If you’ve ever watched your favorite spy sweat bullets trying to disarm a bomb in time to save the world and thought, “Hey, I could do that,” then this is your game.
I Expect You To Die puts you in heinous situations only a super villain would dream up. Think fast, work smart, and keep a cool head to survive each encounter like a pro.
For the fifth post in our Oculus Touch Tuesdays series, we have Shawn Patton, Schell Games design director, here to tell us how things played out behind the scenes!
What was the inspiration behind I Expect You To Die? How did traditional PC game design inform this foray into VR?
Shawn Patton: We have a long history with virtual reality—our CEO Jesse Schell first worked with VR at Walt Disney Imagineering in the late ’90s—so you can imagine our excitement when it looked like consumer VR was really going to be a thing in the very near future.
We decided to use a mouse before any talk of Oculus Touch because we wanted controls to be familiar to most PC gamers. It felt good to reach into the world with the mouse, and the prototype’s telekinetic beam lets you manipulate items in the environment—even without hands.
The next question was locomotion. Moving in VR, if done incorrectly, can make players sick, so we wanted a way to feel like a hero without moving around a lot. That’s when we hit upon the genesis for I Expect You To Die. Spies are always getting captured and having to escape.
How did the game’s “escape room challenge” nature affect the design process?
SP: The team tried many different control schemes to see what felt right, and the puzzles were no different. We did quick whitebox (simple, untextured cube layouts) levels and later physical prototyping with cardboard boxes (#brownboxing). We designed levels in a library, in a car-crushing facility (with and without conveyor belts), suspended over a shark tank, but ultimately went with the interior of a car for our first puzzle.
What motivated that decision?
SP: The familiar environment helped players new to VR relax. Affordances—what players think they can do with an object in a game—were apparent in a car setting. The car provided different sorts of interactions (push, turn, shift, rotate, open) and let our artists infuse the environment with classic spy style. Finally we used our own cars to test new ideas and imagine the possibilities.
From there, we took this comfortable environment and turned it against the player in interesting ways. There are dashboard buttons—but what do they do? Are there fun and interesting ways to be killed without making the puzzle too difficult? Many iterations and testing with naive guests, both from inside and outside the studio, were required.
We also wanted to include fun items to play with. This sandbox strategy rewards players for their curiosity and gives them something to do if they get stuck. Not sure how to escape? Sit back and pour a glass of champagne—inspiration will come.
How did Touch come into play?
SP: We knew Touch would make for an awesome experience, since having your hands available increases presence. However, we needed to revisit many aspects of it to make the experience as good as we knew it could be.
When designing new levels, we kept in mind the “sphere of grab-ability,” making sure there were interesting objects within arm’s reach. We also tried half a dozen different ways of activating telekinesis with Touch. It was important it felt good with each hand.
We tested and iterated countless times on the training received in the office setting to make sure that players learned (and retained) the skills they needed. Of course, throughout the training exercise, players are equally encouraged and chastised by a wry British handler to convey the game’s spy theme and ironic humor.
Did you hit any roadblocks along the way?
SP: Moving to Touch from mouse really increased immersion but made all sorts of underlying systems more complicated, like issues stemming from the telekinesis reticle coming from the hands versus the headset, two-handed interactions, hidden volumes, and blind volumes. Playing with Touch is the absolutely best experience for the player, but it required some serious problem solving.
For instance, in the first level we have a bomb that the player has to disarm. With the mouse, players would look around for something to cut the wires and find the knife. With Touch, we saw players trying to hold the bomb with one hand and pull the wires with the other. That never occurred to players with a mouse, but it seemed perfectly normal for those using Touch. We removed the “hint art” that originally had arrows showing the wires going into the bomb, which almost made the problem disappear. We then let the game detect when a player is grasping the bomb with both hands and, in response, play an audio clip saying, “You’ll need to cut those wires, Agent.”
So, in the spirit of the British spy theme, any last words?
SP: We can’t wait to release I Expect You To Die on December 6, so you can finally experience all the amazing ways to die in the game. Until then, we know you’re dying to see our brand new trailer.
Thanks for that exclusive sneak peek, Shawn. We’re glad players will be able to tap into their inner secret agent with Touch!
— The Oculus Team