I am always super interested in VR development. I have a PlayStation VR that I love finding new and weird games for, and I totally admit that, had I the room and money, I’d go for a PC set too. Thankfully, there’s plenty of studios putting out fun VR content. One such studio is Survios. A while back I got a chance to play Creed: Rise to Glory, a licensed game that left me quite impressed. So I got a chance to talk with co-founder and lead software engineer Alex Silkin (along with a quick appearance from media relation specialist Jade Hirtle) about just what went into making a game based on the boxing legend.
Alex Silkin: Hello!
TechRaptor: So you guys recently, Survios rather, put out Creed: Rise to Glory. For those who don’t know about the game, can you just quickly give me the rundown on it?
Alex: Sure. So, the game takes place between the first Creed and the second Creed movie, and there’s a campaign component where you essentially play as Adonis Creed and you train and you fight increasingly challenging fighters and you essentially rise to glory, as the title says. On top of that there’s an arcade mode where you can play as any of the fighters you encounter, in addition to the four classic characters we just released as part of a free DLC patch. There’s also a PVP component where you’re actually able to take on other players in multiplayer and fight them one-on-one in the boxing ring.
We… for this game we were trying to go not quite for realism, but also not really an arcadey kind of experience. Somewhere in the middle, and I think we like to say it’s a cinematic simulator where we really try to make you feel like you’re in one of the Creed movies with a lot of cinematic gameplay elements, but it’s still very much one-on-one visceral melee combat where you do have to learn how the opponents move and respond to that, but it’s not quite, I would say, pattern based, where you just learn what patterns the other opponent follows and you just try to counteract those patterns. So it’s much more dynamic in nature, and it’s a pretty decent workout.
TechRaptor: Up until this point Survios has only made– well, even including this point, Survios has only made VR games. Why are you guys attracted to making VR games over traditional ones?
Alex: I think everyone at the studio, I guess, in some sense has drank the VR kool-aid. I think we all dreamed about the future of VR ever since that concept became really popular in the 90’s, especially with movies like The Matrix and such. Me, personally, I’ve always dreamed of VR and as developers… Survios likes to hire really talented, driven, developers who like to solve challenging problems, and VR is just another ball game. It’s just another level for game development because it really turns a lot of the old assumptions upside down and it forces us to really reinvent a lot of the previously solved problems, I guess, through game development.
So it’s just a really exciting environment for creativity and engineering, so I think that’s why we’re really attracted to VR from that perspective. Once again, as consumers ourselves, we just believe that VR games provide a whole new way of experiencing content, it’s a whole new medium, and that attracts us as creators and I think we’re just really starting out with VR, it’s still such early days, and there’s still so many interesting challenges and problems to solve. There’s new hardware platforms coming out, and the games… I think a lot of players are saying that after experiencing VR games they have a hard time coming back to flat screen games, or pancake games as some people call them, and I definitely felt that myself a little bit.
After you experience being able to interact with the world, the gameplay mechanics where you’re using your arms, using your body naturally as you would in real life, it really… that sense of embodiment makes it feel like you’re really in the game and it’s really hard to go back to some of the older games where you’re pressing buttons and you see things happen on screen. It’s almost like trying to play a modern 3D game and then being told to go back and try to play Pac-Man. It’s just the experience is so different.
So that’s why we’re just really passionate about VR, and I’m really excited about– I’m really proud of the work we’ve done with our existing projects but those are really all stepping stones as we continue develop our technologies and continue to our expertise in VR space. Along with the rest of the industry, we’re learning together. We’re going to be making even crazier and wilder experiences for virtual reality.
TechRaptor: Now how do you guys go about… like you guys made Creed: Rise to Glory which is, obviously for those unaware, based on the Rocky movies and the recent Creed movies, how do you guys go about using that IP to its full potential and making sure you get it right without breaking away from it too much?
