#88: Tom Kaczmarczyk on the VR implementation of SUPERHOT, an FPS where time moves only when you move

Tom Kaczmarczyk is a developer of SUPERHOT, which is an FPS where time moves only you move, which recently raised $250k on Kickstarter. It was a popular 2D game that was developed as a part of the 2013 7-Day First Person Shooter game challenge.

Tom-KaczmarczykTom talks about the evolution of the game, and how they first started their VR version of the game after Aaron Davies from Oculus VR reached out to them offering them a DK1 VR HMD to experiment with. He talks about the challenges of creating a 2D game first and foremost, and then adding VR support. He talks about some of the ways that SUPERHOT might be developed differently had it been an experience that was designed for VR first rather than adding VR compatibility to a 2D game.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.895] Tom Kaczmarczyk: My name's Tom and I'm one of the creators of SuperHUD. It's an FPS game where time moves only when you move. We also have a demo that's being showcased by the Oculus guys on various trade shows and apparently it's a lot of fun to play.

[00:00:27.972] Kent Bye: And so yeah, maybe talk about the genesis of how this came about from like a game jam.

[00:00:33.436] Tom Kaczmarczyk: Yeah, so we started working on it as a 7D FPS quite a while ago, and then we just continued working for, I don't know, half a year or so before we eventually managed to put it on Kickstarter. and since then we managed to raise quite a lot of production budget and we're en route to developing it into a full-scale game. So we're hoping that we're going to release it next year, sometime summertime, and we're hoping that it's also going to have some sort of a VR component.

[00:01:03.213] Kent Bye: And so talk a bit about the gameplay that you're developing this game for both a 2D experience and also a 3D immersive virtual reality experience and some of the differences or nuances between those two mediums that you've found.

[00:01:18.735] Tom Kaczmarczyk: There's a lot of pitfalls in developing games for VR. For now, with Superhot, we're focusing on a 2D experience, on just bringing it to desktops and consoles, simply because this is the obligation to our buckets, this is what we have to do first and foremost. and we will definitely be doing some experimentation with VR, but developing and designing games for VR is an entirely different piece of cake. Even with something so intuitively simple as an FPS, there are some things that you just cannot do in a VR game without the player getting a bit uncomfortable or sick.

[00:01:53.285] Kent Bye: I see. And so you're going to be developing this for a 2D experience first and then sort of adding on the virtual reality. And I think that if you were to develop it for virtual reality first and foremost, I would expect that it would be a lot of differences or you'd maybe take a lot of different approaches. Maybe you could talk about if you were to design it for virtual reality first, you know, how would you be going about this process differently?

[00:02:16.624] Tom Kaczmarczyk: Yeah, sure. If we were designing it for VR first, I'm not sure if it would be an FPS after all. I mean, there are a few things in the FPS genre that are kind of difficult to overcome in VR without the players getting a little bit dizzy. Even something as simple as just turning around and maneuvering the level, it tends to get a little bit weird after a while when you're in VR and you have to rotate your character with a gamepad stick or a keyboard. And it breaks the immersion, it feels a little bit weird. So the things that really work well in VR in terms of first-person shooters are sort of those rail-based shooters where you do not need to turn around, you do not need to look behind you. You can always just start walking forward. It works really, really well. And yeah, either that or you just count on the players getting used to this feeling of getting rotated without their involvement, without their body actually moving.

[00:03:13.172] Kent Bye: And so one of the game mechanics of Superhot is that Time only moves when you move. And there's moving your physical body around in the space, but then there's also kind of rotating and looking around. Is that movement in space the only way that you can really move around, or can you also look around within the 2D version?

[00:03:33.948] Tom Kaczmarczyk: Well, in the 2D version you can also look around you. In the 2D version it does come with a time penalty so that the time actually speeds up a little bit when you're looking around. In the Oculus demo that we've got we decided to strip it because it's just so much fun to look around you when everything is blowing up in slow motion and just enjoy the view.

[00:03:55.188] Kent Bye: I see and so is time actually moving when you're like so you can move your physical body you can also lean with positional tracking and also turn your head around and so at what point within the VR experience does time move? Does it move when you're doing any of those motions?

