A throwback to the glory days of arcades, Swarm is a colorful, fast-paced shooter with demanding difficulty—plus global leaderboards for those with a competitive streak. You’ll use grappling hooks to navigate each level, letting you swing to and fro like a certain arachnoid hero so many of us love. Swarm hits the Oculus Quest and Rift Platforms on April 8.
We sat down with Greensky Games Founder Peter Le Bek to learn more.
What was it that drew you to VR?
Peter Le Bek: I’ve been working in VR since the DK1 was released. I started Greensky Games because I wanted to build the kind of VR games I was dying to play—games that were intense, physical, and couldn’t possibly exist on any other platform.
What was the original inspiration behind Swarm? How has the game changed during the course of development?
PLB: From the start, we were focused on building something with a really fun, physical motion mechanic that could only exist in VR. When we started development, there wasn’t anything like that available for the Quest.
We drew inspiration from Spider-Man and Titanfall and spent four months iterating on grappling. We had a breakthrough when we gave the rope some elasticity and tension simulation—suddenly it felt like we had more control and power, more like Spider-Man. From there, we considered building a 3D platformer, or a racing game, but we settled on the strategic arena shooter because swinging through explosions and plunging down on enemies was just ridiculously fun!
Initially, we actively avoided boss battles. We were focused entirely on making the “regular” enemies interact with each other in interesting ways so the levels played out differently, every time. After we added the first “boss battle,” our playtesters liked it so much and it was such an epic, fun fight that we really went all in and spent a lot of time developing unique bosses for each of the game’s five zones.
Swarm has a unique cel-shaded art style. What influenced the overall look and feel?
PLB: We’ve always thought VR is uniquely good at immersion. When you put on a headset, you really feel like you’re somewhere else. And if you’re entirely shutting off the outside world to be immersed in a VR world, you should really enjoy it. You should really enjoy spending time there. So you’ll find Swarm’s environments are bright, colorful, and beautifully cel-shaded.
The overall look and feel was definitely influenced by Borderlands, Jet Set Radio, Gundam-style Anime, and comic books.
How did you land on the grappling hook mechanic? Did that evolve at all over time?
PLB: We started prototyping with some major constraints—the movement mechanic had to be physical, only possible in VR, and we wanted a game that would let us take advantage of the freedom of movement you get with the cord-free Quest.
We landed on the grappling hook mechanic early on. We knew it was fun, and it met our design constraints. Building a game around the grappling hook was much more difficult though. We tried a puzzle-based platformer, a racing game, and some others. None of them were even close to working, and it looked like we might give up on building a game around the grappling hook. The “a-ha” moment came when we added tension to the grappling hook and made the arena much smaller. The combination gave us more control over the swing, so we could decide where we wanted to go and forced us to be creative as we navigated a smaller area.
Then we spent hundreds and hundreds of hours testing and tweaking to make the grappling in Swarm feel just right and to minimize the risk of motion sickness.
I won’t get into all the details, but we used a combination of carefully-tuned physics, sound, and haptic feedback for the rope tension, directional particle effects, and realistic wind sounds.
Anyone who plays Swarm will immediately notice how the grappling feels—it’s fluid, it’s fast, and there’s realistic tension, so it’s intuitive. It really makes you feel like you’re Spider-Man, with a gun.
How do you think VR will change the face of gaming in the next five to 10 years?
PLB: I think many people have a negative view of video games because when you’re playing one, you’re stationary and staring at a screen. They think they’re a bad habit, or unhealthy.
I don’t necessarily agree, but I think VR frees us to use the full capability of our bodies, letting us really engage physically in a way that’s closer to how sports are played in “real life.” I think the immersiveness and physicality of VR will fundamentally change what a “game” is, bringing gaming to a massive audience, far beyond what’s now considered the gaming market.
And 10 years from now, the VR games played by hundreds of millions of people won’t be adapted from 2D—they’ll be designed specifically for VR.
I’m very excited to build those experiences.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
PLB: Swarm is launching with competitive leaderboards, for async multiplayer. I can’t share any specifics right now, but I can tell you true multiplayer will be coming in the near future. Stay tuned ;)
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
PLB: We want to thank all of the amazing folks in the Swarm community, who have been finding bugs, giving feedback, and keeping our morale high.
We couldn’t have done it without you!
Mark your calendars—Swarm swings onto the Quest and Rift Platforms April 8.