Alexey Yakunin, game designer Anvio.
Developing games in virtual reality is a complex and exciting process. How does gamedev begin, why do you have to give up some ideas and how to learn how to manage the user’s emotional palette – we talked about all this with Alexei Yakunin, Anvio game designer.
Today Anvio is a network of VR clubs with playgrounds in 16 cities around the world. The company was the first to launch VR arenas with free (= wireless) movement and full-body tracking of player movements.
Natalia: How did the plot of the first game come about? Were the references – whose example inspired? How did you invent the legend?
Alexei: In the history of City Z, we were a team whose task was to transfer the finished project from one motion capture system (approx. Ed. Motion capture) to another – from OptiTrack to VIVE. We adapted the game and resized the site by adding a column in the middle.
What at the start looked like a half-working prototype turned into a full-blown task, since it was necessary to process a lot. The goal was to do something new, using what we got. Having studied the legacy, we decided that we could bring the project to mind and make it playable.
- Updated Boss Version
- Old version of the boss
“Oh, the game about zombies – a gloomy atmosphere, dark colors and always sunset. Next, what about the opponents? We take the gold standard: ordinary zombies as in the movies and fat people for a change, a huge boss at the end – everything is fine, in production.
Zombies look great, animation curves add color to the game. What? Are we our players? Well, yes, then something needs to be done with this. How, nothing can be changed? What do you mean, you need to redo everything ?! ”
The development was like a blindfold rake disco.
Initially, the idea was precisely to refresh the visual range of the project as much as possible. So there was light and effects that emphasized the atmosphere of the game. We reworked the textures of both the environment and the zombies, added many visual elements that gave liveliness.
There was not much time, but we wanted not just to make a shooter, but to create a story; decided to add a plot that was fed through cues. And so a story appeared in which the participants half of the game think that they are going to save people, and then they find out that the task is completely different. The result was the first part of City Z, and even then we wanted to do better and more interesting. But this is a completely different story …
Natalia: Tell me about the zombie shooter genre – why did you choose it, what do you think it catches the audience with?
Alexei: Long before me, the classic gave the answer to this question …
There is no better hunt than hunting a man. Those who recognize the hunt for armed people and love it will no longer want to know anything else.
(c) Ernest Hemingway
In our case, people fight against zombies and, I must say, do it competently. You can find dozens of reasons why killing zombies is right, from religious to emotional. Everyone sees the enemy in zombies, and each his own. I will not forget the woman who came to us to play with her grandchildren. She was over 90. Killing the walking dead, she recalled her fighting youth in the fields of the Great Patriotic War. Abandoned bunkers, the sound of gunfire and the desire to survive in the midst of this chaos – parallels in the war with the zombie apocalypse can be traced.
Natalia: How long did it take to develop each part?
Alexei: The bottom line for the development of one part took at least 6 months. But development does not begin with concepts and code, but with an idea that can change dramatically in the process.
The second part of City Z has the subtitle “Survivors.” It was planned that the players will face a choice, as well as be able to save a group of survivors in the building. It would depend on their actions what the players would expect in the end, but due to time constraints, we had to make the plot linear, and it became different.
Soon, another part of the line with the subtitle “Necropolis” will appear on Anvio locations. The main idea is to survive in a limited space by building barricades, loading up weapons and using a transmitter. The game passes the latest tests, it turned out to be very dynamic, although much of the planned had to be reduced.
The same thing happened with the new part, which is now in development. I had to abandon the planned final location, but along the way we found another way, how to finish the project on a major note and meet the deadlines.
Next year we plan to release a large project for 3-4 hours of playing time on SteamVR.
Natalia: Did you use Unreal Engine? What are its features?
Alexei: Yes, this engine is ideally suited for our tasks, it is not in vain that it is used for shooters in a huge number of projects. But the Unreal Engine is only a part, the real heart is the system of game kinematics and positioning, which was developed in our company. It is this system that connects the real world with the world of City Z and not only.
Unreal Engine is one of the most dynamic game engines on the market. We closely monitor what appears in it, and use the latest versions whenever possible, each of which can give us new opportunities.
Natalia: How are the games different? Compare the elaboration of details, environments and effects in games
Now there are almost no engine differences between games, we use a single project engine – this is done specifically in the future to make a large project that will incorporate all the City Z developments. But if you look in retrospect, the differences between the projects were like between Zaporozhets cars “And Bugatti Veyron.
While still working on the first part, we realized that we needed to change the appearance of the zombies so that the player saw different dead people, and not stumbled upon the same ones. We developed a modular system that assembled each zombie from separate parts – this gave us hundreds of different-looking bestiary characters with the minimum opportunity to meet two identical ones side by side.
New zombies got significantly more complex skeletons, which allowed us to make facial animations and use their full potential for horror elements. And yes, sometimes people get scared very much, especially girls.
I often visit the site (approx. Ed. Alexey works in St. Petersburg). Once we had guests from Germany, and one girl in the literal sense had to be taken away from the site. After her friends had finished playing, she came to her senses and said that for her whole life she was not so scared as at the moment when, turning around, she faced a screaming zombie.
We try to make the players feel strong emotions: anxiety, danger, fear, sometimes horror. This is the palette that we are learning to use. We are also working to ensure that the environment is reliable in the details. So that when shooting at the walls there were marks on them, the glass would break and shatter into pieces, and the light was like real.
But everything will seem like children’s drawings with crayons on the pavement, when the next part comes out …
Natalia: What are the game mechanics in the line, what’s new in the upcoming Necropolis project?
Alexey: The main mechanic of the shooter is shooting, and at this stage it is very similar to the real one. The weapon has recoil, you feel it through the vibration of the sensors and hear it – the weapon has a very rich sound, the hits are clearly fixed at the place of the bullet. All this in combination gives a very real feeling of weapons and shooting.
In all games of the line you are not immortal, zombies can disable you. The value of life increases the interest of players in teamwork. Players begin to cover each other, which makes the game even more realistic, as players get accustomed and begin to believe in what is happening.
City Z has a lot of interactive objects that players can interact with, objects that need to be collected or repaired. All this works like an anchor, plunging players more and more into action.
A distinctive feature of Necropolis is its flexible complexity. There are four levels of difficulty in the game, and if you consider yourself a born killer of zombies, just ask them to set the HARD level – it’s the main fun. Only at this level can we understand what players are capable of as a team.
The competitive system that appeared in our Necropolis project will allow players to fight for getting into the top, and where there are competitions, there will always be those who want to be the best of the best. All this can develop into world-class championships, because DotA also began as a mod for Warcraft.
Natalia: Which of the game designers (working close to this genre, but not necessarily) inspires you?
Alexei: For me, the guys from Valve will remain an example, at one time they turned the genre upside down. In terms of work on the project, I am most shocked by the Left 4 Dead development team, of course, with special thanks to Mike Booth. Also on the list is Resident Evil and its creator Shinji Mikami, a true master of his craft. But the first game that hit me was not about zombies; it was the Metal Gear that I played when I was 6 years old, since then I admire the skills of Hideo Kojima.
Natalia: Well, thank you for your time! We look forward to receiving the latest news about your team’s projects.