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Freediving sounds exhilarating in theory. Exploring underwater caves and shipwrecks with just the air in your lungs has its appeal, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Fortunately, FREEDIVER: Triton down Extended Cut, the latest game from Archiact, delivers a virtual freediving adventure that still manages to leave you breathless. Better still, you can take the plunge today on Oculus Quest.
Playing as world-class freediver Ren Tanaka, you’ll encounter all manners of watery traps and obstacles while exploring a sunken research vessel in FREEDIVER. What starts as an ordinary dive turns into a fight for survival as you explore the bowels of the ship, battling environmental hazards and a constant lack of oxygen. Intuitive swim mechanics combine with slick level and sound design to create a tense atmosphere that’ll have you coming up for air—literally.
Originally released on the Rift Platform last May, the Quest port introduces a wealth of new features and additions. There’s a deeper story this time, plus there’s more to see and do thanks to expanded gameplay areas.
We caught up with the team at Archiact to hear more about bringing the game to Quest.
Can you give us the elevator pitch on FREEDIVER: Triton Down?
In short, “get out of this sinking ship and fast!” FREEDIVER is a “subversive” VR adventure that challenges players to escape a massive nautical disaster as a world-class freediver. That means thinking fast, swimming even faster, solving environmental puzzles, and fighting for every breath. With the new Extended Cut on Quest, we’ve gone even deeper with expanded gameplay, new areas to explore, and a flashlight to help you cut your way through the dark.
What kind of response have you seen since launching FREEDIVER on the Rift Platform?
We were really blown away by the reception we received from both players and the press. Right away, FREEDIVER had a 4-star rating on the Oculus Store, with a lot of players calling out the gestural swimming and the intensity of the immersion as stand-out features. Our favorite comment we hear a lot is, “I realized I was actually holding my breath in real life.” To us, that’s the ultimate goal when creating a VR experience—pull players into a moment where they literally forget where they are, and the virtual world is everything.
How did you go about building FREEDIVER’s unique swim and dive mechanics?
Like a lot of our games, FREEDIVER began as an effort to prototype one innovative mechanic, and make it as fun and intuitive as possible. The challenge for this game was locomotion, particularly to make a game with gestural locomotion that could be played while seated.
Right away, the idea of swimming was a natural fit. Our creative director, Seb Bouzac, went to the pool quite a few times to get a feel for it: turning with one hand, and using both hands to dive or surface. Then our engineers stepped in, and we went about recreating this experience using the Oculus Touch controllers and haptic feedback, with intuitive realism being the ultimate goal. In the end, we think we ended up with one of the best swimming mechanics in VR.
Once we had the mechanic built and playing the way we wanted—meaning a player could swim without really thinking about it—we focused on comfort. Because FREEDIVER’s swimming is a type of highly-controlled locomotion, we knew we’d have to go the extra mile to make this an experience everyone could enjoy. That meant bringing in players to test the game. At the end of the day, you have to treat your game like it’s the first game a new VR user will experience because it probably will be. We can’t stress how vital outside feedback is to your game, especially if you’re developing for a headset as widely accessible as Quest.
FREEDIVER is a particularly tense experience—how did you go about designing the game’s underwater world?
We wanted to create a real-world “survival” experience that focused on the most basic (and terrifying) principle of human life: breathe or die. In FREEDIVER, oxygen is your only resource. Player survival depends on managing that resource: finding air pockets or oxygen tanks, remembering where your last O2 source was, and always keeping one eye on your dive watch—and the steadily rising water levels. That leads to another design element that really turns up the intensity: the RSV Triton is slowly but steadily sinking. From the moment you awake on the ship, the water level is dynamically rising, and players know the clock is already ticking, even while they solve puzzles. Just because an air pocket existed a minute before, doesn’t mean it’ll be there later. It all drives forward progression; if you’re standing still, you’re going to be in trouble quickly.
The game features novel underwater puzzles—can you describe one of your favorites and your general approach to environmental puzzles in general?
One of our favorite puzzles is also one of the simplest in the game. At one point, the player is challenged to escape a flooding room through a cracked window: there is an axe hidden in the room, but there are some unexpected objects in the area that players can use to escape more quickly. We like this one because, in an urgent situation where you’re running out of breath, anything becomes a tool. We really want to encourage players to tap into that survival instinct, where thinking fast and leveraging your environment will often lead to success.
While building these puzzles, we once again relied on a lot of in-development feedback from both VR and non-VR savvy players. One realization we had early on was that, for a lot of players, being underwater in an upside-down boat with your O2 steadily depleting was...already a pretty intense experience. That meant that player frustration tended to peak quicker than normal, so our puzzles had to be punchy, avoid backtracking, and be quickly rewarding to maximize fun.
What first motivated you to bring FREEDIVER over to Oculus Quest?
After seeing the reception to FREEDIVER on Rift/Rift S, we knew we had something special on our hands. Coincidentally, we were watching the community become more and more excited about Quest around the same time, so naturally, we were really keen to explore the new platform with our latest title.
Beyond the simple fact of good timing, wide availability has always been huge for us. If the community is responding well to a game, then we’re going to do everything we can to bring it to as many platforms as we can, even if that means extra work. To bring FREEDIVER to Quest, that meant some strategic tweaking to the game’s content (hence all the fun new gameplay features) as well as under-the-hood optimization.
Can you tell us about key challenges in optimizing the game for a mobile chipset?
The visuals in FREEDIVER are a bit of a perfect storm for optimization difficulty! It features dense, detailed environments and an ever-present dynamic translucent plane that comprises the water surface itself. To get the game running on Quest, we focused on rebuilding our shaders and water elements from the ground up to include all the critical features we wanted, such as dynamic lighting for the flashlight, and distance fog for the water. Another trick we make heavy use of is streaming in chunks of the environment as the player progresses through the ship.
To keep that “dense environment” look while optimizing, we also used the art-based approach of merging objects and streamlining our geometry as much as we could, so the visuals remain impactful and immersive. As a final touch, we went with a darkly dramatic light bake to help amp up the mood even more.
What’s your personal favorite part of FREEDIVER, and why?
Our favorite part is probably something most people won’t see coming! FREEDIVER is full of blockbuster moments that’ll take players by surprise. Still, from the very first scene, there’s also an underlying sense of supernatural mystery that threads through the entire narrative. You catch glimpses of what’s really going on during your frantic escape, but it’s not until the final act that it all comes together in a scene that really flips the tone. Without giving too much away, it’s an emotional roller coaster that leaves you really wanting more.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
We still have some very ambitious plans for FREEDIVER, but not in the way we think fans will expect. Just recently, we announced season one of Story Drops, a creative episodic look at the world of FREEDIVER that goes far beyond the games. Each episode will tell a never-before-seen story of FREEDIVER lore and could take the form of an audio drama, a webcomic, concept art, or something even more unique. We invite the whole community to join us on March 4th in our Discord for the premiere of the first episode, The Triton Incident, an all-new audio drama.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We’re honestly just so excited to finally share the Extended Cut with the Quest community, and to hear what they think about FREEDIVER’s wild escape experience! We listen carefully to our players, and read every review that we can! From every single one of us on the Archiact dev team, thank you so much for coming along for the ride. Enjoy!
If you’re ready to take the plunge yourself, dive into FREEDIVER: Triton down Extended Cut on Quest today.