This week indie developer Eerie Bear Games launched its second virtual reality (VR) title, Fruit for the Village for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. A kind of gardening strategy experience that involves players trying to feed a hungry village in a future destroyed by climate change and war, VRFocus spoke with the team via email to find out how the videogame came about and what the team are planning in the future.
Formed by Noah Rojahn and Joe Radak in early 2014, Eerie Bears Games’ first title was Light Repair Team #4, a puzzle experience for the launch of HTC Vive in 2016. Wanting to push their own creative boundaries the pair came up with Fruit for the Village after several iterations.
“About a year ago, Ryan Evans put together the “Click Click Click” game jam on itch.io. The premise of the game jam was to create a ‘clicker’ game; games similar to something like cookie clicker, and others. At the time, Joe was thinking about making a game based on gardening or farming for VR. Game Jams are a good excuse to prototype out games, so he mashed them together to see what came out,” said Rojahn.
“The first version of the game was a basic farming game; wide open field, different types of seeds, freedom to move around and create a garden/farm however you want. Kind of like a VR Farmville. It was enjoyable, but didn’t do what we like to do with our games, which is to twist the genre onto its head. It had been done before. So, we put the game in space and added a timer that would count down that would require the player to gain a certain amount of resources in that time in prevent losing the game. Think of it like time-trial mode in racing games where you need to complete a lap in under X amount of seconds. In this case, you need to get X amount of credits in a constant number of minutes.
“In thinking about what this timer could represent in the game, we decided to it turn it into a food supply gauge. This tied into the idea of growing plants and give the player a sense of pressure to perform and reach these milestones. Clicker games usually also fall into the genre of ‘idle’ games – relaxing games you can just [mess] around [in] and let them play themselves. The timer (food supply gauge), flips this on its head and gives it the twist that we like. (At this point, we moved away from the farm and put the game on a space station where you were growing food to send down to a super populated planet below. The milestones were your food quota. We obviously didn’t keep this idea.)
“And since this was the first time we’ve made a game like this, we decided to try more new things – layering in a story. We looked at how stories are told in VR, what roles the players play and then decided how we wanted to do that for Fruit for the Village. Is the player going fill in a premade characters shoes, or are we just going to give them little bits of their history and let them fill in the rest? We thought about the tone of the story and thought, “hey, we normally try to think comedic or optimistic things, lets try something else and just continue to move out of our comfort zone.” So we wrote a story that’s outside what we’ve normally done. Fruit for the Village has been all about pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. It’s there we feel that we really start to learn new things and can really create some interesting stuff. Basically Fruit for the Village is a first for us in terms of genre, gameplay, story, narrative delivery, art style and more.
“Finally, we didn’t really like the Sci-fi space aethestic so we put it back on earth, in the same region as Light Repair Team #4. There are small allusions to Light Repair Team #4, but it’s not mentioned directly outside a line or two of dialogue.”
VR has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, especially when it comes to content development. Most VR studios started with something small and had to learn from their mistakes, with subsequent projects that evolved from this learning process, and Eerie Bear Games being no different: “The biggest thing was the physical limitations of both players and the VR tracking systems. Light Repair Team #4 highlighted the range of movement the player could have. In LRT4 we had a lot of places where the player would have to place things low to the ground where tracking was poor, or way up high where people who aren’t tall couldn’t reach (Noah and Joe are both 6ft+),” the team explained. “This was early on in VR, so we didn’t really consider the diversity of the physical size of players, their play space and their tracking quality. We made sure to keep that in mind with Fruit for the Village. Interactable objects are placed in a way that makes it easier for more people to reach, there’s no need to reach down on the floor, etc. We’ll be keeping an eye on this too after launch and make adjustments as needed.
“We also learned that if we want to tell a story, then we just need to tell it and not really hide it. We had a background and narrative in mind for Light Repair Team #4, but we didn’t really explain any of it. We couldn’t figure out how to do it right, let alone well. Fruit for the Village is our first attempt at telling a story and integrating the game mechanics with that story. We’re proud of how it came out.
