GALAK-Z: The Virtual is a mashup of sci-fiction goodness from the 1980s. Like Voltron—or any popular transforming robot—GALAK-Z: The Virtual assembles disparate bits of sci-fi nostalgia into a powerful and unique entity all its own. Since its 2015 debut, the retro-styled 2D shooter has cultivated a following of aspiring spaceship jockeys who can’t get enough of its unique brand of twitch-based action, anime-inspired visuals, and roguelike gameplay. And now, the award-winning shooter is making its VR debut on Rift.
To better understand how GALAK-Z: The Virtual works in VR, we spoke with 17-Bit Director and Lead Designer Jake Kazdal.
Can you give us a quick rundown on GALAK-Z: The Virtual?
Jake Kazdal: GALAK-Z: The Virtual takes the essence of old school space shooters and mashes it with cutting-edge AI, modern physics, and procedurally generated content. It's the best of old school and new school.
Why make a VR adaptation of a game that celebrates classic 2D gameplay?
JK: We wanted to keep the ultra tight 2D gameplay but also wanted the game to shine in 3D. At 17-Bit, our sub-head says 'HYPER-DEPTH,' which simultaneously represents deep gameplay, but also tons of visual depth. Old-school scrolling games and shooters with many levels of parallax are the best, and this is about as juicy as parallax scrolling gets in 3D.
Can you tell us what it’s like playing GALAK-Z: The Virtual inside VR?
JK: You are the commander on the flight deck, which basically means presiding over the world's biggest 3D IMAX screen. The immersion is incredible and there is no doubt this is the ultimate GALAK-Z experience!
What inspired the game’s 1980s anime-inspired aesthetic and overall presentation?
JK: I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Blazers and always had a soft spot for the late 70’s and early 80’s spaceship aesthetic. I wanted something that would stand out against all the modern stuff, and have a lot of fun in the process. The super-stylized explosions of mid-80’s anime explosions were actually the very first thing I thought about when doing a spaceship game, and it just sort of snowballed from there.
Can you talk about overall player progression and how missions work in the game?
JK: Each world is split into a TV show-like season, with five episodes in each. Each episode is a randomly selected mission objective, appropriate to that world. But each time the mission is generated a ton of elements are procedurally assembled, leading to new adventures every time you play. When you die in Arcade Mode, you are sent back to the beginning of that mission, but in regular Roguelike mode, dying during a mission will start the entire season over. You must complete five missions in the season to advance to the next season with its own stories and adventures.
Can you talk about creating the game's procedurally generated space dungeons?
JK: I wanted to create the ultimate arcade-style spaceship shooter with endless content. Levels that demanded constant exploration with potential danger around every corner. Early on, we were experimenting with the editor, making prefab rooms to string together. I had been playing a lot of Spelunky and Rogue Legacy at the time and just asked Zach (our lead engineer) if we could randomize the handful of rooms we had. Suddenly, we had endless amounts of new levels. We never even thought of looking back!
There is a gulf between totally randomized and 100% handmade levels. We feel like we hit the sweet spot. A lot of care and tuning went into the number—and type—of enemies that made it into each stage throughout the entire game.
What were the biggest obstacles in bringing a game like GALAK-Z: The Virtual to VR?
JK: Redoing the entire menu system to be fully immersive in VR was fun, but the biggest obstacles were the new systems, combining natural VR movement with traditional gameplay—things like that. We had to rethink and re-implement a lot in unexpected ways.
What VR-specific extras, options, or details were added when porting the game to VR?
JK: As the game was built in 3D and made to look 2D, simply allowing the game to fully render in 3D made a massive and immediate impact. We had fun modeling the bridge and decks of the mothership Axelios and nailing the feeling of actual presence with the main characters. The missile targeting system was fully re-designed to utilize the natural head-based aiming system, but this game is really about unshackling from the limitations of 2D screens.
Can you talk about what makes ship and mech combat a unique action experience?
JK: We’re extremely proud of the AI we pioneered working with our partners at Cyntient. These aren’t fodder enemies as each one has self-preservation capacity, communicates heavily with other squad members, and works within their hierarchies under local commanders. They have great eyes and ears, and the game can be played very stealthily if the player likes, or very aggressively. It’s a space combat simulator dressed up as an old arcade game—a beautiful mix in our opinion.
Can you tell us about enemy AI and what enemy factions players will see?
JK: Cyntient worked closely with us to make a dynamic and living world. We wanted difficult enemies to fly like skilled pilots with strong self-preservation capacity, not just inflict more damage or carry additional armor. The Imperials are disciplined and brutal enemies. The Raiders are much more “every man for himself,” and more concerned about glory in battle than staying alive. The Bugs are just that: giant bugs with bottomless stomachs that will eat anything that gets close. All three of these factions are at war with each other and utilizing their rivalries against each other is a huge component of gameplay. Causing distractions and getting them involved with each other helps keep the target on your head as small as possible. Endlessly interesting space combat is our promise to the player.
What new content has been added to GALAK-Z: The Virtual since its debut?
JK: The first update we added was Arcade Mode, since the classic roguelike mode is very difficult and we wanted to give additional gamers a chance! The second update introduced a mode called the VOID, which is a self-contained separate mode, where each kill gives you points and you compete on a worldwide leaderboard for high scores. The new VR mode is the biggest update yet for sure!
What’s something die-hard fans need to know about GALAK-Z: The Virtual in VR?
JK: This is the ultimate expression of all things GALAK-Z. It’s incredible and so juicy you can taste it. There’s really nothing else like it.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jake!
If you’re ready to jump into the cockpit of a transforming space jet, then check out GALAK-Z: The Virtual today.
— The Oculus Team