At PAX South 2020, OnlySP interviewed Rebellion assistant producer Thomas Biggins about Sniper Elite VR, the challenges in creating VR games, and the future of the medium.
OnlySP: Were there any unique challenges that came with developing Sniper Elite VR compared to the other Sniper Elite games?
Biggins: Yeah, it’s a whole new medium and a whole new format. So straight away you can’t do everything one to one. One of the worst challenges that we came across is that you can’t physically turn the scope up to your eye in VR because you’ve got a massive headset in the way. So what we ideally want is have the scope go all the way up, and then we slightly offset that so people don’t smack themselves in the face. We wanted to recreate sniping and make it feel good and weighty. You just have to tweak those sorts of things. It’s realistic but it’s also fun.
OnlySP: Is there any difference in level design philosophy between having to develop for VR compared to a non VR game?
Biggins: Definitely! It has to be a bit more streamlined because the player can be facing anywhere at anytime. If you’re playing a third person game, you generally know where you’re facing. You can put UI stuff on the screen, but with this game in VR, you want to strip back the UI a bit because it’s about immersion.
At the same time, it means you can have cool VR moments. In the demo, we have massive explosions going overhead and things falling down. Because it’s in VR, it’s in your face. You can have smoke in people’s faces as well and have the3D audio going off. It’s definitely very different but it’s allowed us these new opportunities to do these cool VR moments.
OnlySP: Is there anything you learned from other VR games that helped you develop Sniper Elite VR?
Biggins: Previously, we made Battlezone VR which was a launch title for PlayStation VR. That one was very fresh for people. In Battlezone, you were in a tank structure. That really benefited us because it made sense for people sitting down and having that frame of reference around you. It’s really good for combating motion sickness. It’s like you’re in a car, and something is constant, so you don’t feel sick because that constantly follows you.
But because VR has come quite a few ways the last 3 or 4 years, we’re opening things up. In this game, we have a ton of different options because we know we don’t have that frame of reference like in Battlezone. It’s more open so we have teleporting controls or free movement if you want to go all in. We have things like snap aiming because we want as many people to play our game as possible.
OnlySP: When it came to creating Sniper Elite VR specifically, did you take inspiration from any other games in terms of how to develop it?
Biggins: Nothing specifically to be honest. For us, it was about taking the idea of sniping and putting that in VR. We used the experience we learned from Battlezone. It was more about that we have this great series and medium, so let’s bring that together in a fun and engaging way we know we can do.
OnlySP: The Kill Cam is a big feature in the Sniper Elite series. Since this is VR, I did expect it to be implemented differently. How did you come by the decision to implement it the way you did?
Biggins: In VR you have to consider motion sickness and what the user is experiencing. If you took the user standing still looking down the scope, and then have them suddenly following a bullet at the correct speed, it would make them feel very sick. There would be a massive difference between you and the ground, and you’re moving at fast speeds. A lot of people probably couldn’t handle that. At the same time, we wanted to keep in the Kill Cam, so there’s more focus on the end result when the bullet goes in.
But the nice thing about VR is that we don’t have to have the camera locked because the camera is your head. If you want to duck all the way down and look up at the Kill Cam, you can totally do that. You can look all the way around and you can also slow down the Kill Cam as well. It’s much more focused on the end result rather than the bullet this time around.
OnlySP: So a problem with virtual reality is sometimes it might not be as comfortable as regular games. Can you describe to me the different approaches the team took when it came to developing comfort options?
Biggins: Again, I think options is the key. Keep it as expanded as possible and have options there. You just need to tweak it. We also support different control schemes and we have things like player height adjustment. If you look at Battlezone, those options weren’t there, as it took time to figure out. Then games like Farpoint came out, and that had its own options. It had a dot in the middle, so it had a focus point so your brain can follow it side to side. So we put that in our game because it made sense for us. Also, maintaining that high frame rate is very very important.
OnlySP: What do you think about VR as a platform in general? And where do you think it’s going in the future?
Biggins: I think it’s awesome as there’s some stuff you can’t do elsewhere. For us, we’re making a sniping game, and there’s so much depth that you can experience by playing with a VR headset. You can physically sense how far something is far away. You don’t have to have other things to tell you that. I think the headsets are getting better every year. The audience out there is slowly building up. We know that the PS5 will support PSVR. The games are high quality and have taken real leaps. Back in the day they were just experiences but now you have more fully fleshed games like Blood & Truth. As the technology gets better, [VR] just going to keep growing.
OnlySP: Which platforms is Sniper Elite going to be on? And what is the release date?
PSVR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. We’re aiming for 2020!
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