Row, row, row your boat—but not gently. Never gently. Feel the crisp winter air against your face as you pound the drums, fast and brutal, in Ragnarock, out today on the Quest Platform.
We fell in love with Ragnarock’s App Lab release a few months back. Now the full version is out on the Oculus Store, bringing Viking-themed drumming and a high-energy folk-metal soundtrack to the masses. Smash the drums in-time with the music from your perch at the back of the longship, keep your crew’s morale high, and try to make it as far down the river as possible. During the slow sections you might even have time to admire the landscape a bit.
It’s a one-of-a-kind rhythm game—and did we mention they already have a Helheim-themed update planned for next week? We sat down with WanadevStudio’s Côme de Percin (Founder and Creative Director), Tom Duchêne (Music Director), and Nola Speck (Producer) to chat about Ragnarock’s development, the App Lab process, and what it took to make air drumming feel as satisfying as a real drum set.
Which came first: The idea for a Viking-themed rhythm game, or a love of bands like Alestorm and Sons of O’Flaherty?
Côme de Percin: At the very beginning, our goal was to make a multiplayer boat race rhythm game. We were thinking about the feel of the game first, as we always do when we kick off a new VR game. Our core mechanic was hitting drums to give power to rowers of a Roman galley, the primary inspiration coming from Asterix, a French comic book.
We quickly shifted to the Viking theme, because we wanted to give the player a sense of power. We found that the rougher style of the Vikings served that purpose very well—and matched the Metal music genre, which came quite naturally with the theme (and our own taste). In Ragnarock, everything needs to be oriented towards those feelings of Power / Roughness / Impact / Epicness, sprinkled with a small dose of humor!
Are any of you drummers in real-life?
Tom Duchêne: Many of the team are musicians! We have drummers, of course, but also guitar, bass, keys, and accordion players—everything we need for a full folk-metal band!
More than the actual instruments we’re familiar with: The most important thing on this project was having a good understanding of rhythm and how playing music can make you feel powerful, so we could translate this feeling into the game itself and the way we note-mapped songs.
It’s also worth noting that even though percussion is often at the heart of the track, the notes will often follow another instrument to make sure the player is never bored and that the difficulty level remains stable, so having diverse musical talents among us is really useful. (It’s also great for lunchtime jam sessions!)
How did you make drums that feel satisfying to hit in VR—when you’re not actually hitting anything? Was that challenging? Any tips?
CdP: Air drumming can be tough and has definitely been a nice challenge for us, since we need to convince your brain that you indeed hit something (brutally).
In Ragnarock we play with 3 of your 5 senses and some small effects to enhance the immersion.
1) Hearing: Obviously there is a sound when you hit the drum. In order to make it more enjoyable, we try to play the hit drum sound on tempo with the music. Even if you are a bit desynchronized, the sound will be played synchronously by default (although pro players can disable this behavior in order to perform better).
Note that the hammer velocity is taken into account to increase/decrease the volume of the drum sound. That also enhances the credibility of the whole thing.
2) Touch: Haptic feedback—or vibration—of the controller is key. Similar to the sound, we use the hammer velocity to increase/decrease the feedback intensity. The length of the effect has been tweaked a lot to balance between power (longer effect) and dynamism (shorter effect) to avoid a continuous vibration when flurries of notes are coming at you.
3) Sight: There are a lot of things here. First of all, when you hit the drum with your hammer, there is a muzzle flash at the exact point of contact. Then we play a feedback effect on the surface you hit, whether the drum or the combo shield. We used to call these effects “Boyoying” at the studio! Effects are driven by curves like these:
The top curve is the “Main Effect,” where the whole drum is pushed down and slowly returns to its position. The second one is the “Metal Effect,” which causes the middle of the drum to shake with a different frequency. The third curve is the very top of the drum, which is pushed down at the precise location of the hit. [Note that this effect is performance-intensive and has been disabled for performance reasons on the Quest version.] Combined, the whole effect depends on the strength you put into the hit, so it responds to you and that helps convince your brain. (A similar effect occurs when you hit the left or right combo shield.)
Then to enhance the “juiciness” of the effect, we added some particles. (LOTS of particles!) When you crush a rune, a bunch of particles immediately spawn and eject from the impact. If it’s a perfect hit, there are even more particles and a special gold effect is added on top of that. The velocity of particles has been exaggerated to increase the sensation of brutal hitting.
But that’s not all! In order to be perfectly satisfying, two other things are important:
First, while playing, it can be annoying to miss the drum because you are jumping and dancing! Therefore we added a bigger hit zone (only during the song) which helps avoid missing a drum and keeps players from getting frustrated.
Last but not least, we noticed that air drumming is very different from one player to another in terms of elevation perception, hammer angle, and so forth. We added a way to fine-tune the way you hold the hammer and the elevation of your drums before the game, to make sure the player is perfectly comfortable with their instruments.
This primary interaction between the player and our game is crucial, so we tested many different settings to try to achieve the best possible feeling and make the game more enjoyable.
Ragnarock released on App Lab in July. How has the game changed or evolved since then, and did releasing early on App Lab provide you with any valuable feedback or steer the game’s development in any way?
Nola Speck: Ever since releasing on App Lab, we have been very focused on performance and how to improve our players’ experience on Oculus Quest and Quest 2. Trying to improve the visual quality while reducing the cost of computation and graphics is a very difficult equation. We’ve made a lot of progress though, and we’re very happy with where the game is at right now. It provides a smooth experience for players, which is critical in a rhythm game.
While being on App Lab, we also received a lot of player feedback on our Discord or in reviews, which is precious information for our studio. It’s great for bug fixing, but also to know what our players like and need—in terms of music, features, competition, and so on—and informed what we should focus on developing. We’re still actively working on expanding Ragnarock, so we make sure to take all of this feedback into account when we decide what features to add next!
Do you see yourself shifting into other genres eventually or is Ragnarock committed to folk-metal and the like?
TD: For now, we have selected and commissioned songs that fit the general theme as much as we could. The soundtrack ranges from Celtic Rock to Dwarven Power Metal—with a bit of Electronic and Orchestral music mixed in, which is already quite a stretch. One of our goals is to make these awesome genres accessible to everyone, regardless of your musical background.
We’ll always strive to include tracks that make you want to sail to battle with your crew and party in the tavern afterwards, but we would love to open the tracklist to new genres as long as they feel good to play in the game.
The themed updates are a great way to push the boundaries of the tracklist, starting with the update releasing for Halloween, which features a really dark and technical song from Jinjer. We also have a few other songs planned that include influences from very different styles. All we can say for now is that when we party, we party hard!
We also plan on releasing DLC that allows us to include songs that are amazing but a bit different from the main tracklist—whether focusing on a specific band, or diving deeper into exciting new genres. We have dozens of incredible bands upcoming, curated by the team and suggested by the community, and we can’t wait to share them with you.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
NS: As we said, we have a very exciting update coming for Halloween on October 28th! The Helheim Update will include a spooky new environment, two new songs, a themed lobby makeover, and many other cool features. There’s even a mysterious hammer skin to find, so keep your eyes open! And all of this is a free update!
As for the next few months, we are already working on adding more amazing content, sourcing epic bands, and designing the future features and game modes, so stay tuned!
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
NS: Please feel welcome to leave us any questions or suggestions on WanadevStudio’s Discord. The team reads everything carefully! We love sharing our experience as an indie VR studio, so just ask us if you would like to know more about particular topics. We’re already preparing a dive into the music of Ragnarock that we hope you will enjoy. See you soon on the seven seas!
You can pick up Ragnarock today for $24.99 USD on the Quest Platform.