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The Angry Birds Movie 2 Game Surfaces for PS VR August 6

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The Angry Birds Movie 2 Game Surfaces for PS VR August 6

XR Games' Richard Boon talks gameplay goals in The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure, a VR / TV couch co-op experience set in a submarine. He refuses to call it a deep dive.

4 Author Replies

At XR Games our mission statement is “XR for everyone.” The reason for this is simple. Extended Reality technology will eventually lead to virtual interfaces that are basically identical to those we use in real life. Take Job Simulator, a game about picking stuff up. Can you pick stuff up? If so, you can play the game. Cats don’t get it, because cats can’t pick stuff up. People can, and do.

We’re some way from a technology that can perfectly simulate real world interactions, but plenty of games and apps prove that what is currently available in VR is enough to promote simple, fun, transparent interface experiences. There’s no reason to procrastinate: we want to make cool games for everyone and we want to make them now.

Hence The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure. It’s a game for everyone, designed to introduce players to VR. More specifically, it’s designed to help existing VR players to evangelize their technology to the people around them. Every person I know who prioritizes games in their entertainment diet also keeps a permanent eye out for games to play with the people they care about. So here you go, PSVR owners — we made you a VR game to play with your family and friends. And it’s launching August 6.

Everyone Can Play

The history of video games can be seen as a history of the accessibility of technology. For a lot of people in the 70s, the first computer they would’ve encountered would have been an arcade game. Nolan Bushnell’s conceptual shift from Computer Space to Pong reduced a page of instructions to “avoid missing ball for high score.” When the Space Invaders arrived, their inexorable descent was a metaphor for the encroaching information age, and we ate it up like a hungry Pac-Man. Home computers were suddenly cheap enough to be bought by parents to help educate their children.

And it worked! By introducing kids to a multiplicity of technology interfaces via the medium of games, a generation learned about computers while thinking they were slacking off. Stealth education! Donkey Kong 101! Good times.

That was in the ‘80s; generations have since grown up able to operate computers by keyboard, mouse and touchpad. Move controllers have been swung in millions of homes. A mobile revolution has placed touchscreens in the hands of babies. Everyone is playing because everyone can play.

We know people want to play, and we know they will enjoy playing. But what do we need to offer to start them playing?

People Want To Play Together

The first, best reason is always social. If humans play, they want to play together. Additionally, if people are being introduced to new games, it’s good to be in the same place as the person helping teach them. On top of that, there are concerns with kids playing games in VR, so it would help if there is a non-VR component as well. Sony’s social screen technology, which allows one player to play in the headset and everyone else to play on TV, empowers local multiplay. That’s a good start.

Next we need to look for content that different people can enjoy with each other. In the same way that we look for movies and TV shows to watch together — not the ones we would necessarily choose to watch by ourselves, but which overlap our shared tastes – we need games that have something for everyone. Enter the Angry Birds, who for ten years have been an entry point to mobile games of many different styles, and are also major movie stars. Just like everyone gets picking stuff up, everyone gets the Angry Birds.

Captain and Crew!

The local nature of the play leads naturally to asymmetric gameplay. Two interfaces, a first person view in VR and a top down view on TV. Two ways to play, two roles. This is the starting point. So what’s the story? What are the player roles?

The VR player is the captain of the submarine from The Angry Birds Movie 2. The TV players are the crew of that submarine, doing repairs, crafting torpedoes and storing treasure. The VR player is in charge of the TV players, and is able to help them out with gameplay and learning.

The captain monitors event and grabs as much treasure as possible from the ocean, which the crew then store in the sub. In our user tests, some captain players directed their crew closely, others ran a looser ship. Some flung their crew around without even asking. The captain has a lot of tools to help the crew enjoy their game.

Plus, any crew player that wants to graduate to captaining the sub can do so. The crew game is easy to learn and easy to play, but it’s short on information — the TV players don’t see everything. The captain sees the ocean filled with fish, coral, undersea treasure, and the ancient ruins of Piggy civilization, all in VR. They can also see their crew, scampering around the sub, and interact with them. It’s cool to be the captain.

Talk to Each Other!

The captain has a gameplay tool called the Magnashot, which is a classic Angry Birds slingshot with a magnet in it. It can suck stuff up and throw it back out — including the crew players. This gives the captain a lot of power. But there are things that only the crew can do, such as load machines and move explosive crates (which do not mix well with the Magnashot).

This division of labor promotes communication. The team needs to plan together, ask for things, shout warnings, apologize… there’s a lot going on. The most obvious example is classic Angry Birds TNT, which in this game counts down then explodes. It must be disposed of immediately. The captain can’t move TNT, so a crew member must throw it in the furnace. But only the captain can activate the furnace, so the crew need to shout at the captain. “TNT! TNT! Furnace, furnace, furnace!” These are the most common words used during playtesting. Also: “Never mind, you tried your best…”

Stand Together or Fall Apart

And what happens when things go wrong? For friends playing together, when things go wrong they laugh. This is a slapstick game in which fumbles multiply, small setbacks snowball, and bad things could happen to anyone. This open, low-stress / high-comedy framework is one way for people of different abilities to play together in comfort. Everyone can contribute, and anyone can make a mistake, with consequences just as entertaining as a win, if not more so.

