How Infinite Inside blends augmented and virtual reality on Quest, Vision Pro and beyond

As all manner of companies have pushed to find the next steps in personal computing over the past decade, there’s been a tussle between augmented reality and virtual reality for supremacy. Do you want to be fully ensconced in a rendered environment and cut off from the rest of the world? Or is it better to place objects within our living spaces, analyse the world around us and overlay them with more information and detail? For video games, it’s been clear that VR is the more appealing technology, but what if you blend the two together? That’s what Infinite Inside seeks to do, the next game from Maze Theory.

Infinite Inside kicks off with a suitcase falling into your living room, busting open and sprouting a strange stone pillar right in front of you. As you get up and walk around it, you spot gaps or handles for drawers to pull out, revealing 3D shapes that you can grab and then piece together to create a whole. Slotting those completed puzzle blocks into gaps in the front of the plinth eventually reveal little trophy-like statue that, as you grab it, whisks you away from the real world and into an entirely virtual setting.

Talking about the game’s inspirations, Maze Theory’s Chief Gaming Officer Russ Harding told us, “We always ask, when we play with new tech, what can we do now that we couldn’t do before? For us and our previous backgrounds working in VR and AR, combining the two elements together was something that we hadn’t been able to do before. We hadn’t been able to take you from your real world with augmented reality objects and then unlock a virtual world and take you in and out of that space. That felt quite unique and exciting for us to explore.

“Taking away controllers, what can you do just using hand interaction? How do you get around spaces? How do you pick things up?”

Now, it’s important to note that Infinite Inside is coming to all major VR platforms and catering to all their various capabilities. The game on SteamVR and PlayStation VR 2 will have a fully rendered VR living room as the hub, instead of using augmented reality, while Meta Quest 3 and Pico will blend reality predominantly with controller in hand. However, Infinite Inside launches alongside the Apple Vision Pro in Europe next week on 12th July, and that puts a rather different spin on things.

“We predicted ages ago that there would be an Apple headset,” Russ said, “and we wanted to be a part of the launch of that headset, but one of the things we couldn’t predict was how the UI/UX would work on Vision Pro until we got our hands on it. I think that once we did through some of the Workshops, we realised one of the most challenging things would be translating the controller or analogue hand interaction back into the UI/UX of Apple.”

Having gone hands-on with the game on both Meta Quest 3 and Apple Vision Pro, the distinction is clear. Going controller-less on Quest 3 is possible, but the default will be to use the bundled controllers for hand tracking, reaching out and grabbing things with grip buttons and triggers, while on Apple Vision Pro you need to adapt your expectations and interactions away from what’s so common in other VR platforms. It’s more about looking and performing a pinching between finger and thumb – though you can still reach out and grab things, just performing this different action.

It’s fortunate that Infinite Inside is so well suited to this style of play, a much more relaxed and considered experience compared to high-octane shooting galleries and energetic rhythm action games. That allows the strength of the passthrough and augmented reality of this headset to really shine, and even ties in with the style of Apple’s own immersive environments.

“Obviously the passthrough is really high quality, you don’t get any warping [around your hand], it makes you feel very present and it really embeds objects in the world. It has things like dynamic lighting, where it takes on light from the room, which is difficult to see if you have a very bright room, but you do get those subtleties, and is a really nice touch.”

Infinite Inside plinth puzzle in full VR

As you’re whisked away to a virtual scene, the interaction changes from pacing around your living room to one that’s perhaps a little more familiar to VR gaming. Locomotion is kept very simplistic here; there’s no free motion or slingshot teleportation, but rather floating stones on set paths that you reach out towards and grab to teleport around. Through this you explore a maze-like stone structure, searching for the plinths and places where you can once again physically investigate them, open draws and search for the puzzle pieces you need.

The story is kept light and minimal, but Russ told us that “There is a narrative in the world, as the plinth that arrives in your room has been created by a secret society, the character that you keep seeing in the game is one of the founders, and you kind of get to learn a bit about what that society is about.”

“There’s no voiceover in the game, and you’ll notice that as you go in and out of each chapter, you’ll get a very slight touch of story through the titling of the chapter as it’s introduced. It’s very much about experiencing the progression as you go through the plinth itself and start rebuilding it. You get hints of the echoes and their story.”

It amounts to a game that’s on the smaller and more constrained end of the scale, compared to Maze Theory’s previous games with the Doctor Who license and Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. “Peaky really pushed the boundaries of our art production pipelines,” Russ said, “and for us that’s why we have a very stripped-back and focussed style for Infinite Inside.

“We’ve also tried to focus on just a few mechanics rather than lots of mechanics. We have been utilising App Labs to push out demos and stuff – we have a prototype team that pushes out prototypes to App Labs, so we’ve got a game on there at the moment called Freerunner that’s just looking at movement systems. Some of those we take into other games, but the idea is that we get community feedback. With infinite Inside, we put the demo out with the first two levels (obviously in alpha) and that was really well received. We got feedback about the traversal stones, how people were interacting with puzzle pieces, and it was really interesting to get that feedback.”

Infinite Inside vr scene

And getting a community that’s engaged is more important than ever for game developers – Russ proudly touts the 4.9/5 rating the Infinite Inside demo has garnered on App Laps. Yes, being on Apple Vision Pro is what’s drawn the headlines, but that’s the gateway for talking about the game across all platforms.

Russ told us, “For us, it’s really important that we do go out on everything – of course, it’s very demanding on our team. […] In VR we’re spread across platforms as an audience, and it’s a much smaller audience, so we need to be able to penetrate that successfully. Arguably a lot of platforms have been encouraging and supporting one another, supporting developers to go cross-platform, because sales on one will help sales on another. As an industry, if you can make a bigger noise on release, the better it is.”

Infinite Inside is out next week on 12th July across Apple Vision Pro, Meta Quest, Pico, SteamVR and PlayStation VR 2.

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