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Discover the Meditative World of Separation This Week in PS VR

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Discover the Meditative World of Separation This Week in PS VR

Explore a derelict world in this new ambient adventure, created over the last few years by a single developer.

Hello. I’m a solo indie game developer about to release my first PlayStation game, Separation, an ambient adventure launching this Wednesday on PS VR. I’d like to take this opportunity to reveal the inspiration behind the game, along with some of the challenges I faced developing it.

Firstly, you may be wondering exactly what I mean by ‘ambient adventure.’ I’ve never felt comfortable with the term ‘walking simulator’ and reasoned that an equivalent to the musical genres of ‘ambient’ or ‘downtempo’ also existed in games. Separation’s gameplay is relaxed — exploration based with some puzzle elements, and no time pressure. Atmosphere and ambience are emphasized, details kept deliberately sparse. My mood board was heavy on Fumito Ueda’s PS2 classic Ico and the 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, Caspar David Friedrich (whose works often evoke a sense of epic desolation). I wanted to bring that feeling to VR, so I could lose myself in it. I had personal reasons for doing so.

Since losing my father in 2010 I have struggled with episodes of depression. I wanted to create a space where I could explore the feelings of emptiness and loss, perhaps finding some meaning in reflection. Hopefully, other people will be able to relate to that too. There is very little narrative – it’s a symbolic journey and you are free to make up your own conclusions about the experience. I feel VR is particularly suited to this end. The immersion reinforces the player’s experience of isolation, providing an experience of solitude that is increasingly rare in today’s hyper-connected world.

Of course, game development is seldom straightforward. I had never made a game in VR before and my limited resources meant I would spend long months struggling with technical issues beyond my expertise, trying to solve problems that normally require a team to effectively navigate. The journey took me well beyond my comfort zone, but I persevered, even as the game went twice, three times over its development schedule. I had a lot to learn and spent much of the time simply trying to achieve a stable framerate and shaders that rendered without issue in VR.

When funds ran out, I took on part time jobs to pay the rent. I composed and recorded the soundtrack at night, headphones on, sitting at the kitchen table after my family had gone to bed. “You will get there in the end,” gamedev friends told me at the local meetup in York, but it was hard not to feel that life was passing me by during the four long years of solo work on the game.

It’s hard to take a break or go through illness when there’s nobody else to carry things forward in your absence. Despite many setbacks, I did make progress and as the game neared completion and I wandered the desolate landscapes of my imagination, I began to feel a sense of peace and acceptance in the virtual world I had made solid.

So, where does this lead? I hope players will find something worth exploring, even if it’s just to watch the virtual sun setting behind those desolate rocks, the light fading on the water to an ambient soundtrack. I’ve learned much, and hopefully if the game is well received, I’ll get the chance to continue building upon it, perhaps with a small team. I hope at the end of it all, somebody will discover their own special place in Separation.

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6 Comments

  • Not really into those type of games but after reading this page I would like to take the adventure and see what you have done

  • Been following this on “PSVR without parole” and I’m so looking forward to playing it, and to find out it was all created by one person is mind blowing. amazing job

  • I also got the heads-up from “PSVR Without Parole” and “Polish Paul” (both on YouTube) — I’ve been checking the PSN Store frequently as I wait for the North American release! Looks great from the trailer, and from early reports it sounds like you nailed the ambient gameplay.

  • Congrats on finishing after 4 years of such hard work!

  • …Okay, I’ve played a bit of it and have encountered three control issues that really require a quick patch or I’ll never be able to recommend this game.

