Farpoint Interview: Bringing a hardcore FPS narrative to VR
Indie developer Impulse Gear explains the approach it took to bring a story to VR for PS4 exclusive Farpoint.
Indie developer Impulse Gear was formed with a desire to bring hardcore games to PSVR. Its first title, Farpoint, is arriving on May 17 as a PS4 exclusive and it aims to do just that with the help of the new Aim Controller (or DualShock 4 if you're looking to save a few bucks). It tackles and defeats two of the biggest challenges facing VR development: how to do a free-roaming FPS and how to deliver big on narrative.
Farpoint follows three astronauts who find themselves trapped on an alien planet after their mission to explore a bizarre source of radiation goes pear-shaped. Playable solo or in co-op, your goal is to escape and survive the alien presence while also learning the science behind what is causing the radiation to exist. The story trailer is great and promises something quite engrossing. While in Australia to promote the game, I caught up with Impulse Gear founder, Seth Luisi, to learn more about how his team has approached delivering story in VR.
PSVR has been out now for eight months; what were your expectations for the first year of the product and have they been met?
Impulse Gear is an independent developer, so we do look at all the different platforms and headsets, but our focus has been on making a game in Farpoint for PSVR. So we’re super excited by the number of units it has sold. It’s been great working with Sony on this have having all those PS4s available and that growing PSVR market. But as an independent studio, we do look at it a bit differently and for us, PSVR is definitely the platform to be on.
So the company’s mission statement is to bring hardcore games to VR; what makes Farpoint “hardcore?”
Well it comes down to whether you define a difference between “hardcore” versus “core gamer.” Core gamers who play on PS4 will play in all these different genres, from an FPS to an action-adventure, and they have certain expectations of what they want to see in a VR game. Our goal was to deliver that. It is a full game experience; it’s not a short experience. It’s fully interactive where you can move where you want to move. It’s a challenging experience in the way we’ve designed the AI. And it has a full narrative as well. We really wanted to deliver that full game experience that you would expect in a regular game, just in VR.
You’re right that a lot of the games we are seeing have short bursts of gameplay and little to no story. You mentioned the narrative there; why was it important that Farpoint had a rich story?
As game creators, we really believe in having a strong narrative as a means of defining your game experience and having it as a part of the gameplay. It was a decision we made early on and VR allows us to tell a different type of narrative. It’s not about having that traditional action movie or action game type of narrative, as we can have something very different. We found that in VR, you really feel the presence of these other characters. You’re in there with them, so we realised we needed a much more personal narrative. We focused in on what it would mean for these characters to be stranded on this world; for their emotional state and how they would interact with each other. Because when you are there in VR, you can see the detail in their facial expressions. You can feel their emotional state just by looking at them. That is very unique to VR and that’s why we decided to make the narrative a very big part of the game.
That suggests that story wasn’t a priority when you first started Farpoint, but rather it became one as you got more confidence in the VR experience?
We’re a small team of just 15 people located in downtown San Francisco, so when we first started prototyping it was just about what the moment-to-moment action was going to be. How does the controller work with the game so that you can easily and accurately aim around? So some of the earlier prototypes were more focused on the shooting aspect. After that, when we started defining what Farpoint could be – what the structure would be, what the levels would be, what the ending was going to be – we knew we wanted to have a strong narrative.
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