Alex: Well, I mean, first it starts off with homework. When we’re starting to look at projects, we all had to go back and watch all the previous old Rocky movies and then the Creed movies. So we make sure to… everyone on the team, who developed the game, made sure they were knowledgeable enough about the IP. Then we tried to figure out what about that IP is crucial, what comes to the fans mind initially of what it means to be in a Rocky or Creed movie. Those key elements needed to be translated into the game and that’s why we focused so much on, not just the fights, but also the montages, the training montages, and we made sure that we licensed the music from the movies to really make you feel like you’re part of that experience. So yeah, I guess it’s just a lot of homework and trying to be authentic to the movies and also, you know, making sure we can actually license everything that’s necessary to have an authentic experience.
TechRaptor: I guess I should just get this one out of the way now because this is something I want to fanboy over. Did you guys get to meet either Michael B. Jordan or Sylvester Stallone?
Jade Hirtle: So I’m going to speak on this one, this is Jade here. We did meet Michael B. Jordan, yes. So, we actually… if you go on Entertainment Weekly there’s actually a little prelude into the trailer that he did for us, and he did some of the voice overs. For Sylvester Stallone we did get a lot of approvals from him in collaboration from MGM for any of his character designs.
TechRaptor: Now when you guys are watching the movies and doing your homework and all that, how much… like when you watch these movies do you take notes and say “hey, that would make for a good training montage” or “this would be the kind of fight we want to see in the game”?
Alex: I mean, yeah, it essentially came down to that. We watched all the movies and we, you know, Survios is still a relatively small company, so it’s still relatively democratic where we have breakout sessions and all the key members of the team sat in a room and, with a white board, and we wrote out everything that we wanted to, that we thought was amazing in the movies that would be iconic and would really satisfy the fans, satisfy that dream of being in the movie. Of course, in the end, you have to kind of prune that list because of, you know, the realistic constraints of game development and so, in the end, it becomes a balance of what we think is amazing and what we think is going to work within a timeframe, or even just within the medium that, you know, the current virtual reality hardware abilities.
TechRaptor: Speaking of the current virtual reality hardware, this game came out on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, basically everything. How difficult is it to work with all these different platforms, their control schemes, and hardware requirements?
Alex: It’s a fairly decent chunk of work. The platforms are pretty different. First you have just the tracking capabilities, obviously, that’s the very obvious one. Even Oculus there’s some… what’s the word I’m looking for… it’s not a monolithic– sorry, can’t think of the word, but even the Oculus you have front-facing setup, and three camera setups, and, well technically four cameras setup, so even on Oculus you’re dealing with different configurations just in one platform. PlayStation is obviously just front facing camera, and then the tracking is less.
Then, once you get down to the controllers themselves, the form factor is really different. The button layouts are completely different and depending on the type of experience you’re making that can be really problematic. That’s when we discovered really you want to plan out every platform you want to target from the beginning and designing content to scale for those platforms from the beginning.
I mean you essentially usually have a leading SKU, and usually that leading SKU is the one that is the most constraining, is the one that you need to make sure you can target that so you can scale your content upwards from there. So obviously that’s going to be PlayStation. For Creed we’re kind of lucky, and I guess that’s probably one of the reasons we’re really excited to work on this project. Boxing is kind of perfect for VR in user friendliness because it’s mostly front facing kind of gameplay because you’re really facing off against opponents in front of you, so there’s not really much reason to turn around, and naturally the player is always going to be facing the opponent. So you don’t even need to come up with some kind of diegetic or non-digetic ways to force the player to look forward.
Because that, for example, was a huge problem for us when we were developing Sprint Vector, which is the second game we released. It’s a racing game where you’re running along a track, and players would get all sorts of turned around on the PlayStation and start to look backwards, and in the heat of the moment you really don’t want to lose focus because every second counts in a racing game. So we had to come up with a way and we essentially fade the camera out as you look away. So that’s just one solution we came up for the PlayStation specifically for that title.