(In the game, consequences tend to revolve around misplaced explosives. Or players falling in the furnace while trying to dispose of those explosives. Or the sub being hit by a giant tentacle while the captain is distracted helping players out of the furnace. But hold it together, team! Remember — when you’re in a submarine, leaks are motivational!)

Ultimately, we wanted to make a game about friends and family succeeding together, to make a social VR experience that’s completely positive. The captain and crew roles complement each other, which creates a unique experience — but also gives the captain lots of tools to help new crew learn the game. It’s a really great feeling when your crew syncs up instead of sinking down… especially when you’re Under Pressure!

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7 Comments

4 Author Replies

  • Very interested in this game due to asymmetric local multiplayer

    • Richard Boon
      Richard Boon

      The asymmetry was a lot of fun to explore during development. The first time we had the captain sucking up crew with their Magnashot and throwing them around – that was a good day in the office. Thanks for your interest!

  • People Want To Play Together
    The first, best reason is always social. If humans play, they want to play together.

    FALSE.

    • iamtylerdurden1

      Astro Bot says otherwise. They cut mp to improve the game.

    • Richard Boon
      Richard Boon

      I don’t say this to suggest that single player games aren’t great, because they are. It’s vital that different games can be enjoyed in different ways.

      But I’d say that, in general, people do want to play together. If you put a bunch of kids into a field and wait, once they’ve got over any shyness issues, they’ll be playing together. We’re very social animals.

      Can you elaborate on your point a little? We do have a single player mode, and it’s always interesting to me to discuss what games can and should offer.

    • Sure, I’d be happy to elaborate.

      Well, I’m an adult and I play video games for escapism, i.e. getting away form social pressures. Sure, kids in a playground will play together, but that’s not really an apples to apples comparison. First off, children and adults are very different and children will just go up to random kids they’ve never met and say “hey let’s be friends” “ok!’. You don’t see adults doing things like that. Second, a playground is an entirely different environment, and likewise for adults at an outdoor sporting event or park, then yes, you may naturally expect to interact and play together.

      Inside in your living room in front of a TV, I don’t expect or want to deal with other people. I want to relax and unwind.

      If you’re developing a multiplayer game, then great that’s what it is designed to be. But I’ve become increasingly disappointed that single player games or previously single player franchises are getting multiplayer shoehorned in.

      It really seems like the ‘everyone wants to play together’ is something the publishers and developers are trying to convince the players of, rather than the players indicating this wish to the developers.

    • Richard Boon
      Richard Boon

      Good points, well made. I also like to chill out with a game, and it does sometimes frustrate me that games spread their focus across multiple play modes instead of concentrating on doing one thing well.

      Our game does have a single player mode, but the core design is local couch co-op; the multiplayer is not shoehorned in.

      To return briefly to the point being made in the blog, however – my claim in the text was that if we want to introduce VR games to a wider audience, our number one tool for this is social play. In our case, experienced PSVR owners can introduce the technology to new players through our social screen play, which is simple, fun and inclusive. (In other cases, players might demonstrate games they love to others, or invest in VR to play online with friends, or simply discuss games on the internet – all social interactions that can help promote the technology).

      I’m sure there are non-social approaches, though. What are your thoughts? How do you think a game might best evangelise VR play to new audiences?

    • Couch Co-op with one person in the headset and the others using the TV is a good way. Online multiplayer requiring everyone to wear a headset is problematic. Online VR multiplayer games tend to die out quickly due to the lower audience in general of VR and then of that audience needing to have the specific game. Then you have a game that has a near useless mode in the near future or worse, completely unplayable due to server shutdown (see Starblood Arena). At least with couch co-op, you can always play that mode.

      The best way to evangelize VR, is to just get people into the headset to experience it for themselves. The just simply isn’t a better way, nothing can describe the experience.

    • Richard Boon
      Richard Boon

      I’d agree that online multiplayer is only as strong as its user base. As VR becomes more popular, we’ll inevitably see stronger, longer-term communities form around online multiplayer VR games.

      But we chose local co-op for exactly the reason you identify – to get people into the headset. We think it helps if an experienced user can onboard players via TV play, then have everyone (who wants to try) take turns in the headset. We user tested on players who had yet to try VR, and we had some amazing moments!

      What was your first introduction to VR gameplay? I encountered it first at work, as a colleague who brought his headset into the office encouraged me to give it a go. This was a while before I actually started making stuff for VR, so I guess I owe that dude a debt… :)

    • I’ve always been interested and wanted VR. My first experience was Playstation VR Worlds for the PSVR. From the opening menu in the cathedral to the Ocean Descent experience, it was jaw dropping and much better than I could have imagined. I was completely sold, and will be a die hard supporter, no matter what.

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