Stress Level Zero Brings ‘Boneworks’ to the Rift Platform

Oculus Blog
February 20, 2020

A physics-driven puzzler and FPS, Boneworks was praised by UploadVR as “a stunning showcase of physical interaction that tests VR’s limits.” And today, it brings its unique blend of action, adventure, and intrigue home to the Rift Platform!

You’ll play as a virtual security director, investigating the inner workings of Monogon Industries and its AI operating system, Myth OS. The joy comes from your interaction with virtual objects, which requires you to really get into the game.

We sat down with Director Brandon Laatsch and Creative Director Alex Knoll to learn more.

What was the inspiration behind Boneworks?

Alex Knoll: Boneworks’ physics-based foundation represents the culmination of everything we had learned and discovered in VR development throughout the years. Naturally, the inspiration for content leaned on a meta commentary of a VR industry in a parallel reality where perhaps these concepts and lessons had been obvious from the start.

How long was the game in development?

Brandon Laatsch: I started on the player body two and a half years ago. The full team was on the project for almost two years. It was by far the longest project any of us have worked on.

AK: From content outline until initial release was exactly one year to the day.

How has the game’s premise changed over time?

AK: Boneworks’ premise remained surprisingly intact throughout development; however, the content outline wasn’t completed until over a year into the development of the mechanics. We wanted the game to present our mechanics as a base point for all our VR content moving forward. Likewise, Boneworks’ premise leaves nearly endless branching opportunities to explore the Boneworks universe in future content.

Tell us a little about your research process. Were there any surprises along the way?

BL: Since there is very little VR-specific research pertinent to Boneworks, we had to draw parallels to other fields in order to find relevant information. Surprisingly, for the player, I drew from sports science, anatomy, physical therapy, and classical mechanics.

How did your previous work in VR help inform your work on Boneworks?

BL: Following Hover Junkers and Duck Season, we felt like we had a very clear vision of how to realize a VR game that mainstream gamers seemed to be holding out for. Our experience on those two titles gave us the confidence to start building core mechanics from scratch that we could evolve for years to come.

Any cultural references players should be on the lookout for?

AK: We’re heavily inspired by music, films, other games, and media. References and external inspiration can be found in every corner of Boneworks. We pride ourselves in hiding Easter eggs, secrets, and treasure hunts for players to dig into across all our work.

What’s the craziest reaction you’ve seen so far when demoing the game?

BL: We knew that arachnophobia was a thing, but since none of us have it, we were surprised to see how visceral some people’s reactions are to the crablet enemies in the game. To us, it’s a VR headset with legs that wants to immerse you; to arachnophobes, it’s a horrifying experience.

What influenced the overall art direction?

AK: Our schedule for content was extremely tight compared to the overall project timeline. Art direction was an exercise in flexibility, stretching the few available elements as far as possible. Looking towards graybox/prototyped games, I toyed with the aesthetic of pairing intentional proxy art with mixed levels of limited detail in areas of critical importance. Players’ minds are able to fill in the detail with the right combination of lighting, rendering, and narrative reasoning.

What influenced the character design?

AK: Actor Brett Driver was chosen as our lead character as we were set on experimenting with live-action footage for the game’s narrative. Much of the development’s focus was on the player character’s body presence, so this was a necessary aspect to dedicate significant attention towards. The main character’s body was repurposed for the majority of enemies and NPCs with slight texture adjustments or presented as literal duplicates of the hero throughout the game.

Who did you work with on the soundtrack and sound design? What was that experience like?

AK: An aspect of great importance to me was covering much of the game’s soundtrack and sound effects with analog synthesizers. These hardware instruments provide an audible physicality with crunch and growl, difficult to replicate through a traditional computer workflow. I tasked our composer Michael Wyckoff with one of my personal analog synthesizers and said, “Make the soundtrack on this. Try avoiding a computer.” And his results were jaw-dropping.

Ambient soundscapes, enemies, electronics, industrial equipment, and anything that needed to feel alive or have a “synthetic personality” were all designed using my own modular synthesizer system. This custom instrument generated Boneworks’ unique sound effects. This approach inspires an immediate sense of life in the sound design, giving elements a breathing quality or rhythmic pulse suggesting even an industrial fan could be alive.

What’s your favorite aspect of the game and why?

AK: Creative improvisation. There’s little to no actual game logic, and design relied heavily on the agency players are given through the physics foundation. Players are encouraged to progress through or replay the game as creatively as possible, taking advantage of the physical nature in any way they see fit.

What advice would you give to a developer looking to start building for VR?

BL: Iterate. VR is so new that starting on your masterpiece from the get-go will be a lot more perilous than making a bunch of smaller, more iterative projects to build up to more elaborate productions.

What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?

BL: We’re working on bringing ​Boneworks​’ mechanics and core systems to Oculus Quest in an all-new project that we will have more to show from as the year goes on.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Brandon and Alex. We’re excited for the Rift community to dive into Boneworks!