But in boxing we did not have to do that, and once again another thing that makes boxing a really kind of easy to pick up experience. There’s no real buttons really. You’re just holding the controllers and you’re punching. So everyone knows how to punch and how to block. There’s some differences obviously in how you hold the controllers, because the controller form factor is a little different. So there’s a lot of interesting challenges just dealing with the differences in platforms there.
Then of course, there’s performance considerations. VR ready PCs are pretty decent machines, and PlayStation is… it’s a great platform, but they didn’t actually, originally… I would say it’s almost a mircale that they even ended up adding VR in the middle of a life cycle of the console. I think that’s kind of a testament to the engineers and a testament to how flexible software and hardware is nowadays, whereas a generation or two before you wouldn’t be able to just patch up a console and add a whole different peripheral that completely changes the user experience, but because of that obviously scaling things to PlayStation can be a challenge. So you always have to develop for PlayStation first.
Now with boxing, once again, we actually had an easier time than our previous games, because you’re really just fighting one opponent versus having multiple enemies on screen. Like in Sprint Vector our challenge was we wanted to make a racing game where you traveled really really fast down these really huge levels. With boxing that actually let us focus on creating a really awesome, cinematic, immersive experience in just this boxing ring, and it let us focus on optimizing and let us focus on creating this… you know… I think what came out– I think we have several different boxing rings and all those environments run beautiful on PlayStation and, you know, we did work to make sure there’s a very efficient crowd simulation going on around you so that you feel like you actually have an audience that you’re fighting for, which is very necessary for that kind of cinematic fighting experience. So I think we really utilized the type of game to make our lives easier, and also it let us create a really great experience on the PlayStation.
I think another thing I guess I forgot to mention, even on PC it’s not kind of like a monolithic landscape. You have different stores right now, like Oculus and Steam VR, and that creates some user confusion because could buy your game, for example, on Oculus Store or the Steam Store and you actually can’t play with a friend because they bought it on a different store. We also tried to tackle that problem a little bit and we provide cross-platform play between Steam VR and Oculus, and, you know, we created that tech early on for Raw Data and we’ve been carrying it forward.
TechRaptor: When it comes to the actual boxing there’s a bunch of different mechanics like flurry attacks, or when you get knocked back you have an out of body experience and have to literally run back to Creed. What went into making these mechanics and trying to decided what did and didn’t work with the game?
Alex: So we basically, every game we make we try to focus on one core tech or one core problem that hasn’t been solved in VR. With Creed it was very much melee. Melee is a difficult thing to implement in VR. A melee system in VR is kind of challenging to create a good user experience because you’re fighting against a ghost essentially. The thing you’re punching doesn’t have any mass, so you hand kind of just goes through the air. On top of that, when the thing you’re fighting punches you, how do we effectively communicate that impact and make the user feel like they’ve been damaged and translate that sense of threat?
So that’s why we really wanted to tackle this problem next. We did locomotion in Sprint Vector, we did gun play in Raw Data, and we tried doing some melee stuff in Raw Data, but it wasn’t really as focused as we wanted it to be. So with boxing it was the perfect opportunity for that. The mechanics for you getting knocked out, for you getting staggered– so when you get knocked out you get fully knocked out through this kind of television and you have to run back to your body. When you get staggered you get slightly pushed back and you have to put your arms up and match what the character is doing.
We actually came up with those ideas– and even the flurry, that flurry attack… I don’t remember what our internal code word for it was. It was like “dragon focus fist punch” or something. We came up with those ideas really early on when we were brainstorming, once again, as a group about the different mechanics and how we could… what’s possible in VR to really translate this kind of fighting experience. Once problem is, obviously, once again, is you punching the opponent. We already had some success in the past basically modifying the preserved player’s arms position, and we saw that that really effectively communicated the fact that, okay, my virtual arm, hand, or fist stops when I punch somebody, and we also have really juicy feedback, you know, particle systems and hit reactions and the AI reacting with animation in a realistic manner to your punch, it really makes you feel like you physically punched something, but the flip side to that is you getting punched.
