The best VR games and experiences can transport your senses just about anywhere in the world, and in many cases, well beyond. But moving around once you get there can get complicated, especially if you’re visiting an alien world with tricky topography. In the case of Eclipse: Edge of Light, navigating surreal locations is half the fun. From While Elk Studios, a game developer that includes God of War veterans, Eclipse is a critically-acclaimed sci-fi adventure that delivers an atmospheric world of mystery and, more importantly, the means to explore it all with some novel movement mechanics.
To tell us more about what makes Eclipse such a unique VR adventure, we talked with White Elk Studios President and Creative Director Jonathan Hawkins.
What’s the elevator pitch for Eclipse: Edge of Light?
Jonathan Hawkins: Eclipse is a first-person sci-fi adventure game. After crash-landing on a sentient planet, you wake up to find a dreamscape world filled with discovery, wonder, and the remains of a betrayed civilization.
What makes Eclipse a unique adventure to experience in VR?
JH: I wanted to tell a unique story without a protagonist. Instead, I wanted to use the immersive nature of VR to make players feel like the story is about them. It’s about you crash landing here and your actions in this world—it’s you uncovering the story of the planet.
What I love about designing for VR is how we, as developers, can make players feel emotions and physical sensations. When jetpacking for the first time, you feel the butterflies in your stomach as you fly up into the air. This is something that simply isn’t possible to the same extent on mobile, console, or PC.
We also found that wearing the space helmet deepened immersion and delivered physical sensations for players. It feels like you’re wearing a spacesuit and, naturally, you actually have something sitting on your head. Within a few minutes, you become completely engrossed in the world, and it’s these small details that convince your brain you’re actually there.
How do players explore and interact with the world of Eclipse?
JH: With VR being a new medium, there isn’t a rule book. However, I remember early in the development of Eclipse people would say, “You can’t walk in VR, let alone fly.” While I understood these statements came from wanting to avoid motion sickness, I wanted to innovate and find a way for people to move without nausea.
For myself, VR excels when I’m able to feel like I’m there and I can move around like in the real world. I wanted to see if we could figure out what triggered simulation sickness, and then create a full and comfortable locomotion movement system for players to explore their surroundings. The solution I found was creating a world that encourages slow-paced movement in spaces that feel huge in real life, but with the correct field of view and movement speed. Through countless experiments, I constructed a base set of actions and spaces that would allow most people to feel comfortable in the experience.
In the final version of Eclipse, we have full locomotion and a jetpack mechanic that supports moving through massive environments in a fun way. We also supported our exploration design pillar by creating mechanics for players to scan objects and see into the past. Many of the major mechanics stem from The Artifact, an alien device which is also used for exploration. Throwing it out into the world allows you to interact with ancient machinery, create platforms, and break down barriers. We’ve given players a variety of tools to explore and interact with the planet.
Can you tell us about designing Eclipse’s immersive locations?
JH: When I first started to design Eclipse on my DK1 and experiment with level design, I realized the sense of scale in VR is unlike any other medium. I used this to my advantage and combined it with my knowledge of creating levels for God of War 1, 2 & 3, to design scenarios that still give me goosebumps despite having played them countless times.
Another major technical challenge the team solved was the elimination of loading screens. With VR, we felt it was the ultimate tool to bring you into our imagination. Throughout the three-plus hour experience, you’re never taken out of the game world.
Finally, we wanted the game to feel like a true adventure. We wanted certain levels to feel expansive and other areas to make you feel trapped and almost entombed as you navigate tight spaces. We use scale throughout the game’s five acts to create an everchanging pace, bringing you through a wide range of environments carefully arranged by size, visuals, and audio.
Are there specific games, books, or movies that inspired the world of Eclipse?
JH: When searching for inspiration and dreaming of new worlds to explore, I listened to Johann Johannsson — How We Left Fordlandia over and over. There was something eerie and beautiful about its composition. I’d close my eyes and drift off to this place—from these thoughts and sounds came some high-level inspiration.
The core idea of the game is that nature is a connection to the past, present, and future. Through the medium of VR, we have pushed this idea further by virtually teleporting you to this world. The story of the planet is told through its environment, your interactions with its creatures, and hologram visions of the past. You explore a hauntingly beautiful world and slowly reveal its dark past. Through the amazing visuals of Cecil Kim and his team at Section Studios, and Andrew Prahlow’s fantastic soundtrack, the world of Eclipse is given a soul.
Our hope is that everybody enjoys the hard work that brought Eclipse to life! We are thrilled to bring it to Oculus Go and Gear VR.
If you’re ready to explore alien worlds, then grab your jet pack and try Eclipse: Edge of Light today.
— The Oculus Team