In the last part, we met David Adams and Gunfire Games. Now it’s time for more on their latest project, Chronos.
[alert style=”grey”]Enjoy our work? Consider supporting OnlySP through our new Patreon page. Every dollar pledged helps![/alert]
Developed primarily for VR, Chronos is all about twisting RPG tropes to take advantage of the technology’s brand-new perspective. An action-adventure in which you play as a man devoted to ridding the world of an evil presence that lurks within the walls of a labyrinth, Chronos aims to create a deep and fresh experience with engrossing and immersive gameplay, as well as an interesting progression system.
“It’s an adventure game that plays out over the course of the character’s life,” says David Adams, Gunfire Games’ general manager. “The quest is such that you can’t just play it over the course of one year in the character’s timeline. That’s really what it’s about, we wanted a cool RPG that took place in an atmospheric and interesting world.
“We like the compelling idea that this isn’t just something that he did for a week. This is literally his life’s quest. You start the game when you’re 17 and end when you’re 70, 80 – we haven’t decided when we’re going to cut it off.”
Chronos weaves together a variety of influences to try and create its cohesive whole, borrowing from here and there, but never enough to be derivative.
“Inspiration’s hard because it comes from about 8000 different places,” Adams says. “There’s never just one single inspiration. I always find that question hard. You can throw weird shit in there like The Neverending Story, Ico, there’s so much that you pull from that it’s hard to pin-point down to a single thing.”
“Plus, if you say something, then people are like, ‘oh you’re cloning that game,’” he jokes.
Gunfire are keeping Chronos’ story basic and unpretentious, allowing the player to make what they will of the world that they’re building; the protagonist is defined by their quest.
“The story’s really simple, he’s just trying to kill a dragon,” they say. “We wanted to have a really simple high level premise, basically, the world’s jacked up right now, there’s this evil presence inside this labyrinth and you need to kill it to free the land. The game’s really more about the journey than the story, the story’s not driving you through the game. It’s not about the goal at the end, but the experience of the labyrinth and what happens to you there that makes the game interesting. We’re not going to have all these dramatic story reveals, it’s not about that.
“[The player character’s] definitely a blank slate. There’s not a set-up, there’s not a lot of conversation with other NPCs. You can imagine someone that’s decided to spend their life in pursuit of this goal, so that gives you some context on the character, but the rest is what the player imagines it to be.”
Chronos is played from a 3rd person perspective, which, a brief look at the YouTube comments on the game’s announcement trailer will tell you, some people see as a questionable decision. However, Gunfire are confident that Chronos will deliver a more accessible, and just as immersive, experience as 1st person VR.
[pullquote align=”right”]The story’s really simple, he’s just trying to kill a dragon[/pullquote]
“We wanted to make a game that most people could play,” they say. “Most 1st person VR games will make somebody uncomfortable. We were able to do a 3rd person camera system that prevented that. At the end of the day, it’s actually really cool.
“When you put on those goggles and it blacks everything else out around you, and all you’re seeing is the game world, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 1st or 3rd person,” they continue. “It feels like you’re in a room and you happen to be controlling this character that’s moving around the world. You’re not moving your position, but sitting and watching the character move. You still get that really cool sense of immersion.”
“As we were doing testing, ramping up for it,” Adams adds. “We really found that this was the best and most accessible way without getting that uncomfortable feeling, but still getting that amazing immersive feel of size, scale and presence.
“Also, there’re things that you just can’t do as well in 1st person. Melee combat, just the way that the game plays out.”
THE WALLS HAVE EYES
The camera works with a fixed perspective, with the player moving their head to look around a room. This alleviates a lot of the motion sickness associated with VR, while also lending Chronos a distinctive look and feel.
“What makes people sick in VR,” they say, “Is that if you do a traditional FPS and move forward on the controller, and the game moves forwards for you, in 1st person that makes you feel really sick.
“Basically [in Chronos] the camera moves with your head, which is fine in VR, that doesn’t have any negative effects. But if you were on the player, and moved the camera as the player moved, it’d just throw you off, your brain doesn’t like that. It’s different for everyone, but a lot of people find that very uncomfortable, so you don’t want the camera moving around, rolling forward or moving to the side.”
Chronos iterates on the classic RPG formula by lining its hand-crafted labyrinth with puzzles that’re more Sierra than Skyrim, and replaces more conventional character progression with a gameplay-altering aging system.
“It’s a merge of RPG and Adventure games,” Adams explains. “You’re fighting guys and levelling stuff up, getting better at defeating enemies, or you’re solving adventure-game-like puzzles. And there’s cool VR moments. Those’re the core mechanics, but you have to imagine them translated into VR, you think of ways to use the sense of presence, that players can look around with their head, to put twists on tropes that you’d find in other games.
“[The Labyrinth] is hand crafted for the most part,” adds Ben Gabbard, another member of the Gunfire team. “We’re actually taking a lot of inspiration from old school adventure games, less Legend of Zelda, more Secret of Monkey Island, finding items and figuring things out.”
“We don’t really want to get into the details of how it works yet,” says Adams. “Because honestly, we’re still fleshing it out and it’s just going to change.”
“Every system’s been done for RPGs before so we’re kind of scraping the barrel,” he laughs.
Continuing, he says: “We went in, were throwing ideas against the wall and thought, “hey that’s kind of cool, let’s find a way to make it work.” It’s never been done before and it’s interesting, so what the hell?
“It generally effects how your character progresses, as far as what you’re good at, what you’re more powerful with, your abilities. It definitely affects the gameplay, there’re a lot of little details.