For the player, we had some success in Raw Data. We had these giant robots that would run up to you and they would charge you and if they hit you they actually sent you flying across the map. So we knew that worked. We had to figure out, how do we make that in a sensible manner inside of a boxing ring. We came up with this idea of disembodying you from the body, and with the stagger also forcing you to… by forcing you to act like the character, by forcing you to pose like the character. We know it’s a fun mechanic, there’s lots of Kinect games out there that make you do that. But by doing that we make you basically become the actor and act out that damage, and almost feel like you’re being punched.
On top of that, we always think about the spectatorship aspect. What do the people outside of VR think or feel when they’re watching you play? Once again, you acting out like you just got punched, that’s pretty entertaining kind of experience. Once we realized we realized we really want to disembody you for these staggers, that’s when we started thinking about “okay what happens when you get knocked out” and that whole tunnel vision is a classic concept.
I think initially we wanted to do something crazier, like you were actually inside the eye of the character and you were actually looking up and you would be like, from Sprint Vector, you would be actually climbing up this ladder into the character’s eyeball, and you would actually see the huge ref’s face above you through this pinhole counting down. We ended up doing this knock back running mechanic instead, since it just worked better for the game and was much more user friendly.
I guess the last thing you touched on, that charge combo punch attack, we also wanted to do that early on just to create that really cinematic but also very arcadey kind of gameplay experience. It’s just very satisfying to, you know, just release this kind of flurry of attacks and it’s really… it’s basically ripped straight out of our training montages. We knew that it was fun for players to try and punch a different target that we highlighted. So that just naturally just kind of came out.
TechRaptor: Now speaking of the training montages, there’s quite a few of them in the game. I think like ten or so. Are there any that ultimately you couldn’t manage to get into the game that you really wanted to?
Alex: It was basically a running joke that we really wanted to do the chicken, obviously. I really wanted to do the chicken, that would have been a really fun to just run around and chase this chicken, especially since we did the Sprint Vector locomotion where you swing your arms to run. I think that would have been really really fun. Unfortunately that would have required to model and rig and animate a chicken, and we just deemed that it was outside the scope of the project.
Another one would have been– it would have been great to just swap out the punching bags with just like cow… hanging cows meat, and let you punch that. I guess we just didn’t want to model a freezer or something, but it could have been a fun easter egg somewhere.
TechRaptor: You guys recently put out this free DLC for Creed with the costumes of basically the classic Rocky stuff. How much work would you say went into that, and why did you choose those characters specifically?
Alex: There was a lot of work on the legal business side. Getting licenses is not easy. When you’re dealing with multiple companies, you’re dealing with different actors, there’s just suddenly a giant multiplication of number of people you have to talk to just to get the rights for different things. The legal landscape, I’m not an expert I’m an engineer, but as far as that, just the legal landscape of licenses in the movie and the music business is pretty complicated.
But we really thought it was worth this trouble because Rocky is such a classic movie franchise and I think Creed is great, and I’m really excited by the fact that they’re, you know, often they say reboots are just kind of reboots, they don’t stand on their own, and I think Creed really does stand on its own, and I think the second movie is even better in some ways than the first and they’re really building up on that success. At the same time, when you are– the hardcore Rocky fans always had that dream of fighting or being Ivan Drago or Clubber Lang or any of those other classic characters. They’re just so iconic. So for us it was really just… we were fulfilling our dream in some senses.
Beyond that, there’s… modeling the characters. I don’t think it was anymore work than modeling other characters other than the fact that you do have to, in the end, get authorization from who you’re licensing the characters from, the actors, to make sure they agree that they’re happy with the likeness that you’re presenting.
TechRaptor: Now that this DLC is out, do you guys have more that you’re working on for Creed or are you going to move onto your next project?
