The game that The Verge described as “an even more frenetic version of Borderlands in VR” has arrived. Experience life as a robotic bounty hunter in Gunheart, a new co-op, cross-platform shooter now available on Rift.
We sat down with Drifter Entertainment Co-Founder and CEO Ray Davis for the inside scoop.
What was the initial inspiration for Gunheart? How did the project change over time?
Ray Davis: Our inspiration came from many places. Our team has worked on games like Doom, Halo, Gears of War, and Robo Recall, so we have a solid background of building games that let you shoot bad guys in the face. We really wanted to deliver on making a great multiplayer experience and were determined to build a new type of game for VR.
Much of what Gunheart is—and what it will be—has been evolving over the course of development. We’re discovering what makes the game fun along the way, which is the best way to make a game. For example, the physics-based gameplay elements have come from our experiments during the process and have now come to be a core part of the game. We make changes often, sometimes daily. PvP wasn’t part of our original design, for instance, but something we tried on a whim that turned out to be really fun. That’s the benefit of working with a small, talented group of people.
Did you use any tools inside of VR as part of your production process?
RD: Absolutely. Early on, a lot of the characters were being created with Oculus Medium. We wouldn’t have been able to finish Gunheart this quickly without Medium, for sure. Kenneth Scott, one of our co-founders and art director, can bring in a new environment and rapidly prototype in VR, which truncates the pipeline dramatically. Sculpting in VR eliminates a lot of steps in traditional game development. Even if I wasn’t making a VR game, I would want to find a way to bring VR elements into the design process in order to speed things up.
You hosted a closed beta in early July. What did you learn from that?
RD: We’ve definitely done a lot of balance passing since bringing real players into the game. We’ve got the pendulum swinging day to day in order to find the sweet spot between fun to play versus difficulty level. We’re working hard to remember that the VR audience isn’t necessarily hardcore gamers, so we want to make Gunheart both accessible and challenging.
We’ve also added a lot of unlockables to Gunheart, allowing players to customize their avatar, but we haven’t been giving players a lot of instructions as to how they unlock. It’s been cool to watch the Beta community talking to each other, trying to figure out how they work. That shows us that players are looking at Gunheart as a real video game and not a novelty VR experience.
What kind of community response have you seen thus far?
RD: It’s been cool to see our early superusers finding each other in-game and playing together, laying the foundation for Gunheart’s community. Even in beta, we saw people having a lot of fun playing despite the bugs. One beta tester played Gunheart for about nine hours straight on their first day and then came back for more the next day. That’s a huge compliment and also crazy to see as a developer.
VR is such a new frontier, and we’re doing a lot of things with the game that are hard to explain, so it’s great to see players pick it up and then show it to other players. The community viral effect is really powerful and a great way to learn a co-op game like ours.
What’s the craziest reaction to the game that you’ve seen?
RD: We’ve been amused by what we call the “laser light show effect” we’ve been seeing in the Beta community. We added laser pointers to the handheld multitool in the game, which prompted someone to say, “You know, you should never point a laser in someone’s face.” You can imagine what happened with players from that point on ...
We also have a lot of fun social elements built into the multitool, which lets players have really interesting, expressive emotes, such as blowing up balloons or drawing in mid-air. It’s fun to watch people come back from an intense shoot-’em-up session and then spend as much time, if not more, having a party in the shared social space. It’s really amazing to see these shared social experiences evolve within our action game—which reminds me, we need to add a disco ball to the multitool options.
Could this game have been possible outside of VR?
RD: No, absolutely not. The whole point of Drifter Entertainment is to build things that are only possible in VR. One example is the crossbow bolts that players can control in mid-flight thanks to motion controls. All of our environments make heavy use of over-the-top verticality that just wouldn’t work on a traditional screen. There are a thousand magic things in Gunheart that would never be possible outside of VR—never mind the power of shared co-op presence. Being able to dive into all this content with friends and strangers alike is incredible in VR.
Tell us a little about the soundtrack. What composer did you work with?
RD: One of our co-founders, Brian Murphy, found Paul Leonard-Morgan through his work on the Dredd soundtrack. Paul had done a lot of soundtrack composing for movies, TV, and games, and he seemed like a perfect fit. He’s also comfortable building his music in layers, letting us build procedural music to fit the action that’s happening in the game on a moment-by-moment basis. He works fast, creates great music, and we’re all drawn to his Scottish accent.
What attracted you to VR as an industry as well as a creative space?
RD: All of us at Drifter had previously dipped our toes into VR and MR, and it seemed like the perfect time to form a creative team focused on building the new wave of interactive experiences. We’re excited to build things that weren’t possible on previous platforms, and we’re convinced that VR, AR, and MR will eventually eat all other types of game platforms. From an industry viewpoint, VR will be the only place to be very shortly.
Where do you think VR will take us next?
RD: I’m looking forward to the expansion of VR gaming communities and want to see more and more games come in to the point where we move from single game-focused groups to a larger community of VR gamers. As the cost, comfort level, and tech involved in VR continue to improve, we’ll see more and more people adopt VR.
What’s next for you?
RD: Our focus is expanding Gunheart. We’ll be adding more features, weapons, and modes—listening to players and seeing what they respond to, then doubling down on that. We feel like we’ve built a great foundation for Gunheart, and now we want to get cranking on expanding the game much further.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Ray. We can’t wait to see what you dream up next.
Blow balloons and blow up bugs in Gunheart on Rift today!
— The Oculus Team