Arca's Path is an interesting VR prospect. The game requires no pad, no keyboard or mouse, no hands to play.
The entire thing is controlled via gaze-tracking: looking somewhere and making a ball follow your movements.
It's an interesting idea, and something that's been specifically designed to work on all VR headsets.
Why? Because the next big VR boom could happen as soon as this year, and Dream Reality Interactive's Dave Ranyard wants to see innovative, creative titles like his company's neat little project flourish.
We caught up with Ranyard at E3 2018 to talk about the inspiration behind his muted dystpian adventure, and how he's using 17 years' worth of experience at Sony to help pioneer a new wave of VR projects.
Having worked at Sony and on the SingStar titles, your experiences must have been really handy coming into a game that revolves so much around soundscape?
Absolutely! So the musician is a guy called Raffertie, who’s on Ninja Tunes, and the person who licenses out for them used to do the licensing on SingStar - so they’re an old friend.
So when we set out to make this game, I got in contact with [Ninja Tunes] to collaborate and I have to say I was so pleased that we Raffertie to work with - he just got it, you know?
And then when they put our cutscenes to his music and suddenly we’re like ‘yes!; because it's almost like ballet: keyboards hitting in these moments and it’s really satisfying.
What inspired your move from Sony to an indie studio?
Foolishness? [laughter] I mean actually in my life I actually set up my own business when I was 17 that sold vintage clothes and antiquities, and also I was a musician. And I kind-of missed that you know?
So after doing 17 years at Sony, I ultimately wanted to start something of my own… and I thought if i don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?
I walked out into the dark wood, and I haven’t looked back since!
And Arca’s Path seems to be a pretty satisfactory project in that regard then - something different and focusing on that musical part of your experience?
Absolutely. Our goal when we set out to make the game was to create something that would work on any VR headset… and, I dunno, would include a ball! [laughter]
Actually, one of the people who worked with us early on was worked on DangerBall for PSVR, so already knowing the physics that came with the genre really helped.
So it’s a very simple mechanic that runs on any headset, but you get the full 3D physics platform too. The team did a really good job with it.
There was a puzzle game on PSOne that this reminds me of actually - Kula World, that was included on Demo One...
Yes! I do remember that! Nobody mentioned that yet, but I remember that game. People have mentioned a few different ball-rolling games, though, like Super Monkey Ball and Marble Madness, and obviously there’s inspiration there.
I’m a big platformer fan, since way back when, but if you’re doing something now, in VR… I feel like from the reactions we’re getting (against all the shooters and everything else in VR) this is the sort of game people want.
It’s something calmer, something visually appealing, quite intuitive. I think there’s space for something like this.
It also helps that it’s relatively bitesize - it’s not like in some triple-A games where you’ve got a bit of a movie to watch first and you need to set aside an hour for it. With this you can just jump in and out, take 10 minutes at a time.
It’s suited to these new standalone headsets we’re seeing, but it’s great on PS4 as well because of the deeper physics systems we’ve got in there, too. So hopefully we’ve got something that appeals to every kind of VR user.
Can we talk a little about the art direction in the game? My overwhelming thought when I first played it is that it felt like a Bjork music video
[laughter] Oh right, yeah! That’s a good reference. The way I describe it to people is that… have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? There’s this bit where, when these kids are living in the slum, someone comes and opens this cold can of Coke and the kids are like ‘oh my God’.
So our inciting incident is this girl, living on a scrapheap in our game… someone comes along and offers her a way out… but all is not what it seems. It starts off beautiful and utopian, but as time goes on, things start to fall apart.
We wanted to create the idea of this paradise, this beautiful place, and make it crumble. As a player we want you to right these wrongs, you know? We’ve done no dialogue, no text. We just wanted this underlying light story that gives you queues like you’d get in a graphic novel
I love games like Monument Valley that have a similar ethos where you can feel the story and see the story rather than having all this exposition dumped on you, you know?
Just before E3, we had Tetris Effect announced too - it seems PSVR is becoming more of a place for this multisensory projects to find a home. Do you feel Arca’s Path will make a good stablemate with those titles?
I think we’re in the second wave of content for VR. Or maybe third wave… because that first wave was projects feeling like tech demos, and that second wave was more ‘oh we’ve managed to get a game!’ It has felt like lots of shooter and horror games have come to VR… and they’re straight-forward to put out there.
Now, this third-wave, we’re seeing developers go ‘but what about this?’ Or ‘let’s try something else!’ I never thought VR success was going to be an overnight thing - you look at any hardware and it takes time to get traction. Look at mobile - you had Snake for seven years and now the market’s massive.
We’re learning all the time, and the platform-makers are getting wise… look at the things like Oculus Go. I think we’re going to see more [VR success] this Christmas with things like that hitting the market because it is more entry level and you can just plug-and-play, and that’s really important for an experience like VR.
Again, that’s why we made Arca’s Path to work on any headset: if you aggregate everything, a gaze-tracking control works across all platforms, and can be played by anyone.