How Zombie Shooter Arizona Sunshine Made The Jump To PlayStation VR

Arizona Sunshine is coming to PlayStation VR at the end of this month, on 27th June, but it’s already a huge success. Having been something of a poster child for the early days of the HTC Vive, with its early prototype build touring the globe to every show HTC saw fit to attend, it released at the end of last year for Vive and Oculus Rift.

“It’s been doing really great for us,” said Vertigo Games’ Managing Director, Richard Stitselaar. “I think we were the fastest selling VR title on PC and we’re now bringing that PlayStation VR.”

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That should be a nice and simple port, you might think, but talking to Richard and Trevor Blom, Lead Programmer, it’s much more involved than simply hitting a big ‘Export to PlayStation VR’ button. It gains some new ideas and features along the way, some of which can be seen as both improvements and concessions to the differences between this VR system and HTC Vive. The most eye-catching of these and the biggest positive for PSVR is support for the Aim Controller, and that’s lead to some more fundamental changes in how the game plays.

This was originally designed with having guns akimbo in mind, mixing and matching to have a gun in each hand with a pair of motion controllers or using the DualShock 4 support. However, the Aim controller needs you to hold it with both hands, and that pushed partner developers Vertigo Games and Jaywalkers Interactive in a different direction with the weaponry included.

“We added eleven new weapons to the game and basically rebalanced the amount of ammo you will find,” Richard revealed. “With the other mode you have shotgun ammo, machine gun ammo and regular bullets.”

Trevor added, “We made it as a new game mode, which meant we had to place all the ammo again and randomise the ones we want to randomise. Because of that we had to balance it all again; it’s not the same campaign mode, we had to rebalance it.”

You have to decide to play one way or another, picking between having two smaller guns with a pair of Move controllers in hand, and one larger one with the Aim. There’s single shot rifles, SMGs, AK-47s and more to pick up for the latter, while the former gets to pistols, revolvers and other single handed weapons.

This comes on top of the tweaks needed to make the game suit the PSVR system as a whole. For one thing, there have also had to be some changes made simply to squeeze the game onto the original PlayStation 4, and while the console can punch well above its weight, it’s a step below the entry point VR specifications.

“We targeted the PC version at both the recommended and high end VR specs, but [the standard] PlayStation 4 is basically below that,” Trevor said. “We still had to reach our frame rate, and even though it’s 60fps on PlayStation and 90fps on PC, we couldn’t read it with PC settings. So we had to do a lot of optimisations to get it to hit 60fps.

“A few examples are that we redid all the lighting, so where on PC it’s realtime lighting, we baked all the lights on PlayStation. We also redid all the physics, so there’s no ragdoll deaths on PlayStation, but they still die like they’re ragdolls and that’s because we baked all the ragdoll death animations into the game.” Richard added, “There’s still about 500 different animations just for zombies falling down!”

One thing that takes me slightly unawares is that this now features a fully fledged story, compared to when I saw the early demos on HTC Vive. You wake up one day as a lone survivor going slightly stir crazy on his own with only roving zombies for company, chatting away to them, calling them Fred, and so on. Discovering a live radio picking up a weak transmission, it’s clear there’s someone else out there, so a trek across Arizona is in order to try and find them and potentially escape to safety.

There’s a nice moment early on as I come out of the starting cave hideaway, when I look out onto this canyon and recognise an area that featured in the now ancient and outdated first demo for the game. It’s different now, with a shallow stream of water that wasn’t there before, and thinking back to this demo only emphasises how far the game came during development.

“We always wanted to make a full game,” Richard said. “We never thought of it as an ‘experience’, with a lot of the VR titles out there just being an hour long or horde mode maps. I think going for the full campaign also contributes a lot to the success of the campaign.

“The early demo was just a prototype for the mechanics,” Trevor explained, before Richard continued, “That one had the spot-to-spot system, where you have a wave of enemies, complete it and shoot at the circle to jump to the next spot. We did some prototyping and the teleportation was cool. We were building the entire world anyway, so why not give some power to the play so we thought why not?

“They showed that demo a lot, but at the same time we already had the teleportation system, and we were talking to press and saying, ‘Wait until you play the full game!’ And there were all these people complaining on YouTube that ‘Oh, it’s just another wave based shooter.’ No, it’s not a wave based shooter!”

Now, instead of having little areas to stand in and move around, you can freely teleport where you want or move as in a first person shooter, depending on your preferred control scheme and sensitivity to VR. It works well, and opens up the game to a more freeform feel. Instead of being stuck to predefined rectangles of space, you can actively search through a road full of abandoned cars, opening bonnets and rummaging between empty cans and tennis balls for ammo. It’s here that another change has been made, as in a concession to the narrower, more constrained play areas that PSVR gives you compared to Vive, you can now grab items from a distance instead of bending down to pick them up.

“You’ve got this ‘Jedi power’, where if you see something you can grab the stuff,” Richard said. “Actually, at this point I prefer the PlayStation version, because the pacing is faster. is it really worth so much effort to bend down and pick things up? It’s a different play style, so it’s not like we’re compromising, it’s just a different angle.”

“You can still pick things up manually if you want to,” Trevor added, “but people don’t do it! If you can just press one button to open a door or do it manually, people just go for one button.”

A pair of cooperative modes also feature in Arizona Sunshine, either letting you play through the campaign with a buddy alongside you, battling a higher difficulty level. Alternatively, there’s a wave-based horde mode, where up to four players can fend off zombies coming at you from all angles, restocking your ammo between rounds. Nicely, you can have a mix of players with Aim, Move or DualShock 4 in these modes with no special rebalancing.

It’s a slightly different game to the one that PC-based VR players got last year, but while some changes can be seen as compromises on the one hand, they can also be to the game’s benefit. Coming hot on the heels of Farpoint, Arizona Sunshine should be high up on the list for those wanting another fully fledged shooter for PSVR.

Update: We mistakenly omitted mentioning Jaywalkers Interactive as co-developers on Arizona Sunshine.

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1 Comment

  1. I like the sound of an up to 4 player horde mode. Do we know what price this will be?

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