    First, the CLICK-TURNING is terrible: I can adapt to click-turning if I have to, but I turned the increments down to 35 degrees for the finest control possible and it never settled perfectly in the center of my view where I was heading, forcing me to constantly turn my head slightly off-center to correct for it. This is gave me a nasty crick in my neck, and leads me to the second control issue…

    Head-TRACKED movement is inherently awful, but head-INFLUENCED movement is even worse: The single biggest issue (other than framerate) for motion sickness has to do with movement that’s disconnected from user input. If movement direction is controlled by the hand or thumbs, that needs to be the ONLY input related to direction. As the user walks along in an environment the natural inclination is to occasionally look around in directions other than where one is heading (and it’s one of the significant strengths about 1st-person perspective in VR), but if looking around alters that course this instantly messes with our intentions and functionally forces us to come to a stop prior to looking around — which also means that one must hold one’s head still while moving — it’s a strain and shouldn’t be necessary (this is a problem that “GOLEM” had but then speedily patched in response to critique).

    Thirdly, back to another weirdness with that click-turning…

    The turn SHOULD be from the center axis of the player, but seems instead to be moving around the CIRCUMFERENCE. That means if you turn around while standing still you are actually being re-oriented in space (and into walls or controls if you’re near them) This is both subtly off-putting as well as leading to problematic or even game-breaking situations. On the “off-putting” side: I sometimes found myself fiddling clumsily with orientation to make a turn around a railing or restricted pathway when that sort of navigational imperative shouldn’t require any fiddling at all, while on the “game-breaking” side: I wondered if there might be some benefit to walking across the smaller pipe of a pipe bridge. I easily moved onto that smaller pipe but when I tried to get back to the larger pipe I found I had rotated into a position that I could not rotate out of. Irretrievably stuck, I was forced to restart the whole game (If there are checkpoint saves, I haven’t encountered them yet). For an experience that is focused on exploration this is an especially crippling problem, not just in terms of gameplay but in terms of psychology. On my first run I discovered two somewhat-hidden areas by following my curiosity — exactly the sort of reward one expects with a wandering game like this… But on my second run after being stuck part of me wanted to explore that same mountain and I began traversing a ridge, but quickly abandoned the effort to see what might be around that bend because I was so concerned of becoming stuck again — So, this seriously altered how willing I was to explore. :(

    Furthermore… After that restart I retraced many of my steps but inexplicably found that puzzle systems I’d previously solved were no longer working, simply not allowing me to interact with them (a tiny sculpture I could not pick up again in this second game, and a series of light buttons that could not be pushed). I don’t know if I simply missed some retreading moment that triggered the later possibilities or if I’ve encountered a bug, but either scenario is frustrating because movement through the world is rather slow and retreading those tracks after that restart was a bit grueling.

    I think these are all serious things that need attention, because I was quite excited for this game and still am hopeful about it… but the unnecessarily-limited movement controls have left my stomach and neck feeling rather rough (and I usually have ZERO physical issues in VR, even after hours of use), and there’s no way I’ll continue until I see there’s been a patch to address them.

    I know that some reviewers have already completed (advance copies of) this game and were impressed by its 6 hour+ play-time, music, and aesthetic and had very good things to say about it — so, I envy them and hope to join their ranks. But I also know that my frustrations will not be unique. I want to love it… but, until these wrinkles get ironed out I just can’t. :[

    (Still rooting for it)

  • Absolutely love this – visually impressive and a haunting use of sound effects. As for the music, I’d be happy to listen to it on its own.
    Like Chrome-Colossus I also found a couple of bugs – getting off the long pipe you walk across near the start of the game was very tricky because the game didn’t seem to want me to step up.
    And then there is an elevator I came across later on where I became stuck in the floor and had to reload. Fortunately the game had saved only a few minutes earlier so it wasn’t too much of a pain.
    I understand his comments about the ‘click turn’ option, too, although I found a suitable angle that worked for me. I wondered if perhaps the different angles had been added after he played the game?
    I’d tried to play with no click-turning at all but found that led to disorientation quite quickly.
    Caveats aside, for a one-man effort I thought this was brilliant and it put me in mind of the haunting puzzle game Myst, although with fewer puzzles and much less difficult!
    I’d love to see more, so if you do get a team together perhaps the world can be expanded upon without losing the game’s aesthetic.
    It’s a game I expect to revisit, just to hang out in its enigmatic world for a while.

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