“Game difficulty was something we learned from Light Repair Team #4. Light Repair Team #4’s curve was really shallow and never really got super difficult to figure out, we were worried that it was too hard, and so in trying to avoid that, we made it too easy. With Fruit for the Village, we did a lot of testing and literal calculations via spreadsheets, timing players to figure out what the max amount of credits they could get in any given timeframe. We then used that data to set the rate of change of the prices of objects to fit within that curve. Then we tested some more, refined, etc. etc. Fruit for the Village is much more challenging, especially starting out compared to LRT4, but we feel it is fun to master. There’s a lot of combinations that players can do with the fruit growing pots and auto growers to help hit the maximum level of profit. They’ll have to put in some work themselves too by manually “clicking” the plants to grow them.”
Going on to explain a bit more about Fruit for the Village Eerie Bear Games said: “It’s hard to really say what they’ll expect without dropping buzzworlds. We’re pretty sure that Fruit for the Village is the first (or close to the first) VR ‘clicker’ game. The story we created has two “endings” and a third “second ending” or true ending as some may call it. It’s kind of like a smaller version of Nier: Automata’s ending system (admittedly, we were inspired by it) where a choice you make can either keep you going in the game, or end the game for you right then and there. Beyond that, the endless survival mode will test you against the clock to see how long you can go before you can’t keep up with the costs of sending fruit to the village. Maybe we’ll be adding leaderboards in the future.
“For those who might be struggling or are interested in cheat codes – we do have those programmed into the game. They were originally debug commands, but we modified them to work in the game itself. We’re not sure yet how we’ll tell people what they are, but we hope that people will keep a look out for them.
“We designed the game to be intentionally vague about the player as possible. The only thing that the player sees of themselves in the game is their hands. We really tried to make everything as generic as possible when it comes to address the player. So we never call the player he or she. Additionally the players have a chance to change the skin tone of their virtual hands to a variety of skin tones to better match what they are in real life. We really tried to make sure that we aren’t putting the player into some fictitious persons elaborate life. We gave them a short backstory for narrative and say how they got into the cave and then just… let them fill in the rest themselves based on what they’re hearing from the village. The story mode is interesting and again, something that hasn’t really been done yet within VR – or if it has, we haven’t really seen it done like this.”
With both a single-player campaign and survival mode to play through Fruit for the Village has a reasonable amount of hours in it. When asked about further expansion the team said: “Yes, we do, but how much is added depends on reception of the game. As bad as that sounds, it’s just the nature of things for us right now. If we do add more content, it will probably be for the endless survival mode. I’d like to add more tools for the player to use and maybe expand the size of the cavern with different environmental effects, or something like that. Adding to the story is also being considered, but that would take a lot more work, so might not happen as often.
“We’ll also be working to refine some things in the game in order to make future updates easier to add. And will be considering adding more platform based features like achievements, trading cards, etc.
“It is our intention to bring Fruit for the Village to the Oculus Store. We originally wanted to launch Steam and Oculus Home simultaneously. Due to our small team size (All 2 of us) and very limited resources, we weren’t able to produce a Steam and Home version. We decided to move forward with Steam first, as it supports both Vive and Rift, and we had previous experience with launching on it. We don’t have a timeline for the Oculus Home Release yet, but expect it before the end of the early, probably early fall.”
As Rojahn and Radak are both focused on VR development VRFocus asked them what type of VR videogame they’d like to make or see made, to which they responded: “We’re big fans of strategy games like Civilization V and VI and Endless Space 2, so something like that would be cool to see in VR. Games like XCom, Into the Breach would also be cool. We have this kind of policy for projects where both Joe and Noah just tinker on whatever they want, and whenever one or either find a game that seems good, they push it to publishing. So maybe our next game will be an RPG, or another Light Repair Team game, or something small or big. Who knows. Joe’s a huge fan of RPG’s so it wouldn’t be surprising if he does something with those.”
On Eerie Bear Games’ website there’s mention of another VR title in development, Pulse.Beat Virus, so VRFocus found out a little more: “So Pulse.Beat Virus was a puzzle game where you would solve puzzles in a non euclidean space. We thought it was pretty clever. However! It caused discomfort in a lot of users, despite the safeguards we put in place to prevent discomfort. We believe the discomfort is caused by how the levels can fold back onto themselves and that our brains can’t seem to really process the idea of that yet when it’s presented to us in Virtual Reality. It sounds really weird, but we have to overcome the human brain before we move forward with that project. It’s not a canceled project, we just plan to return to it when we can solve the discomfort problem.”