Jump in your Grinder and grab a friend—Vox Machinae is opening up its dinosaur-scale brand of mech warfare to all Rift gamers. Die-hard VR gamers have been waiting on this one since the dev kit days, and since the PAX East preview, fans of the Space Bullet-produced game have been thinking through their arsenal options and preparing to pilot the gigantic robots through battlefields on alien planets. Today, we’re excited to announce that Vox Machinae is now available on Rift—with even more content to come!
To celebrate, we spoke with Space Bullet Co-Founder and Artist Jakub Czeszejko-Sochacki about Vox Machinae's humble VR-in-Tupperware beginnings (not kidding), how they landed one of the very first Oculus content grants, and what players can expect in this objective-based multiplayer combat experience.
You were one of the very first developers to receive funding from Oculus. What’s the story there?
Jakub Czeszejko-Sochacki: We first knew we wanted to make a VR title the moment we got our hands on a DK1 and adapted an early prototype of Vox Machinae we had been cooking up to be VR-compatible. Playing it in VR was so promising that we went hog-wild, committing the development to being VR-first while polishing the experience up. In December 2014, it was released as a demo on the Oculus Share site in order to gauge the response from a broader audience of VR enthusiasts.
Little did we know that among those enthusiasts was Oculus themselves. And as we climbed the ranks with high download volume and overwhelmingly positive player response, [then-Developer Strategist] Paul Jastrzebski from Oculus reached out to us directly to offer his support of the game’s continued development. And as they say, one thing led to another—over the months the relationship with Oculus strengthened, and we were given the privilege of their financial support via one of the very first content grants.
What was the initial inspiration behind Vox Machinae? What would you point to as some of the game’s key cultural influences?
JCS: We’ve always been huge fans of old-school robot games like MechWarrior 2, and that, in addition to wanting to bring something out with broader appeal, led us to designing what Vox Machinae ultimately evolved into. Additionally, we wanted to give the game an ’80s sci-fi retro aesthetic, as that’s something that’s always been near and dear to our hearts growing up. Of particular note, Robot Jox is a company favorite, and I hope our game captures some of the feels that movie evokes.
How has the game changed during the course of production? What might players who experienced the demo at Oculus Game Days during PAX East (or earlier) be surprised to find in the finished product?
JCS: The game is always evolving, and I would say that the vast majority of the public’s last taste of its gameplay would have been way back with our prototype demo from late 2014. We’ve strived to stay true to the essence of that experience while expanding out into a multiplayer-focused game. We realized over the course of our four-plus-year journey that our tiny team of three developers can’t create both single-player and multiplayer simultaneously without sacrificing quality.
So the biggest change for our longtime fans will be the shift to multiplayer, but even since PAX East, we’ve further improved the experience. Chiefly, we’ve created two new gameplay modes. The first, called Stockpile, tasks your team of pilots with capturing and controlling the majority of five factories, each providing your team with perks for keeping them on your side. In the other mode, named Salvage, your team must find the massive salvage robot, be the first to destroy the scavengers to claim ownership, and protect it from being destroyed for as long as you can. Additionally, we’ve added levels, improved player interaction with visual VOIP comms, and added player avatar customizations.
Why did you decide to make the game cross-platform across VR and traditional PC? How did you tackle the technical challenges involved?
JCS: One of the most important reasons to go cross-play is to help the game have a healthy player population. However, the desktop mode is also really handy for playing on-the-go. We feel it serves as a Trojan horse of sorts for inviting people into the fray via desktop only to tease them with how the experience improves in VR. It’s also a really good fallback for when the weather gets really hot and you want to avoid that sweaty ski-mask look.
As for the technical challenges, there is no easy answer, except to say that it took a lot of long, hard work to ensure both parity and fairness across all platforms, whether it’s motion controls in VR, gamepad, and keyboard and mouse on desktop.
How has your studio evolved since the early days?
JCS: We’ve always kept the studio lean and agile, with the hopes of expanding only organically to accommodate demand. Over the years, that demand meant taking on additional programming aid at times, and bringing a dedicated composer SFX/artist onboard to help flesh out the audio.
Speaking of audio, who did you work with on the soundtrack, and how does the overall sound design add to the full gameplay experience?
JCS: It’s funny—over the course of production we crossed paths with our composer Brent Silk on several occasions, first while demoing an early build at a local meet-up group with a laptop connected to a makeshift external GPU housed inside a Tupperware box. He was so flabbergasted by the setup and what we were able to do with VR that he expressed intense interest in the game. Months later, we received a demo music track he had created for us from his early impressions.
We really liked the track and pursued bringing him onboard to flesh out the rest of the game’s audio, in addition to the music. Our mutual appreciation of ’80s sci-fi heavily influence the audio along with the visuals. Brent worked diligently to infuse the audio with a very synth-heavy feel that is so evocative of our influences.
How do you think VR and AR will continue to change the cultural landscape over the next five to 10 years, both within gaming and beyond?
JCS: While we’ve still not gotten to Ready Play One territory, I feel we’re definitely heading in that direction. As tech forges on and the space expands, I think it’s likely we’ll inch closer to creating something within striking distance of true believability. It’s at this juncture where we can enable people to do things they couldn’t have otherwise done, and it’s an exciting thought to consider being present to witness and shape those possibilities.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
JCS: Currently we are laser-focused on continuing to provide a great experience in Vox Machinae, and past that point, expanding the experience with milestone features and improvements as we continue the journey.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JCS: We’d like to thank everyone who stuck with us over the years, whether it was the original prototype demo or another permutation along the way. We hope you enjoy what we’ve cooked up so far and encourage you to join us in helping to shape the game it will ultimately become. We’ve got a lot more in store, so stay tuned!
Thanks for the inside scoop, Jakub—we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Pilots, embrace the devastation of customizable weaponry and coordinate your battle plan with up to 16 players in and outside of VR in Vox Machinae on Rift today!
— The Oculus Team