Explore the Wild Side of Data in ‘Paper Beast,’ Available Now on the Oculus Rift Platform

Oculus Blog
July 24, 2020

Last week, we announced Paper Beast would soon make its debut on the Oculus Rift Platform. The first VR experience from legendary game designer Erik Chahi, Paper Beast is a harrowing adventure set within a synthetic ecosystem. The game welcomes you to explore a landscape of surreal creatures and simulated weather, a place where simple curiosity can lead to hidden rewards and memorable moments. We’re thrilled to announce that Paper Beast is available now on the Oculus Rift Platform.

The world of Paper Beast is full of motion and life, but you won’t find canned animations anywhere; a robust physics engine governs everything from the plants and animals to the weather. It’s up to you to use this system to solve environmental puzzles, interact with flora and fauna, and discover all of the secrets hidden inside of Paper Beast’s virtual habitat.

We spoke with Pixel Reef founder and game designer Erik Chahi to hear more about Paper Beast.

How would you describe Paper Beast to someone new to VR?

Paper Beast is an immersive adventure designed exclusively for VR where you can explore a surrealistic natural world. Imagine a cocktail with a bit of Dali, Lynch, and BBC Planet Earth. Shake it and you’ve got a crazy universe to explore! A wild ecosystem was born somewhere inside the internet. This place is hidden from humanity, and you are the first explorer. You will meet animals made of paper with unique behaviors and personality. Paper Beast engages players in a very unusual way. Here, everything is driven by a physical simulation. Paper animals can be manipulated precisely and each paper body adapts to what you do.

Your previous games have all delivered unique worlds to explore. How did VR change your approach to game design?

The big thing in VR is the way you can feel the space around you and the size of objects. We played with perspective, starting from a confined place that opens to a wide landscape. We played with the size of creatures, and with altitude; from high spots down to mysterious abyssal depths. From a game design point of view, there’s also significant change when dealing with physical gestures.

Paper Beast delivers most of its narrative through design and animation. What inspired this approach?

I wanted to reconnect with my previous game, Another World, where all narrative is non-verbal. With a game about wildlife, it was natural to continue down this path. I love this because it empowers the players’ imagination and can impact their emotions more directly. The mime and puppet theater has been an inspiration. I’ve noticed some natural sites, like the desert, have a force that moves you instantly. In the game, the environment is an actor at the same level as the creatures. It is alive and participates in the narrative.

What was the most significant technical challenge in bringing Paper Beast to life in VR? How’d you go about playtesting an immersive play environment?

The most complicated part was building a game on top of a physics system. Interactions influence everything: how objects collide and move with the wind, how the ground can shift. It is like mastering a wild horse. To get it stable, it demands a lot of tests. There is a lot of uncertainty with such a system, but it creates interesting gameplay. We use those physics to build a locomotion system so creatures can recover their equilibrium in any situation. To get it to work, each layer of simulation must be very solid. We use this simulation for everything, not only for the gameplay, but also for creating crazy moving environments, like a storm of paper that becomes as hypnotic as ocean waves.

Sound is essential in any game, and it’s vital for immersive experiences in VR. Can you talk about the sound effects and original tracks in Paper Beasts?

I’m an audio lover. All of my previous games paid particular attention to music and sound design. For this one, I wanted to go further. Three people worked full time to make this surrealistic world sound believable and stunning. Our sound designer, Floriane, created signature sounds from a variety of papers, cardboard, adhesive tape, wifi waves, radio noises, and natural tones to create audio that sounds natural, but also artificial. That’s where all the fun begins. It sounds like nothing we know, but it is also very familiar and expressive. The music is in the same vein, Roly Porter composes ambient soundtracks from inside the VR headset to feel the universe. His work blended well with Floriane’s sound design and helped make even the most surreal aspects of the game more believable.

Can you tell us about the sandbox in Paper Beast? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen come out of that mode?

The sandbox mode is an open playground where players can experiment with species behavior and physical interaction inside the simulation. It includes plants, animals, wind, weather, dynamic terrain, and many other objects. You can sculpt your world, populate it, and watch as creatures reproduce. You create your own little ecosystem and experiment with it. The critical thing is that everything is simulated and living, from the animals to the ground. Everything is dynamic and evolves. The water flows and erodes the terrain, creatures interact with topography and shape it. Some are even building dams to create lakes and so forth.

The player has powerful tools to massively edit the terrain and see it evolve immediately. The fun comes from the unexpected interaction. You can also experiment with creature behavior. What if you populate the world with two species of predators? Which one will dominate?

How do spatial audio, haptic feedback, and other VR features enhance the experience?

All the sounds are spatialized. Clement, our audio integrator and coder, took advantage of the physical aspect of the world to play sounds on paper creatures. Every part has a unique sound: You can hear when one specific leg hits the ground and how it is sliding. Is it sand, is it rock? We even have animation driven by audio, and vocals that animate the neck and head of creatures. We use spatialized audio to capture players’ attention.

All of the objects you grab have a different mass. Your beam will bend like a rod depending on the weight and gives precise feedback of what is light or heavy. You can almost feel it. It is what people call Pseudo-Haptic. Because sometimes we believe more strongly in what we see than feedback from our muscles.

What’s something in Paper Beast you think people will find cool and surprising?

How these paper creatures feel alive and how you can get attached to them. And the overall craziness of this adventure itself. It’s more than a journey, more than a game; it becomes a piece of life that’s full of meaning.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about Paper Beast now that it’s on Oculus Rift?

I’m very glad to see the game on Rift. We take a lot of care to have the best control for it. It is really an enjoyable version. We’ve boosted graphics from the PS4 version to take advantage of additional power available on PCs. This version includes continuous displacement, so you can move seamlessly throughout the world!

Grab your safari hat and jump into Paper Beast on the Oculus Platform today!