British developer Firesprite Studios has been around for a few years now after originally having been set up by veterans from the closed down Liverpool Studio of Wipeout fame. We caught up with game director Stuart Tilley to learn more of the recent VR horror roguelike The Persistence and the studio itself.
For our part, we quite enjoyed The Persistence, rewarding it a 8/10 score (read the full review): "We came away from The Persistence with a strong feeling that the loop had sucked us in, since every time we died and another clone reprinted itself, we were eager to improve and go back again to get a bit further."
How has the start of Firesprite's life up until the release of The Persistence been?
It's been an exciting ride! Firesprite is 5 years old now and has recently grown to 75 people strong. Our first project was working alongside Sony's Japan Studio on The Playroom for PlayStation 4 which was so much fun to do! We then made "Run Sackboy! Run!" for Sony's XDev Studio before helping Japan Studio again with The Playroom VR. We also created a VR game for Sony America called "Air Force Special Ops: Nightfall". The Persistence is our first original IP.
Firesprite was born after the closure of Liverpool Studio, with the 5 founders of the company having previously worked on the WipEout games for many years.
Where did the idea for The Persistence come from?
We are all huge sci-fi fans, and this has inspired us throughout our careers, from our favourite movies such as Alien and Bladerunner, through to our favourite games like Dead Space and System Shock. For the past 10 years we had been talking about making a 'scary game', so the Sci-Fi horror setting was perfect for us.
We had already worked on 2 VR games, and knew that VR was the perfect way to immerse players in to a game world. We had the opportunity to then combine our sci-fi passion and VR technology with the Persistence, so we grabbed it with both hands.
We also decided that we wanted to create a slower paced game, and to give VR players regular opportunities to take a break from the action, so we decided to design the game and its systems around the live-die-repeat play loop. A beautiful looking, stealth horror roguelike.
How have you guys found this change of direction, because this game is a bit of a departure from what you've worked on in the past?
Because sci-fi is such a passion for us, the switch of styles was very enjoyable, even if we learned a few lessons along the way, especially in the early days of development. A case in point are the concept designs for the Stem Cell Harvester. Many of the original designs were rounded, clean and quite friendly looking medical devices - they looked really cool, but didn't suit the direction of the game. We eventually used the description of wanting something 'agricultural' - in other words, heavy, angular and functional.
How did you approach the balance between progression and resets in terms of its rogue-like design?
The main thing we always wanted was that every life you have can, even in a very small way, push you closer to your goal. Even collecting a small number of Stem Cells or FabChips might be able to buy you the next upgrade or make that Epic Suit you have been saving up to buy.
We also decided that once completed, each of the main objectives in the game would stay completed, you don't have to do them again every life. We wanted the game to feel like you are always inching towards ultimate success, rather than having to start back at the very beginning.
There are a few comfort options in terms of movement, how did you settle on them and how do you view the challenge of movement in VR games?
We spent a great deal of time looking at ways to solve some of the comfort issues, especially in a First-person VR game. Rotation is the single biggest hurdle to overcome, and one of our approaches has been quite successful, even if it sounds counter-intuitive. Discomfort is caused when your eyes see a rotation, and your inner ear reacts to help you maintain balance - only in a videogame, you aren't actually physically rotating. We tried a number of things, but the most successful was to offer an option when the rotation speed is set very high - so high in fact that your eyes don't see it as a rotation, meaning that your inner ear doesn't try to compensate. You would think that if rotation would cause discomfort, then doing it incredibly quickly would be crazy - but it really helps make play more comfortable for many people.
The phone feature is super cool. Tell us about that and how it helps the VR player as well as where the idea came from?
Thanks! The idea originated from the fact that we tend to play games quite socially, in my case, with friends and family sat on the sofa with me. The best thing about VR is that it can magically transport you to a completely new world - but when this happens, we don't want you to leave your friends on the sofa. Instead, they can grab their phones and download the free app and start getting in on the action too.
Once connected, players get powerful control over the game, including abilities to lure enemies, open doors, and disable traps. By helping, your friends can upgrade their App to unlock even more powers, like the ability to freeze enemies to help you escape. But beware though... sometimes, your friends gets big rewards if you die, and with the ability to spawn new enemies and make them attack, can you really trust your friends?
How do you make sure a game like this is scary? What does VR offer in this regard?
VR does a lot of the hard work in this respect! VR games are just so immersive, that it doesn't take you long until you are completely lost in a game. In The Persistence, we used Sound Design extensively to enhance the feeling that danger is never far away. From the subtle creeping dread of the audio scape, to the distant scuttling sound of Lurkers, and the muffled sound of mutants just the other side of a wall. It's a very powerful way to immerse you in to the world and to build tension, so when a Lurker eventually comes screaming out of the shadows right at you, well, it can really give you a fright!
What can we expect to see from Firesprite in the future? Are you committed to VR? Are you looking at different genres?
The Persistence is our third VR game, and I think it's fair to say that we love making VR games as it is the most immersive way to play. Especially tense and stealthy games. As us game developers get better and better at making games in VR, I think players will be rewarded with bigger and better VR games over the coming years. The future is pretty exciting.
Here at Firesprite, we already have some really exciting games in the pipeline (both VR and regular) which we can't wait to share with everyone!
Liverpool-based Firesprite Studios released the PSVR exclusive title The Persistence on July 24, they currently don't have any further projects announced, but we expect to hear more on that in the future.