we thought we’d made this really small cell that felt small, but once we put you in there it felt like a giant space. So picking up those distances was a learning curve.
Coupled up with that Psychonauts is a weird and wonky art style, none of the lines are parallel, everything’s an askew shape, none of the circles are circles their all kind of bent and twisted ovals, that art style is also tricky to convey in VR. Often times a player needs a point of reference, a floor plane, a ceiling plane that’s level to balance them out, so figuring out how to keep that art style true to the original game while also making an experience in VR was an initial challenge.
Now that Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin has been completed any further VR plans?
It’s definitely been a great experience for our team, we’ve learnt a lot doing it and talking to anyone who does a VR project every few months you learn something new about VR that works and something that you thought works that didn’t work that well. For us we really tried to approach characters and the story, which is different to many VR projects which are more about shooting robots or flying spaceships. So for us the challenge was taking our story and characters and bringing them into the world, and once we got in there with our characters it was such a great way to see them up close like that I think it’s something we’d want to explore again in the future, but at this time we don’t have any announced plans. But we’ve certainly learned a lot, it’d be great to build off of the aspects we’ve learnt from and continue with more VR titles.