Out today, Battlezone Gold Edition hops onto the trend of VR games ditching the headset requirement and inviting more people in to play – it’s a free update on PS4 and PC, while also seeing the game out on Xbox One for the first time.
What’s interesting is that devs do have to design differently when considering VR and TV, and that’s certainly come into play for Battlezone. We spoke to Richard May, Lead Programmer, and Grant Stewart, Designer, about how the game was de-VR-ified, adapting some of the game’s design to work on a flat screen.
TSA: We’re seeing a little bit of a trend with VR games being stripped of their VR and being brought to flat screen.It depends on the game, of course, but why have you made the choice to do this with Battlezone?
Richard May: We always wanted to have a 2D – we call it ‘Flattlezone’ – we always wanted to have a non-VR version, but during development as we got more and more into VR, we found that the more specifically VR features we could add, the better the game was in VR. So we really wanted to focus on that as best we could during the core development.
But it was always at the back of our mind that we wanted to share it with a bigger audience and how to make that happen without sacrificing the experience for both parties. It took quite a lot of time to get there, but I think it’s good!
TSA: Yeah, it was one of those things that was mentioned in the comments of reviews a lot, that people wanted to see a non-VR version as well.
You say you a 2D version during development, but how was the shift away from VR? I’m sure there’s some people out there thinking you just set a fixed camera, hit compile and go for lunch!
Grant Stewart: [laughs] Yup, but there’s a fine line between just making it work in flat mode and making it actually fun to play! We had to do a lot of extra work around the UI and making it readable to communicate what was actually happening in the game, because you’ve lost all the freedom of movement around you.
We always had a version that we could internally run in flat mode, so that was our starting point, and then it was making it as engaging as possible from there.
Richard: There’s a lot you sort of take for granted in VR, like being able to look in one direction while moving in another, that we suddenly had to try and find a way for players to experience without the use of a headset. We had to add a lot of camera control options to enable you to look around while still playing.
TSA: Yeah, one of the things I’ve noticed while playing again is that I’m not able to, as you say, look left and keep my eye on enemies while trying to soak up their damage on my side shields. How you seen that as well, that people play the game differently?
Grant: I think, yeah, we have internally seen people playing a slightly different way. I guess you have to be a bit more cautious, because you haven’t go that peripheral vision?
Richard: Caution’s probably a good watchword for VR players as well, because people will often get themselves into a lot of trouble by not realising they were charging in when they shouldn’t be.
Ironically, there’s things like the hit indicators that we added for VR that work better in 2D because you’re always looking at them. We’ve got various indicators for if you’ve been hit to the left or the right, the kind of classic things you get in an FPS, but they don’t work very well in VR because people aren’t looking at them. We went through tons of iterations to make sure they were audible as well as visual cues, but now in an odd sort of way, it’s the indicator’s turn to shine!
TSA: Yeah, having the radar always at the bottom of the main view is going to be a big help in general… unless you’re looking straight up into the sky!
Grant: There’s actually a quick button so you can look down, so you can check your radar at any time, but these are all little things we had to add in because, you know, you could be looking up in the air and the radar’s not on screen because you don’t have a classic HUD. There’s other considerations we had to have that you wouldn’t expect to have in a standard 2D game; you can still tell it’s made for all around VR.
TSA: One of the best things about the VR is that you’re really transported into this tank cockpit and can look all around you, and it’s got a very tactile look to it, definitely. Is there anything you’ve done to try and keep that atmosphere on flatscreen?
Grant: Well, you’re still embedded within the cockpit, so you’re still quite grounded because of that and we’re relatively pleased with this as a nice throwback to the Activision Battlezone games from the 90s, where you’ve got the cockpit and can see the world outside it. That’s something that makes you feel really grounded in the world.
We got a lot of stuff for free just by keeping the same cockpit set up.
Richard: I always stare into the middle distance when people say we got things for free [laughs]
Grant: [laughs] That inversion into 2D was there for the taking, really. We made little tweaks to things like how the little monitors pop up, which we actually did for VR originally to draw people’s eye to the movement of the monitor, because we found people weren’t looking down when they were meant to be. That allowed us to position them optimally in 2D as well, so they’re actually in slightly different positions whether you’re in VR or 2D. It was kind of serendipity really, that the HUD is designed the way it is and it allows for both.
TSA: I really liked the art style that you went for, and it worked well to overcome the pixel count limitations on the first gen VR headsets, but I guess it’s nice for you to be able to bring all of that artwork to the fore, especially when jumping across to Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.
Grant: HDR is great for those kind of neon lit levels, as well. It really takes the intensity of colour to the next level. We were all sort of cooing over the giant 4K TV when it was first shown.
I always thought it had a really nice art style, so it’s nice to get that to a larger audience.
TSA: You’ve got the cross-tech co-op multiplayer, if you will, between PS4 and PSVR, and between PC, Vive and Rift, but I have to ask the obligatory question about cross-network play as well. Is that something you’ve looked at?
Grant: No, not in this version. Unlike with EA or Ubisoft, we don’t have our own Origin or Uplay network infrastructure we can hook into, so we’re always beholden to the platform for that.
[Rebellion’s PR clarified that there’s currently no plans for cross-network play]
TSA: And finally, another kind of “no comment” question, but Battlezone initially had some nice free DLC additions after launch. Depending on how Gold Edition does, is it possible that you might come back to it again?
Grant: It’s a kind of “suck it and see” situation at the minute, isn’t it? I think we’d all love to.
Richard: Yeah, definitely.
Grant: Everybody that worked on the project really enjoyed themselves and there’s a lot of ideas that have been floated around of what might happen and what might do.
Thanks to Grant and Richard for taking the time to speak with us about Battlezone. Gold Edition is out today for PS4, Xbox One and PC, and a free update for anyone that already owns the original versions for PSVR, Vive and Rift. It’s also due out in the summer for Nintendo Switch.