●EMPATHY IS REQUIRED
Our idea at Ustwo was to make a virtualreality game timed to the release of the Oculus Gear VR headset. But after eight months, the game, Land’s End, wasn’t coming together as a story or an experience. There were missing skills on that team. There was no art director; there wasn’t a voice saying, “You’re going to encounter this beautiful moment, and here’s how we’re going to convey it.” Eventually I felt the need to put my hand up and say, “Guys, I don’t think you’re making the thing that you want to make.” And we voted to kill it. For like 10 minutes, we were just really sad. And then I said, “I think what might be best for the team
is if I come in, change up the skill set, and bring a new perspective to this.”
Game design is a discipline that you can get good at. It’s not about a person getting their way all the time. It’s about being tuned in to what makes a game work, what makes an experience fun. With our previous game, Monument Valley, we made it short intentionally so people could get to the payoff at the end. For a lot of people, it’s the first game they were able to finish. We got a nice letter from a guy who had sustained a brain injury; he used to really enjoy computer games, but after that most of them were too intense.
With Land’s End, we started fresh. We threw away levels. We found that people have a much poorer sense of space in VR than they do in real life, so we had to get better at creating landmarks and memorable places and mixing things up, so you go outside to inside, from cliff to gorge. Originally, we had way more fantastical levels, with floating chunks of rock. But it felt like you were in a computer game. We don’t want to remind you that you’re in a game; we want to fool you just enough that you’re like, “Oh, this is real, but it’s the most fantastical real I’ve ever seen.”
Everything that you design in a video game, it feels stronger in Vr—having a waterfall or a tower right in front of you. Eye contact is a really intimate thing. Chris Milk, an artist who works in virtual reality, called VR an “empathy machine”—it has the potential to show you how someone else lives. Games are just one application, and it’s kind of obvious, but imagine how powerful VR can be for education, training, design, tourism. We’re really happy to be here at the ground level. That said, my next game won’t be in VR. I’ve had my taste, and I want to go and have another adventure now.