What happens when you mix a fantasy sword fighting game with a synthwave-inspired soundtrack and an ’80s look and feel? You get Until You Fall, the newest melee combat experience from Schell Games, the developer of VR puzzler I Expect You To Die. With a satisfying and fun new combat system and rogue-lite gameplay, Schell Games has created a VR experience where no two runs are the same. And after two years of development, Until You Fall is now available on the Rift Platform!
The game transports players to the world of Rokar, where monsters and spirits have defeated the last of the Rune Knights, except for one... you. Combat in Until You Fall is about more than just mashing the X button, but rather a combination of blocking, attacking, and even teleport-smashing into your opponents to defeat them. As knights progress through the game, randomized rewards help forge new customizable weapons that make each runthrough unique.
‘‘When we started building Until You Fall, we knew that we wanted to make a melee combat experience that made the player feel... well, awesome,” says Schell Games Senior Designer and Until You Fall Project Director Dave Bennett. “Through extensive prototyping, we had a good handle on how we wanted to simulate the weight of weapons. We also had a combat system we felt would work well in VR: attack, block, wear down your opponents, and then finish them off with a series of well placed strikes.”
The game’s neon 1980s design is also stands out. As Bennett notes, “While we don’t have any specific references, we definitely leaned into an ’80s look and feel, what with all the neon and pumping synthwave soundtrack. We wanted to evoke the feelings associated with those while still being our own thing. A phrase I like using is ‘misremembered nostalgia.’ We wanted to make the thing that feels like what you remember so fondly, but totally isn’t. This game is like you’ve been transplanted into that awesome art that’s been painted on the side of the arcade cabinet you used to play.”
To learn more about the game, we dug deeper with Bennett, who worked on the game from its early stages of development.
How long was the game in development?
Dave Bennett: We’ve been working on the game for almost two years now. We were in pre-production for a good chunk of 2018, and then formally began development around August of that same year.
During pre-production, the most contentious thing wasn’t actually the combat—it was the movement. The team felt very strongly that movement was incredibly important for an action game, but we were also keenly aware that it’s hard to feel like an awesome knight if you’re feeling sick to your stomach.
How did you resolve that tension, and what was the result?
DB: We ended up iterating and spending a lot of time finding techniques to prevent motion sickness, like our vignetting system, as well as investigating which movement schemes were both fun and not nausea-inducing. We ran a lot of playtests to get to the point where we felt like we got it right, and we had to constantly find new folks to playtest with.
A personal favorite mechanic that came out of all our movement testing is our dash mechanic—a teleport-style movement with a limited number of charges. The intention was to have players use it to engage or disengage enemies, but the way we had implemented it made it feel like enemies should be blown back by the movement. So we leaned into it, and allowed the player to explicitly use it as a shoulder-check attack to throw enemies off balance.
How did your previous work in VR help inform your work on Until You Fall?
DB: We’ve worked on a variety of different VR titles, each with wildly different needs and constraints. Until You Fall was our first attempt at a more high-intensity action title for VR, but we had a lot of good practices established for playtesting and prototyping. This was especially important for doing playtesting for player comfort.
Our breadth of different VR titles also let us hone in on the interactions we felt were core to the experience—namely, hitting monsters with swords (and other sword-like implements).
What influenced the character design and overall art direction?
DB: When we first started, we had a more straightforward fantasy look. The Rune Knight (the player character) and the enemies always had lattice around their glowing, hollow bodies, which was pretty unique. But we still kept it grounded in a fantasy setting.
As we continued nailing down the core experience, though, we wanted to make sure everything in our game drove you towards combat. That meant the music, the art, the mechanics—everything.
I’ve jokingly referred to our combat encounters as “murderous dance clubs filled with swords.”
In my mind, things really came together once we decided to go with a synthwave-inspired soundtrack. The driving beat, instrumentation and (sometimes) grungy feel of the music inspired us to push the glowing neon aspects of our characters and environments to more of an extreme to better fit the tone we arrived at.
Who did you work with on the soundtrack and sound design? What was that experience like?
DB: Both the sound design and the soundtrack of the game were done in-house. The soundtrack itself was primarily composed by Daniel Cohen, and we were lucky to have Chris Dudley create the track that plays over our credits sequence.
We wanted to find a genre of music that drove players into their next encounter, all under the constant threat of attack. You know, music that you find yourself involuntarily bobbing to the rhythm of.
As we continued iterating on the combat of the game, it was super important to make sure each time you hit an enemy it felt (and sounded) satisfying. The music also helped informed how powerful and bombastic we wanted the sound effects to be.
What are fans of I Expect You To Die most likely to appreciate about this new game?
DB: While the games are very different, I think IEYTD fans will appreciate both the level of polish in the interaction and visuals, as well as the lengths we’ve taken to prevent motion sickness, even in a high-intensity sword fighting game.
What’s the best reaction you’ve seen so far when demoing the game?
DB: Watching players (some of whom have never used VR before) get into the game, realize that they have a virtual body, summon their weapons, and then go to town on some enemies never gets old to me. Each time a player goes through the journey of, “This is hard; I don’t know if I can do this,” to, “I can do this!” is just super exciting.
What’s your favorite part of the game and why?
DB: It’s gotta be how powerful you feel once you get into the flow of things. You’re a knight that can literally manifest weapons out of thin air, attack glowing monsters, and then crush magical crystals with your gauntleted fist to absorb their power. It’s super fun to watch, but nothing compares to being in the actual headset.
What advice would you give to a developer looking to start building for VR?
DB: Find your core experience pillars and build your interactions around them. It’s easy (and very tempting!) to try and implement every interaction ever, but you should start small and make sure you’re spending your time on the right interactions before going wider.
Also, be sure to play a lot of other VR and ask folks for help and feedback. We’re all figuring this out together.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
DB: We’re still in Early Access, so we’ve got some stuff we’re excited to add in 2019. This includes a few new weapons, the third tier of our Shattered Woods campaign, as well as additional difficulty modes for the game (both easier and harder). You can also see what we’ve got planned on our Public Roadmap.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
DB: We’re always looking out for community feedback to help guide our priorities, so if you end up playing the game, definitely let us know what you think by joining our Discord: discord.gg/untilyoufall. It’d be great to have you on our crazy, neon sword-filled journey.
Thanks for the great interview, Dave! We’re excited to break out our leg warmers and neon for today’s release on the Rift Platform!