hubris Developer Cyborn has a lot of pedigree when it comes to creating virtual worlds. The Antwerp-based studio has cut its teeth on a number of cash-for-work projects spanning films, mobile apps and video games, and has recently started building its own VR franchise, hubris.
The project is billed as a sci-fi action-adventure game with triple-A graphics that uses tools like real-time 3D to deliver a “future-proof” product. According to the workshop, hubris is created to push the boundaries of the fledgling medium, and if all goes according to plan, it will spawn an entire franchise.
After working with hubris at Gamescom 2022 – for those wondering, the 30-minute demo impressed this writer – we had the chance to sit down with Cyborn CEO and Producer Ives Agemans to dive deeper into the studio’s approach to creating a VR game that can stand the test of time.
Hubiris ditches the teleport-based locomotion of some VR titles in favor of letting players jump and climb over objects, but refining and implementing those mechanics to imbue them with a sense of weight and gravity that felt immersive, but not disorienting, took months to work.
Even then, Agemans explains that it was impossible to do “exactly correct” climbing because the mechanic only requires players to use their arms. Unless the development team is willing to ship every copy of the title with a makeshift climbing wall, players’ feet will remain firmly planted on the ground, which has made things difficult.
“We put a lot of effort into jumping. It took us a long time to get it realistic enough, but we couldn’t achieve the same kind of realism with climbing because you can’t use your legs. It’s too complex [a movement] to reproduce perfectly in virtual reality,” says Agemans.
“So you have to add some level of automation to help players when pushing and moving with their arms. Balancing those things took a long time.”
Although Agemans suggests that finalizing the jump was a simpler task, he explains that it still took six months for it to feel natural. The “jump” command is tied to a button press and not a virtual move, meaning the team had to spend months figuring out how the length of an individual tap would translate in-game, allowing players measure the distance and force of their jumps as they attempt to clear chasms and, in some cases, cling to something on the other side using their real hands.
Mixing these more traditional mechanics with virtual moves was a tricky balancing act, and it took a lot of testing. “It takes so much to find the right balance. It was a long process,” Agemans says before explaining precisely why Cyborn ditched teleportation in favor of more engaging traversal mechanics.
“People often fell ill when moving [in VR games], especially when titles couldn’t deliver a consistent frame rate. If you can hit the right framerate, that’s less of an issue,” he continues. “Now a lot of VR gamers are also used to moving around with a VR controller, so you can do it that way. Jumping is also so important in our game, so if we get away from it, we’ll have to find another mechanic – like placing the cursor on gaps and letting players cross that way. It might expand our player base, but it would totally change the game.”
During the hubris demo I found myself constantly inspecting the world Cyborn had painstakingly assembled. I wandered through environments, pressing my virtual head against the thick digital glass and shielding myself from the cold vacuum of space and the beautiful planet-studded vistas beyond.
Every item I picked up – whether it was a hard-hitting sci-fi gun or a wobbly alien tentacle – was immediately put through my own quality assurance gauntlet as I tried to search for cracks in the impressive construct Cyborn had created, examining each object as if it held the key to some great mystery.
It’s something I imagine many gamers will do as they seek to anchor themselves in a new virtual world for the first time, and I’m not the only one. Explaining what Cyborn means when he talks about chasing immersion, Agemans explains that the team spent a lot of time researching graphical fidelity, but also placed a lot of importance on nailing the small details.
“In VR games, you can look around every corner, so I think the visuals can have even more of an impact in VR. Of course, we wanted to add a lot of cinematic backdrops that can take a player’s breath away in them. showing something that he has I think you have to pull off those big moments and mix them with action scenes and little scenic moments [is critical.]”
During my Gamescom demo, there is a moment where players are notified of an upcoming mission by a hologram of their commander. It’s a moment without bombast or fanfare, but one that should keep players engaged to convey crucial information about the challenge ahead. I ask Agemans about the challenges of making cutscenes in VR, and if it’s harder to keep players on task when you can’t lock them in place (without killing immersion) or just press ” play” to a tightly choreographed cinematic filled with exposition.
“More traditional games can have hours of cutscenes, but you can’t do that in VR because it would take players out of the experience. You have to find other ways to make it appealing and make sure people focus on listening to and watching the characters on screen,” says Agemans.
“[That process] is trial and error. You can use lighting tricks, which you might see in a movie, to highlight certain aspects of the scene and attract players. It’s also important in VR to make sure players don’t have any objects at hand that they can use to disrupt the scene — such as picking up something and throwing it at another character.” , laughs Agemans.
In general, Agemans says a good rule of thumb is to constantly remember that you’re working in VR. It might sound ridiculous when you say it out loud, but old habits die hard, and if you’re moving on from another industry – be it film production or more traditional development – it can be hard to let go. what you already know. Just like the uncharted worlds of hubrisVR remains a wild frontier – and best treated as such.