The VR free solo adventure The Climb is the next best thing to scaling a rocky mountain in real life. Initially released for the Rift Platform in April 2016, and later updated with Touch controller support, The Climb is available now for the first time on Oculus Quest with full cross-buy support. Created by seminal game developer Crytek—makers of Far Cry and Crysis—The Climb on Quest is a zero-compromise experience made possible through some fancy engineering work.
The Climb takes the sport known as free solo climbing (a high-risk variant of traditional rock climbing that eschews safety equipment) and transforms it into a virtual adventure that’s sure to give anyone a very real adrenaline rush. The experience splits between different game modes, like Bouldering, which demands perfect technique; and Tourist, which offers simplified mechanics for newer climbers. Players will get to ascend peaks all over the world, including the Alps, Southeast Asia, and the American Southwest. There’s even Multiplayer options and achievements for people to race their friends.
We sat down with Crytek Producer Fatih Özbayram and Lead Rendering Engineer Theodor Mader to learn more about The Climb on Quest.
How would you describe The Climb to someone completely new to VR?
Fatih Özbayram: VR allows players to be present in a game world like never before, and we felt like free solo rock climbing was the perfect kind of experience to build a new VR game. Gamers will feel like they’re right there on the cliff face—thousands of meters above the ground with no rope to hold them—and our aim has been to tap into the adrenaline rush of one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Rock climbing is also strongly linked to amazing views and encounters with nature, and that is the perfect subject matter for a VR game, too.
The gameplay in The Climb revolves around exploring rock faces to find the path to the top. At the end of every climb, players are rewarded with a large-scale event that unfolds around them. While climbing, players have to manage a series of different grip types that can help them find faster routes. Because real-life climbing makes people’s hands sweaty and gripping more difficult, we’ve also mirrored that experience in the game: players need to chalk their hands as they ascend. Climbing—as well as jumping—increases the player‘s heartbeat, while resting decreases it. The higher the heart rate, the more the player sweats and the more often they have to chalk their hands.
With The Climb anyone can get a taste of the thrill of rock climbing. Our game brings a new level of intensity, beauty and realism in VR—thanks to CRYENGINE and, of course, the added freedom of Oculus Touch controllers.
What are key design considerations when designing a mountain climbing game for VR?
Fatih: It changes almost everything. In 1st person VR, the game designers cannot control the camera because the player does that via their head movements. This means that getting people to look where you want them to is no longer a mechanical process.
Another example is the sound, which has to be set in precisely the correct spot and at the correct volume to preserve the sense of presence in VR. There are dozens of other issues, but these are a good sample of the types of concerns facing VR developers.
Can you talk about the technical challenges in porting the game to a mobile chipset?
Theodore Mader: For starters, the performance characteristics of typical VR-ready desktop hardware are significantly different from those of a mobile-focused chipset. The CPU and GPU of a mobile chipset run at lower clock rates, and memory transfers are slower. Besides, on portable devices like the Oculus Quest, energy consumption must be taken into account at all times. Excessive workloads drain the battery faster.
Another technical hurdle we faced was the difference between desktop and mobile GPU architectures. On mobile GPUs such as the Adreno 540 in the Quest device, the image is typically subdivided into a number of smaller blocks called tiles. Each tile is rendered independently and (ideally) only at the end of a frame all tiles are put together to produce the final image. This makes it difficult to implement rendering features where each pixel relies on the values of pixels in its neighborhood.
In the end we addressed these challenges by developing a custom rendering pipeline for the Climb port. Built on the Vulkan API, it utilizes the Quest hardware in a very efficient way and allowed us, together with the content team, to bring most of the visual fidelity of the original Climb game to Quest.
How does playing the game on Quest change the experience for players?
FO: One of the most significant changes Quest introduces is that players can stand up and move freely easier as there are no cables to manage. While we had to optimize the game to fit into memory constraints and in order to meet the target fps to create a smooth experience, the rock climbing experience feels as immersive on Quest as it does on Rift.
Can you talk about a specific climb or scenario that stands out in your mind?
FO: In Zen Bay we have this wooden beam right after the 1st checkpoint that creates a very intense moment because it starts crackling and moving as you hold onto it. While The Climb is a game for anyone that wants to enjoy a fun VR experience this specific moment creates tension for some players. To make the next grip, you need to either jump to the other wooden beam or lean to the left, all while experiencing the illusion that the wooden beam you are holding onto is going to break any second. This is just one example of the adrenaline rush that rock climbing can create. The team looked for solutions that are innovative and new, but remained practical so we could recreate the adrenaline rush without making the game too stressful for anyone.
What’s next for the team at Crytek?
Fatih: As a company, we’ve always been open to new ideas, platforms; and technology. Currently we are excited to release The Climb on Quest, and we are also working on Hunt: Showdown – a PC and console online competitive multiplayer bounty hunting experience.