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Broken Window Studios Talk Grave, VR and Console Editions

Broken Window Studios’ Grave passed it’s funding requirement on Kickstarter last month without generating any noteworthy fuss. Many titles have screamed as they passed the goal line or in order to get enough attention to do so, yet Grave humbly passed it’s internally designated goal simply by enthusing about it’s unique features, survival horror and virtual reality (VR). It was of course this last component that raised awareness of the project here at VRFocus.

Following a meeting in San Francisco earlier this year, VRFocus has followed Grave through Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, potential PlayStation 4 editions and a collection of assets to promote the videogame. Further to this, VRFocus jumped at the chance to conduct a question and answer (Q&A) session with Tristan Parish, Creative Director on Grave, which follows below verbatim from Broken Window Studios.


VRFocus: Grave is billed as a ‘survival horror’ experience and yet it’s very different to much of what the genre presents. Can you offer some details on how the gameplay loop will work in the finished product?

Tristan Parish [TP]: First off, we want to make clear that our intention is more of a classic definition of survival horror, meaning that it’s more like what you’d expect from Silent Hill than a game like Don’t Starve. We aren’t focusing on things like base building, eating or sleeping. The “survival” portion relates more to using your resources for surviving deadly encounters with creatures.

The game features a day-night cycle that drastically changes the play experience between night and day. The majority of creatures come out at night and that means that you are split between two emotional tones; the tension that slowly builds as the next night encounter creeps in, and the fear of what is out there once the darkness surrounds you.

That being said, there’s also a major gameplay difference between Grave and other survival horror games. We’re giving the player tools, but they are all light and fire-based. You can’t just shoot or stab your enemies in Grave. Moreover, every enemy type has a totally unique interaction with these tools. Not every enemy is killable, and a big part of fighting off these creatures is figuring out what attracts them, what frightens them and what harms them. Because enemy spawning is unpredictable, you’ll constantly be in tense moments when you realize the creatures around you are immune to the attack you were prepared for.


VRFocus: There are a lot of survival horror titles coming to the Oculus Rift. What do you think it is that makes Grave stand out from the pack?

TP: Aside from the elements of Grave’s core gameplay, I think the main difference is our focus on a surreal, abstract experience. Most horror games take place in gritty, urban or industrial settings. We’re setting the game in a location where light and sun are a big part of the visual, but don’t negate the fear.

The game is inspired by works like Salvaodor Dali paintings, and films like those by David Lynch. We wanted to hit a really unusual tone where anything can happen. Not only is this a style choice, it also factors into the gameplay. We have a dynamic location spawning system that allows parts of the environment to materialize or vanish while you play, based on everything from the passage of time to progress in the narrative. Players will encounter different things every time they play. We like the idea of making the impossible, possible within VR.


VRFocus: Grave was originally announced for PC and Xbox One, but late in the Kickstarter campaign your intentions to bring the videogame to PlayStation 4 were also revealed. Why did you leave this announcement so late?

TP: To be fully honest we’ve had a harder time getting through approval with Sony. Microsoft got to see the game when we showed it at The Mix and they were blown away, so they actually fast-tracked us through the program. We’d very much like to be on both consoles, but we made our initial announcement based on who followed up first.

Another factor to consider is that multiple versions add time to development. The new generation of consoles will likely be a lot easier to work with in that regard than the previous ones, particularly with Unity support. Even then, with different hardware for VR like the Morpheus, it could end up being a lot of work and we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. That’s why we’re shooting for PS4 as a stretch goal.


VRFocus: Is it likely that Grave will support virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) on consoles? Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s potential HMD also?

TP: Our full intention is to keep VR as a big part of all versions of Grave. Microsoft hasn’t announced an HMD yet so we can’t say for sure if it will coincide with the release, but we’d definitely want to use that hardware even if it comes out later and requires a patch. We think VR is really important to gaming and we want to emphasize it.


VRFocus: Will the console editions of Grave launch alongside the PC versions? Or will they come later?

TP: As a small studio, we can’t necessarily anticipate all the challenges we’ll face. At the moment though, we think simultaneous launch is the best way to get the game out there and reach an audience. We’ll have to make sure we’re up to the challenge, since we’re also hitting Mac and Linux.


VRFocus: Now that your Kickstarter campaign has been successful, what’s the next step for Grave?

TP: We reached our funding goal, so once the Kickstarter is complete we jump into development. The backers of the project all get a special “backer-only” demo and we want to make sure that’s high quality.

Our goal is to release the game in first quarter 2015. We have a bunch of exciting tricks up our sleeves, so we are going to be digging in on building more content. We released a playable demo and that has taught us a huge amount about what people respond to and what they didn’t. Now that we have the funds, we can go through with a fine-toothed comb and build the exact experience that Grave is meant to be.


VRFocus: What aspect of your Kickstarter campaign do you think drew the most attention to Grave?

TP: This was my first time running a Kickstarter like this. I had launched one right when Kickstarter was taking off and just left it there; we didn’t succeed. What I realized when preparing for this was how much preparation went into it. Between building the demo, trailers, media packets and contacting people for press, it was a pretty gruelling experience.

I was worried that we’d spent too much time building the demo for GDC, because it meant that I wasn’t able to build as much outreach content as I wanted to; I was just too busy. However, building the demo ended up being by FAR our greatest attractor. It took a while to get access to our audience, but once Markiplier, 2 Best Friends, and a bunch of other YouTube personalities finally checked it out, our backers surged tremendously and we got over $7,000 in pledges in less than 24 hours.


VRFocus: Are there any changes in the development process that have come about due to the reception of your Kickstarter campaign?

TP: I think we still have the same ideas for the game, but we learned a lot from the media response and fan comments. Mainly, doing something this public with the game points out all the weaknesses. A lot of people are harsh online, and it’s easy to dismiss those comments as “trolls” or “haters.” I always try not to do that, and although sometimes criticisms online are poorly phrased, they tend to illuminate what kind of perception the public has of the game.

When you work on games you have to always be careful to trust yourself and not get psyched out by criticism. It’s important to not let critiques change your concept of what the game should be; that’s how an idea becomes watered down. I always argue that it’s not so much WHAT a person says when they critique a game, but why. Most people say what is most obvious to them, but games are about psychology, so a lot of times they aren’t identifying what the real issue is. By paying attention, even when the critique is unintelligible, we’ve figured out a ton of things we can do to make the game communicate better and represent its concepts more clearly.


VRFocus: When can we expect to see more of Grave? Do you have plans for a demo version prior to the release next year?

TP: At the moment, we’re focusing on wrapping up the demo version for our backers. We want to provide another demo down the road, but they’re our priority right now.

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