We sat down with the CEO to learn a little more about what goes into a VR project of this scale.
This past Thursday marked the launch of In Death: Unchained on the Oculus Quest. Brought to us by developer Superbright, this standalone remix of the original 2018 PC VR game has players navigating their way throughout the procedurally-generated levels of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory as they do battle with waves of forsaken souls, temple knights, and other demonic creatures using their powerful longbow and crossbow. The result is an insanely-addictive VR dungeon crawling experience made even better thanks to Oculus technology.
Ahead of launch we had the opportunity to sit down with Superbright CEO Wojtek Podgorski to learn a little more about what it took to get this massive project up-and-running on Oculus Quest.
I was a big fan of In Death on Steam, so I’m thrilled to see it returning on a brand new platform! What made you decide to take over this IP specifically?
“We’re big fans too, the original has a cult following of which we count ourselves a part of.
We thought it needed to be played on Quest, and that the game’s genre and its inherent replayability was a perfect fit for the platform.
What initially started as a conversation about helping port to Quest, evolved into much more because right from the start we were both incredibly inspired by Solfar’s work and believed this game had even more to give and deserved more than just a port.
So when Solfar set off on their new adventure it became clear if it wasn’t going to be us, then it probably won’t happen at all. So we decided we should make it happen and we put a lot of love and effort into it – with Solfar’s blessing and Oculus’ help.”
The original 2018 In Death featured some fairly impressive procedurally-generated environments. What was it like bringing this ambitious title to standalone VR?
“It’s been an incredibly intense but rewarding time, as we were juggling on multiple fronts – the original and optimizing them, making a ton of improvements and adding about 50% extra content.
At first we were wondering how much of the original we could even retain – it has large procedural environments with basically the whole world visible at the same time, it has many different enemies shooting so many projectiles at the same time, with some crazy vfx flying around. All of this at 72 fps on a mobile device, in UE4. Oh and then there was the game’s very distinct heavenly look that originally depended on a lot of post-processing and layering that you just couldn’t do on mobile.
And that was of course just the beginning – we started with a vision of what needed to change or be improved about the game itself to maximize its potential, and we wanted to add a lot of new content, custom-made for Quest.
We ended up optimizing or rebuilding every single asset in the game, we built an automated pipeline that basically reconstructs the game from smaller pieces every day, we heavily modified Unreal Engine, and in the end we were able to have as much ‘stuff’ as the original, or in case of the new content, even more. It was quite frankly, a monumental effort by our team, and some amazing help from the people at Oculus.”
Why the Oculus Quest exclusively?
“Short answer is because it’s not just “In Death by Solfar on Quest” but a game developed further, by a new team, with specific focus on making it the best Quest experience it can be.
The prospect of bringing the experience of In Death, but tuned to make the most of Quest, with improvements and new content custom made for it is what inspired both us and Oculus to get behind the project.
So with this idea and also the belief from Oculus, it meant we had to put 100% focus and effort into how to make this the best possible Quest title. Some of it was redoing everything specifically for Quest to make it work, but most importantly thinking about the future of the game, not the past. Thinking about what it needed, and making changes – gameplay changes, graphics changes, quality of life changes, giving the players better tools to play expressively on a wire-free headset, and just a lot more.”
You’ve teased In Death: Unchained as more of an enhanced rerelease (remix?) optimized for Quest rather than a full sequel or standard port. Any chance you could share a little more about some of this new content?
“Yes you could say it’s In Death “evolved”. It comes with a ton of improvements, some more obvious and some more subtle but as important.
The most visible is a whole new world called The Abyss that follows the game’s second world of “Paradise Lost”, but it will be unlockable earlier, after reaching a certain level of game progression.
We’re very excited about this world because it was made completely by us and it continues the player’s journey. It was custom made for Quest, it has new enemies that complement the existing ones. Together, the layout of the new world and its enemies take the game further than before and place a new demand on the player’s strategy and skills. It takes the procedural generation to a new level far beyond the original worlds, and it ends in the game’s most epic and best boss fight yet.
In terms of improvements, one of the most important is that the game adapts to the mobile headset format of play by adding the ability to save sessions mid-game so it can be put away and picked up the next day without losing progress, which is a big deal.
We’ve also rebuilt how the teleporting works to make it way more reliable, we’ve rebuilt the teleportation shard to be a dynamic and reliable and short distance option, rounding out the player’s range of locomotion options and making the game more expressive. But these are only some of the improvements, we’ve worked really hard on the overall experience.”
What do you think players will like most about the game? What are some of your favorite aspects?
“Man, where to begin. We love this game in VR. I mean really our favorite aspect is just how it all plays now, this cumulative result of the original, the changes, and how it plays on Quest.
There’s this flow to teleporting in In Death, when you play it longer there’s a rhythm you find that stays with you after you put the controllers down, you just want to keep doing it. And of course the long-range shots are incredibly satisfying. Then in close range, these bursts of action are thrilling, you can use your whole body to gain advantage so easily now on Quest to dodge, crouch, shoot from cover etc. And it looks beautiful and it’s different every time because it’s procedural – this game is known for players spending hundreds of hours playing it.
But also, when I think about this question I can’t help but think about the changes we’ve made.
Stop me when I get too excited, but in this game often when you die it’s when you were most active, so not only does it suck when you perish, it was most likely to happen when you were in that flow and rhythm of teleporting, shooting, dodging jumping crouching lunging etc. So anything that interrupts that state is going to be glaring. More so if you feel it was out of your control. So we eliminated a ton of small, annoying issues that often snagged players in the heat of the moment. For example, dying because your teleport failed.
Here we’ve remade the shard to be an amazing dependable short range tool for the player that should increase the range of types of play. So in essence we made the loop tighter so that when you die you often feel it was because of your actions and not the game throwing you an unfair curveball. So now the desire to go back in once more feels justified. We wanted to really tap into that “Just one more go!” mentality but for the right reasons.”
What about Unchained sets itself apart from other VR sword fighting/archery games?
“I think the most obvious objective difference is its genre – It’s a roguelite. It has a ton of content thanks to its procedural nature, simply said it has great replay value.
It’s also hard, and not a power fantasy – you need to outsmart, outmanoeuvre and outplay the enemy, not just use brute force. It’s very dependent on precision aiming and strategic thinking but then it’s very expressive when you’re executing your moves, the more you use your full body the better your chances are and the more fun and intense the game is.
Beyond that… it just feels great, we’re huge fans of what Solfar has done, and we’ve taken it even further.
And It looks beautiful and we’re really pushing the graphics with a lot of custom shaders and optimizations, it’s more realistic than stylized, we think it’s a title everyone should have on Quest.”
In Death: Unchained is available now on Oculus Quest for $29.99 via the Oculus Store.
Image Credit: Superbright