The Assembly: Creating a Believable World
Today, we’re continuing our series of development blogs giving you a behind-the-scenes peek into how we’re building The Assembly, our upcoming immersive, interactive story in first-person VR.
This time, we’re focusing on the game’s art aspects – everything from its visual effects to the ambience of its environments.
Break with tradition
The techniques we use to convey the atmosphere of a place in VR are much the same as in film or television. Common to these mediums is the need for visual storytelling, which in turn relies on the use of colour, lighting and setting to shape the audience’s impressions.
For example, you can use specific colour palettes to define how the audience instinctively responds to what they’re seeing. Want them to feel safe? Then use warm inviting tones. Looking to maintain tension? Using cold, edgy blues will do that for you.
Similar effects can be achieved through lighting and controlling the contrast of your shot: Do you want the participant to feel comfortable, able to see all of their surroundings or do you want them on edge, wondering what’s lurking in those shadows ahead?
The environment itself can also be used to help tell the story. Put the audience in a library or a field of flowers and they won’t expect anything too dramatic to happen, but stick them in a dank cellar full of grisly looking implements and watch the beads of apprehensive sweat form above that visor.
Composition is everything
However, for all the similarities videogames share with traditional forms of media there are some key differences. Technical limitations, for example - you can be limited by the power of the device delivering your story. In film and TV, visuals can be pre-rendered by a farm of computers. Interactive entertainment has to be rendered in real-time – only once for flatscreen videogames, but in VR it has to be rendered twice simultaneously, once for each eye. That impacts the size of the environments or number of objects you can display at any one time.
However, that’s not even the biggest difference.
In VR, you cannot control where your audience is looking. We are developers, not directors of photography and we have to let the player be our cameraman. Taking control of the camera away from the player is a sure-fire way to induce simulator sickness, so not even cut-scenes are available in our toolbox of tricks.
Therefore, to retain the power of direction and keep a degree of control over the framing of a shot, we try to guide the player to frame that shot for us… and for themselves.
With The Assembly, we try to tunnel the player’s vision by laying out a level’s design so to point them in the right direction. We use lighting to make a particular focal point come across as though it was a screaming neon billboard grabbing your attention (…although we don’t actually have any screaming neon billboards in the game, promise).
There are no shortcuts in VR
When we view something through a screen, we are looking at a life through a window. VR lets the audience walk through the door and experience that life naturalistically, through their own eyes. And with their eyes, they can see everything that inhabits that world.
For TV, theatre and film, the set is front facing, what sits 180° behind the camera is never shown and doesn’t need to exist. The same applies to flatscreen videogames, where players can’t physically peer around or under objects, or lean in and poke their head into places where we wouldn’t expect.
In VR, however, the world you build needs to be as complete as if it existed in real life. Unlike in flatscreen videogames where you can get away with culling a few polygons beneath this table or inside that cupboard, in VR have to create the world more holistically.
For flatscreen games, a level is merely a shell. In VR, it's more like architecture. Everything has to be completely modelled and fully textured because in VR, the player can look under a table, look behind a sink… even look into a coffee mug.
All of this can be summed up quite simply - in VR, we are no longer telling people a story.
We are giving you one to live.
We’re here for you, virtually