[00:04:12.308] Tom Kaczmarczyk: The progress of time is mostly attached to the way that you're moving in space, so when you're just standing still and moving your head around, when you're looking around doing some positional tracking, dodging bullets, etc, time is still fairly slow. It does speed up a little bit, but it's just a cosmetic feeling. We really wanted to encourage this sort of behavior for you to stand still and start dodging bullets, Matrix style.

[00:04:36.223] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's the thing that I was just sort of thinking of is the bullet time where, you know, it's like the bullets are going in such slow motion that you have time to kind of move around them. Is that sort of the essence of the gameplay mechanic that you're ultimately trying to get to is to be in an environment where you can actually kind of dodge the bullets in that way?

[00:04:54.242] Tom Kaczmarczyk: It's one of the gameplay features here. I wouldn't say that it's the most important one. I wouldn't say that it's this feeling that we're building the whole game around. But it is very important for VR and it works really, really well for VR because it is a new experience and you can finally feel like Neo in the Matrix. But in the whole full-fledged game, full-fledged production, it's going to be just one of the things that you're going to want to do in the game. It's going to be also about just being plain badass trying to dispose of your enemies in every way possible while they are trying to shoot at you and failing miserably all the time.

[00:05:28.727] Kent Bye: And right about the time that you were doing your Kickstarter, very soon after that, Oculus did start to show this in public demos and maybe talk about that process of having this game being showed in an official context by Oculus and some of the reactions that you were getting from it.

[00:05:43.984] Tom Kaczmarczyk: Well, we were working with the guys from Oculus for quite a long time. Ever since our kickstart, I think even a little bit before that, we were contacted by Aaron Davis, who's a developer relations guy here at Oculus, and he set us up with DK1 back then, and just, you know, gave us an option to experiment with the technology, see what it can do, and an older prototype running on a DK1 after a couple of weeks of just, you know, trying it out and playing with it. And afterwards we did see that there's a lot of potential in having some sort of a super hot version on Oculus. The guys at Oculus also saw that this is something that they would like to play as well, that they would like to see developed for their platforms. So we started working together, figuring out what would work, what wouldn't, and eventually we came up with the demo that is being showcased by the Oculus guys right now.

[00:06:33.558] Kent Bye: And so it did seem like you were able to meet a lot of your stretch goals within Superhot. So maybe talk about where you're at now and what's the process moving forward for you to finish the game?

[00:06:44.926] Tom Kaczmarczyk: Well, we are still building some of the groundwork for the complete game. It's a different story. There's a lot of differences between having a game that's presentable on Kickstarter and having a game that's actually playable by regular people for any longer stretch of time. So we're still laying some of the ground works and we're hoping that we'll be able to finish with the ground works and have like an alpha version ready for the more engaged of our backers sometime in November or December. And then a couple of months later we'll have like a public beta with most of the features ready for the launch in the summer 2015.

[00:07:20.231] Kent Bye: I see. And so when does the virtual reality support sort of come in or the VR version come out?

[00:07:26.128] Tom Kaczmarczyk: It's kind of difficult to say if we're going to have like a fully implemented VR support in the alpha or the beta versions. Probably, maybe, but we're still not entirely certain how much of the game will be, you know, like this pristine VR experience and if we're going to have it all perfectly implemented for VR or if it's just going to be kind of VR compatible so that you can play it on VR but you have to accept that some parts of the game might just feel a little bit awkward or weird. If you're jumping over a building in a VR headset, it just feels weird when you hit the ground and your body does not react to it. And there's nothing we can do about it. We cannot design around it if we're focusing on a 2D experience first.

[00:08:05.175] Kent Bye: I see. And finally, what do you see as the ultimate potential for virtual reality?

[00:08:10.597] Tom Kaczmarczyk: You know, my guess is as best, as good as anybody else's. It's still a very young industry, so it's difficult to say what will stick and what will not. Personally, I would like to see more VR experiences that are not video games, but rather involve some innovative storytelling. Maybe something similar to live theater, but redone in VR. so that you can finally enjoy the feeling of being in the theater amongst the actors without having to go to the actual theater. Okay, thank you. Thank you. Thanks very much.

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