What were your inspirations for Space Junkies?
The biggest inspiration came from 70’s science fiction and artists like Chris Foss and John Berkey. We really wanted players to have fun in a unique playground that they have never experienced before. We are 80s kids, that arcade and florescent Neon vibe with our characters and visuals also influenced this world a great deal.
Does VR change how you create or imagine a world? Did you have to rethink your creative process for VR?
That sense of scale is very different in VR, particularly in Space Junkies and with non “traditional” references like corridors or vegetation. You are in spherical space, and things like speed and situational awareness are key in an FPS. We had to find ways to work in VR and in real time, which is why we developed our own VR editor. It allowed Artists and Level designers to work more fluidly in VR, rather than working on a “Flat” screen, then importing data and discovering it was too small or big etc. It allowed us to see covers, scale very quickly, then naturally adjust.
We also have a lot of constraints. For starters, very tight polycount budgets have to be respected because of the stereoscopic 90HZ required for VR. Framerate is key and at the same time, we wanted to create environments that anyone could navigate, as a result, we opted for a relatively clean and stylized level treatment wherever possible.
How did the Art Direction evolve from the first prototypes and what technical challenges did you encounter as a result?
Originally we started looking at more realistic space simulation for gameplay, so we were in confined spaces like the International Space Station, until one of the programmers put a plasma sword and other weapons in the game! It changed how we wanted to navigate, grab and shoot, and had a big impact on how we managed distance. We were and are still learning the subtlety of VR, but are constantly working or more natural dynamic lighting and optimizations to give the best imagery possible.
What about character design? Were Aliens harder to create than “Humans”?
Not really, but as you are now embodying that person or alien in VR, you are in the body of a living avatar and we definitely felt it would be more fun to add a few aliens like the Crab with 3 fingers to give players a unique sensation.
On the artistic side it’s very much a question of design; a character like the Junker who is high on Armour and more like a tank needs to look and feel Chunky but funky. You also see your hands and forearms very clearly, so we really wanted to add detail, from stitching and materials on the gloves that reinforce the feeling that it’s you. Also, between our IK systems and collisions, we are always striving for balance and comfortable.
What inspired the look, feel and interactivity of the space-weapons in Space Junkies? Were they inspired by real-world weapons?
They are all comparable in some way to realistic weapons… well for the Guys on Ghost Recon… very loosely 🙂 The team wanted to avoid a straight military FPS. We wanted to put a unique twist on interactions that were fun and physical, while justifying cosmic guns that could be somewhat plausible in space. When designing military weapons, it comes with a level of detail and constraints that at this point in VR, we didn’t feel it would match with our gameplay and level design, let alone in micro gravity. It allowed us to give each item its’ own personality, like Ricoshakers, that go beyond traditional fire rates, and have rebounding lasers that help take out any sneaky campers hiding behind cover.
We really liked the contrast between the flashy colors and the hard cold mechanics of guns themselves. We exaggerated elements, made them bigger and meatier than their realistic counterparts, and added physics on the ejected shells so they would float off after firing. We also tried to think of the physical gestures particularly with two handed weapons. If you take the Biopump for example, it’s a pump action shotgun that shoots toxic green slime, but you handle like a shotgun.
With deploying and shooting animations we try to give them an identity or personality and make them interesting to interact with in vr. We experimented with different techniques to give them weight, or natural positions like the Rocket Rumble which you hold like a rocket launcher and up to your eye. I guess that’s the hardest thing to explain to non VR players, is that you are no longer using a crosshair to aim but you are just really aiming!
Which weapons from traditional FPS games work or don’t work and why?
All of them work, but they have to be re-imagined for VR. For example, in a traditional FPS a Sniper works because of its animation and scope zoom. However, in VR we can’t impose an animation since you as the player are responsible for the actual loading. We used to play with animation times to help with balancing, but in Space Junkies we had to find other ways to do this. Also, skill-based precision shooting on PC doesn’t transpose as well: you are actually aiming and shooting, so the skill set is slightly different.
How did you imagine the different maps?
One of the main challenges of Space Junkies was to create environments that were readable verticality and in 360 motion. The level design needed to enable maximum cover, ensuring playability on the ground as well as in the air. Usually there is an initial level design attempt: an open map, closed and long range areas, or something more vertical… Then we needed to find the correct balance between level design and a theme of the map. We try to imagine our characters in each setting, then we need to develop their graphic universe. With the same intent, we have different characters, we want to offer the players a variety of maps suiting each character’s playstyle and pacing.
Sometimes we started with block outs, we tested each of these and the theme of the map grew naturally. We did have some themes from the start we wanted to use like, mines, space stations and crash sites, we had a very good technique of rendering glass so we experimented a lot with ice themed maps and that gave us the Dark Ice environment!
What are the main differences for you between a VR environment and “classic” 3D environment?
Sense of presence and immersion are the obvious differences in VR, as you are in the space with other players, that being said, scale and verticality are incredible in VR, as you just cannot replicate that on a traditional flat TV screen. Space and planets really lend themselves to that feeling, so we wanted players to embrace this unknown!