One of the most important games in the PlayStation VR launch line up was RIGS. First person shooters have been anything but a natural fit for VR, despite being the most obvious genre to try and attempt, so it was a big deal when RIGS was able to solve or sidestep some of the inherent problems.
With today’s release of the Winter Season Update, we caught up with Game Director Piers Jackson and Art Director Tom Jones to talk about the game’s development, its launch and where it’s now heading.
TSA: Thinking back to the game’s launch and the kinds of feedback that you got, how was it and how has it shaped your future plans?
Piers Jackson: The feedback we got was really positive! We’ve been watching our community forums, we’ve actually been playing the game with the community and lots of people really love the game. It’s been very positive and good to engage with them.
A lot of the feedback that we’re getting is suggesting things we can improve, some of which we already had in the pipeline, some of which are new, and that’s really been helping us focus our thinking about what to do next and how we’re going to support people.
TSA: One of the early hurdles is with getting people to try the game, but the demo’s tutorial was quite different and much shorter in terms of getting people up and running and trying to get them feeling comfortable. How did you tackle that, compared to the full game where you get to spend a lot more time?
Piers: A demo is always very difficult when you’re trying to give people a very new experience, something they’ve never had before, and trying to bring them up to speed. We did have some experience with that, because we’d obviously been at many trade shows and been getting people through in very short order, but it was nice [with the full game] to give people the opportunity to actually play the full tutorial and really work their way into RIGS, to be able to customise all the comfort options and find something that particularly works for them, which obviously with the demo we were never able to do.
TSA: At the same time, do you think the tutorial could do with some streamlining? One of my criticisms when reviewing was that it takes too long and you get hung up on things like menu navigation!
Piers: Yes, and I think we have investigated some of those elements. We’ve been working on the tutorial so we actually offer a full tutorial skip, we have checkpoints in the tutorial… it’s that interesting problem of how much information is too much information? We did do a lot of user testing while we were in development, but I think what we’re seeing in the feedback now is that some people want to move on quicker or skip the tutorial and get to the game because they’re comfortable with how to play it already.
We’ve taken that on board and those are things we’re fixing now.
TSA: And in terms of general player comfort and getting a playable first person shooter in VR, which has been one of the dreams since VR’s emergence but one of the most difficult challenges to overcome, can you talk a little about how you tackled those challenges and how that can help define VR shooters?
Tom Jones: It was a big learning curve over the course of development. There wasn’t a one shot solution, I think it was a combination of lots of different things. So there was experimenting with different controls for turning, obviously in our game there’s the fact that you’re in a Rig and can look down and see you hands to give you a sense of presence, we made sure there’s a horizon line on the cockpit which really helped.
Certainly from an art point of view, we made sure that environments weren’t too overwhelming, which was quite important, but equally that they weren’t too sparse. You need some information to get a sense of where you are and what your place is within the world.
So it was an iterative process that we went through and very heavily user tested. It was our primary aim, and I think that’s been reflected in some of the feedback and reviews, that it surprised a lot of people in terms of how comfortable it is. I think people really appreciate that there are options there, as well, to customise their experience. Even within the studio we recognised that not everyone has the same experience, so it’s important to give people choice.
Piers: Yeah, I think we’re still learning and the industry as a whole is still learning about comfort and motion in VR. As Tom said, a lot of this is about choices; people find some bits easy and other bits difficult, and it’s a combination of things. It’s about allowing people to educate themselves and set the games up the way they want to play them, and that’s really been our approach from the outset.
TSA: Did it help, in terms of getting people acclimatised, to have the game based around these short, snappy matches? Each one only lasts about five minutes in total.
Piers: We deliberately chose the time length for a couple of reasons. One of those was that it meant the sport felt fresh all the time and you didn’t end up with a group of people suddenly leading with a points total you could get back on top of.
Equally, there was an element of actually just giving people a break, giving them a moment to calm down. VR is very intense and just that ability to collect yourself and collect your thoughts before moving on into the next tactical part of the match was critical for us, I think.
TSA: Looking forward to the Winter Season update, one of the interesting things is what you’re doing with the new RIGS. The APX RIGS are lighter, they’re faster, and they’re adding a new layer on top for people that have become used to the game.
Tom: Yeah, definitely. The important distinction to make is that they’re not a new class. They’re versions of existing RIGS that as you say are faster, have less armour, and so they present different tactical choices for players and let them approach the match in different ways. We’ll be doing that for a number of the RIGS in the game.
Piers: You’re right, it’s something that we’re allowing the high end play to ease into. I think we had enough in the game to start with for people to be learning and playing, but we’re already seeing that guys out there are playing the game very much like and esport and they’re looking for the next level, the next way that they can push their abilities.
The APX RIGS are a tradeoff in that regard. They allow us to increase manoeuvrability, both in terms of speed and the way that you dodge, but they come at a trade off of having less armour, so you need to be cleverer about how you’re moving around the maps. […]
Tom: They’re not getting new abilities, we’ve kind of gone under the hood and tweaked their settings and released them in a new package. Importantly, it’s not like it’s a separate part of the game. All of these can be used on the existing maps with all the existing RIGS as well.
TSA: That’s a pretty big point these days, and especially for a game that’s going to have a relatively niche audience, to not split the community with paid DLC.
Tom: Yeah, that was really important for us.
TSA: Keeping that audience engaged and coming back each week and each day is also going to be important. How are you going about giving people new things to keep aiming for?
Piers: So, a lot of the content we’re about to start releasing, we’ll be releasing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. So the reasons to come back will be the fresh items there, the new customisation elements in the shops, and we’ve got the weekly trials that will be coming online and creating new challenges. We’re also looking to set up various tournaments. We run a weekly Beat The Devs session, and the community themselves have actually set up a league where they’re playing once a week as well.
I think that regularity in drop of new content and drop of events is how we’re going to keep things live and fresh for people.
TSA: Are you going to build those events further, so there’s more official and ingrained tournaments for the community?
Piers: I think that’s a “watch this space” moment, really. We would love to engage in doing those kinds of activities, because we know how important they are for our online players and what the community are looking for.
TSA: And as for the kind of esports angle, do you see that as a possible future?
Piers: Um, I don’t think I’d like to comment on that a minute, but there’s a lot of people out there that would like to see RIGS running as an esport because it is like a sport and it’s competitive!
Tom: I think one of the things we’ve noticed most is that, actually, it’s really enjoyable to watch! We’ve enjoyed watching people play it, so there is that element there and it’s something to think about.
Thanks to Tom and Piers for taking the time to talk to us. The RIGS’ Winter Season update is rolling out today, so if you’ve got the game, be sure to check out the new map and next week’s first wave of APX RIGS.