gnomes-and-goblins

The full release of Gnomes & Goblins was released on September 23, 2020, and it has some of the most sophisticated worldbuilding that I’ve seen in VR so far. Hollywood director Jon Favreau started to collaborate with Wevr’s Jake Rowell and Neville Spiteri after seeing their The Blue experience over five years ago.

Neville-SpiteriGnomes & Goblins has a 45 to 60-minute linear narrative, onboarding and prologue experience, and then a 5 to 18-hour open world exploration phase called “Goblin Life” where you can explore, craft, and collect objects within this world. The narrative portion is a great introductory experience for new and first time users, but it’s also something that the most seasoned VR enthusiasts should enjoy.

I talked with Wevr’s Rowell & Spiteri on the day of their release to discuss their design intentions as well as challenges for how to best serve the brand-new VR users (much as they did with The Blue), as well as create a satisfying VR exploration game for the hardcore VR gamers. The open-world portion of the experience doesn’t give a lot of hints or clues for what to do or how to do it, and so it actually requires either a different mindset or some patience for either figuring stuff out on your own or reaching out to community resources for clues. Some of Favreau’s most favorite gaming experiences is when he’s had to go out of game and search for answers, and so the open world portion definitely embodies this philosophy of needing to talk with other people to fully figure out some things. If you need some tips on how to explore, craft, and collect, then be sure to check out their post called “Clues for your adventure” with more some tips that I certainly found helpful.

Animal Crossing was also a huge inspiration to Favreau, and so team members like former Call of Duty developer Rowell had to figure out how to approach that type of game with the right mindset beyond what he calls his “Call of Duty” mindset that’s very goal-oriented to check all of the explicit boxes. Rowell said that they found that people without any expectations of what a VR game should be could actually get farther in the game and have a better time as they often approach it with a more chill and meditative mindset, which they wanted to emphasize as we’re all in the midst of this pandemic.

I did find that my wife was able to discover things within the experience that I had missed on my first play through, and she inspired me to go back in with a different mindset to discover even more things. After talking with Rowell and Spiteri, I went in for another 10 hours exploring around the world through their explore, craft, and collect core gameplay mechanic. I personally didn’t find the collection mechanic on it’s own to be a compelling enough reason to sustain extended play times, but my motivation instead came from wanting to more fully explore this beautiful world that they’ve created, and to start to unpack more of the narrative clues that are embedded throughout this world. I’ll actually have a follow-up conversation with my wife to talk about her experience with Gnomes & Goblins as she’s completely fallen in love with the piece, and we’ll talk more about both what she loves and what more she wants from a fantasy VR adventure experience like this.

There is a lot that is new about this experience, and it’s definitely trying to push the VR medium towards a mode of “being” rather than a mode of “doing.” It’s certainly got some things exactly right, and there are some other aspects of how to more fully onboard & guide users, or to generally help to cultivate the types of experiences that a range of people would find interesting and compelling. It’s an ambitious world with a lot of deep mythology and other stories ready to be told, and so I hope Gnomes & Goblins can find it’s audience so that they can continue to keep iterating and pushing the medium forward as they’ve done here in this experience.

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Music: Fatality

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