Summer of Rift’s first game launch is officially here. Step inside the latest dungeon crawler from inXile Entertainment, The Mage’s Tale—available now on the Oculus Store!
To celebrate, we sat down with inXile CEO Brian Fargo and President Matthew Findley to talk spellcasting, locomotion, and the future of immersive media.
Having developed titles for PC, console, and mobile devices, what was it like to make the transition to VR?
Brian Fargo: Developing for VR was probably the biggest creative leap I’ve made into a new format. In VR, you need to consider the physical movements of the player. Where is the player looking? Where are their hands? What shape are the hands in? How do we use scale? What does it mean to put things behind the player? How do we handle not knowing where they’re looking? It was a wonderful new palette to draw from.
The things we spent the most time on were movement, hand controls, and throwing mechanics. It’s imperative that those elements feel natural. The presence aspect of VR is critical—and it’s half the fun. Getting these things right brings about true immersion and lets the player get lost in another world.
Matthew Findley: Working in VR also gives us a unique platform to experiment with binaural audio and 3d spatial audio. Unlike most game development, when developing for Rift we know exactly how the player is going to experience the audio. Knowing this gives us the freedom to push the envelope with audio techniques and drastically increase the level of audio immersion in the game.
How does The Mage’s Tale differentiate itself from other VR spellcasting titles like The Unspoken? Did you compare notes with the Insomniac team at all?
BF: Oculus has been wonderful in pointing us towards other games in development and having us communicate with each other. In fact, it’s been one of the most pleasant working experiences I’ve had in this industry. The Unspoken is a very different experience as an arena-based multiplayer game, but indeed their spellcasting looked excellent, and we made sure to know what they were up to. I remember we ended up changing our shield colors so we wouldn’t look derivative since we happened to have chosen the exact same colors they had originally.
What’s your favorite part of the game?
MF: My favorite part of the game is just that—it is a game. When new tech like VR shows up, the first wave of titles are often just toys or brief experiences. We wanted to create a full game that’s designed for and takes advantage of all that VR has to offer. You can’t be an RPG without having a long enough play experience to see your character change over time. By exploring the dungeon and finding mystic ingredients to take back to the lab and craft into new spells, you constantly change the strategies you have available to use in combat. Like any good RPG, the character you’re playing with at the end of the game is so much more powerful than the character you start with.
BF: My favorite part is how powerful the level of immersion is. Watching people stand on the narrow bridge and teeter over the edge trying to keep their balance never gets old. Then, just as people are getting comfortable moving around through these elaborate dungeons, a goblin comes running around a corner and starts shooting arrows at them. That’s where the screaming begins.
When we’ve taken the game out to trade shows and conventions, I’m often surprised to find our demo is the first VR experience for most people. We’re so focused on crafting this real game experience that we sometimes forget how new this tech is to the average consumer. VR has a way of making some of the tried and true game mechanics we’ve used for years feel fresh again. It makes your brain believe that what it’s seeing is real and lets us impact players emotionally on a level that’s just hard to recreate in traditional gaming.
What was it like working with Ged Grimes of Simple Minds fame?
MF: We first worked with Ged almost 19 years ago, and it was a great collaboration. When we started thinking about the music for The Mage’s Tale, he was the obvious choice. In addition to all of his work as a composer and music producer in games, TV, and film, Ged has a specific interest in traditional Scottish Gaelic folk music. When we sat down with him in Edinburgh and started talking about the world we were creating for both The Mage’s Tale and The Bard’s Tale IV, he immediately understood how music would play a huge role for us in creating an authentic atmosphere. His extensive network of musicians from all over Scotland has helped us tremendously in creating a rich world in which to set our games.
How did you tackle the issue of locomotion in VR?
BF: It was serendipitous that the original square-to-square grid movement system of The Bard’s Tale series was exactly the kind of movement system that works well in VR. However, we found that, at times, the player likes to move more cautiously, while at other times they want to move in bigger increments. This is why we have two systems at work in The Mage’s Tale.
Players can walk from square to square or leap ahead with a teleport when exploring. Being under attack opens up a different dynamic of movement—that’s why we introduced the ability to step left and right so the players could quickly move out of the way from attacks. It works quite well, and it’s intuitive. After playing a short while, you don’t have to think about the movement controls anymore.
Tell us about the NOLA expansion. Are your VR efforts centralized in that office, or is there a lot of overlap between it and Newport Beach?
BF: Having an office in the South has allowed us to draw talent that wouldn’t be able to move to California. inXile is really starting to hit its stride with the quality it’s producing, and I’m proud of the teams we’ve assembled.
MF: The main challenge of opening the NOLA office was figuring out effective lines of communication between multiple studios. Since nothing we develop is being exclusively made at either location, one of the things that I’m the most proud of is that the two studios have found a way to work like one team. One of the risks of growing a studio is that the internal culture tends to change as you get larger. Having two smaller studios instead of one large one has made it easier for us to maintain the type of environment that we want to create these games in.
It’s been reported that Brian wants to retire after Wasteland 3 ships. Any plans for Matt to step up and take the helm?
BF: I think Matt’s enjoying his New Orleans experience too much, plus we have a few years before that happens.
MF: I don’t think any of us at inXile have ever spent any time dreaming of being CEO. We’re here because we like the products we make and the culture we’ve created to make them in. I’m sure it would be a more interesting story if I described it as being more like Game of Thrones, but it’s safe to say that nobody is lining up to take Brian’s job. Besides, I’ll believe it when I see it. They’ll pull his smartphone out of his cold, dead hand, and when they do he’ll be in the middle of an email that’s most likely about some sort of game or technology that he saw.
Where do you think VR will take us next?
BF: VR lets us place the player in another universe and, as developers, gets us re-learning what it means to entertain people. Small things like eye contact, vertigo, darkness, and use of sound take on all-new powers when used in this new medium. The minute I tried Rift, I knew that I had to make a game for it. VR and AR will eventually merge together, and we’ll soon find that reality will have an impossible time competing.
Thanks to Brian and Matt for the behind-the-scenes conversation. The Summer of Rift continues next week as we take a deep dive on magic in VR with inXile Lead Designer David Rogers and a special guest from Insomniac Games. Until then, explore dungeons and craft increasingly complex spells in The Mage’s Tale on Rift!
— The Oculus Team