What’s cool in 2d is different from what’s cool in 3d.
“The character technically spends a year waiting to for the labyrinth to open again. You don’t play that year, but you play the last day before it opens again. You’re constantly going back to your hub. There’re no NPCs there, and that goes back to the idea that this is the character’s life and quest, he’s isolated, there’s not another group of guys doing the same quest. There’re NPCs inside the labyrinth, typical RPG elements that you encounter while you’re exploring.”
Developing for VR is a challenge, and has its differences from traditional console development, but Gunfire are confident they’re up to the task. In their eyes, VR has a bright future, and this first generation of headsets is only the beginning.
“It’s got to be 90 frames-per-second for a start, locked,” says Adams. “I don’t think people realise that. It runs at 90 fps, never drops a frame, and the VR headset’s higher than 1080p. That’s one of the biggest considerations. Honestly, the gameplay isn’t that much different. What I’ve experienced is that you look at a space like you normally would in 2d and think, ‘eh’, and it’s what you’re used to from making other games. But then you put the headset on and think, ‘that’s really cool’. What’s cool in 2d is different from what’s cool in 3d. It’s not night and day, it’s enough where you have to put the headset on and check stuff out.
“HUD is hard to do in VR. You can’t stick it to the screen, because that sucks. You can’t put it in fixed positions in the world. You’re forced to find immersive ways to represent things. I guess you could put a health bar over the player’s head, but that breaks the immersion. You have to find ways to communicate that you’re wounded organically. That’s definitely one of the big considerations for VR, it makes you rethink a lot of the simple things you’d normally do.
“You’re looking at the first, first version of these VR headsets. It would be like picking up an Atari and going, ‘computer graphics suck’. That’s what’s amazing for me, this VR headset is like the first console I’ve played, imagine what a headset’ll be like, 15, 10, even five years from now. It’s already pretty damn good is the thing. If that’s the starting point, I think there’s a really cool future for it.”
SENSE OF SCALE
Combat is important in Chronos, as you battle more and more powerful enemies on the way to your ultimate goal. 3rd person-combat is bread and butter for the Gunfire team, most of whom worked on the acclaimed Darksiders franchise, but series fans will find something a bit different in Chronos, where each creature will take careful consideration to dispatch.
“It’s mostly melee combat and magic,” Adams says. “It’s different from Darksiders, it’s a little more deliberate, the pacing’s a little more strategic, but it’s not like night and day. There’s dodges and blocks, it’s definitely active.”
They continue: “For every creature, we’re trying to spend a lot more time on how they’ll react, because unlike Darksiders, the combat’s a lot more focussed and deliberate. You won’t be fighting like 30 dudes and a billion guys are coming out of a wall to come attack you. You find challenge in taking on a single guy, so each one has to fight a bit differently, has his own movesets, moves around the world at a different pace.”
“The performance is one factor,” says Adams. “But if you put a ton of guys on the screen, it just becomes spam. Different games do it in different ways. In Batman you pound the button until you see a move and then you counter the move. Again, we want something a little more deliberate where you’re watching what the enemy does, you’re blocking; it adds a little more of a tactical element to the combat.”
“I’m not disparaging melee spam,” he adds. “I love melee spam, I did Darksiders for crying out loud, it’s just wanting to do something different basically.”
VR gives gamers a new perspective, and with that, comes ups and downs. When players have the ability to crane their neck up at an advancing foe, it’s all the more important to communicate that size difference effectively. From lumbering giants to tiny objects, Gunfire are putting in the work to try and make Chronos feel right.
“You can see from the trailer with the cyclops,” they say. “You can see the scale of that guy, there are going to be bosses in the game. We want to play with that, the presence of getting close to the camera, getting the enemies close to the camera. Getting those, I won’t call them jump-scares, but those jump out moments where you feel like, ‘I’m in this environment, I’m in this cave’, with the verticality of the rocks if something comes out then you get a lot of opportunities for those kind of moments.”
“With most 3rd person games, says Adams. “From those camera views with non-VR, scale is kind of fudged, you’re seeing it from this weird perspective. But in VR, you’re acutely aware of all of the details of scale, you can tell exactly how big something is. It works against you that you actually have to make stuff the right size, but it also works for you that when something is big or something is small, the player really gets a sense of that scale.”
Gunfire are really trying to make Chronos an amazing and memorable experience, utilising new tech to take players on an expedition to a fantasy world of their own design.
“It permeates everything,” says Adams. “The environments, the sounds, the creatures, the lighting. The general mood and tone of the game. Darksiders was very Saturday-morning cartoon, cool comic book theme, this game’s not like that, there’s moments of calm, moments of sombreness, there’s mystery.
“The most compelling part for me is that you’re physically transported to this fantasy world,” he continues.
“Which is awesome. You see versions of it in other games, but you never actually fully experience them, you’ve never been there, you’ve never stared up at a giant castle wall before. You’ve seen them on a screen. It’s the difference between seeing a picture of a castle, and actually going there. I think that’s the difference between a normal game and a VR game.
“We’re proving that experience in a fantasy world, there’s all this cool stuff you’ve seen pictures of, but you’ve never actually been there. That’s really, for me, what makes the game transformative. We’re doing other stuff, the aging stuff, to make the actual gameplay aspect of it cool, but that’s the one thing that you can’t, no matter how many videos you make, you can’t communicate that to people. So I just want to say that over and over again. You’re there. You’re not looking at it, you’re not seeing a picture. You’re actually there.”