Alex: I really can’t go into too much detail about the future of Creed or our future projects. We do like to invest into projects that are doing really well. It just makes sense to obviously keep that success going, and we love to give back to our fans, we love all the positive feedback that we get for the games in reviews and on our forums. All the suggestions. For me the Raw Data Early Access experience has been amazing because for that game specifically we actually– because we developed the game over such a long time and we got so much feedback from our fans, we were able to accommodate a lot that feedback during development.
We’re definitely going to be making more VR games, and, as I said, our primary methodology is to find some challenging VR problem that hasn’t been solved to the degree that we think is sufficient, and we like to focus on that. We do also love to reuse our existing tech and continue expanding that tech, and with Creed the primary tech is what we’re calling the “phantom melee” technology, and we’re definitely going to be taking that further in our future titles. Essentially beyond just melee combat and beyond mechanics that you saw just in Creed, but just building out on those same kind of mechanics.
Are you going to be at GDC?
TechRaptor: Unfortunately not, no. I’d like to be.
TechRaptor: Now when you guys aren’t making VR games, Survios also runs an arcade in Torrance, California. That seems like a whole different ballpark. Why do you guys also run this arcade?
Alex: Well, so, the VR market is still young, it’s still evolving, and one of the exciting new areas that we see that it’s evolving is in location-based entertainment space. VR is still very much in the earlier adopter phase, so there’s some great hardware out there but it’s pretty expensive and it’s really catered towards the enthusiast in many ways. You know, the set up is quite challenging and because of that a lot of– and at the same time there’s so many people out there who have not even tried VR and that’s actually one of the barriers as to why people have not been buying VR platforms is because they just don’t understand the medium. It’s really a thing that you have to experience yourself to understand.
In addition there’s just an even bigger, wider, audience out there that are probably never going to be the ones that buy VR for home but they are, they do have some money to spend and they’re looking for unique entertainment experiences and VR really fits that boat well. It’s something they’ve never experienced before and in many ways it’s almost like a micro amusement park. It allows you to take the user to all sorts of magical places. Whatever we can imagine as creators. So for us, we’re seeing this development and VR LBE space is booming and growing exponentially because there’s just so many people out there who haven’t tried VR and they are, the first time they try VR they’re really wowed by it.
It allows us, in some senses, to take our fate to our own hands by opening up our own arcade location. Instead of us waiting for the customers to come to us, it’s us going straight to the customers, and at the same time we’ve been licensing our games to all these third-party LBE locations, and the kind of customers that go to LBEs are a little different than the home consumers. Their needs are a little different. We want to make sure our content is as optimized as possible for those kind of users. By opening up our own location we’re able to really make sure that we’re controlling the flow of information and just monitoring how the customers react to our experiences. We’re even able to play test early versions of our software in our location. It allows us to make sure that our software is really optimized as much as possible for the arcade experience.
TechRaptor: Would you say some of your VR games play better as arcade experiences than ones at home?
Alex: Our methodology is to– just as we, from the beginning, try to make sure that we figure out what the platforms we’re targeting. So from the beginning we design our software to scale up to all platforms. Our software, from the beginning, is designed to try and accommodate both the arcade and retail users. However, that doesn’t mean we’re releasing the same software to arcade and retail users. They’re actually different SKUs. We make specific changes to make sure that the product shines for both an at-home and at the arcade.
You know, at the arcade the users like quick loading times, they don’t like tutorials, they don’t really have profile saves. So the experience is a little different versus at home, where users obviously have all the time on their hands, they like long scripted sequences, they need things like achievements, etcetera. So from the beginning we try to make sure we can reuse as much of the existing content as possible, and then tweak it so that both the consumer that buys the game at home and also the arcade user have a really fun, great, experience.
So I wouldn’t say the game is a better experience in one place or another. I think both users have slightly different but really fun experiences.
TechRaptor: Alright Alex, so do you have any final thoughts for anyone who’s reading this, anyone who might be interested in VR games or in Creed specifically?
Alex: I mean, I just hope guys played Creed and enjoyed it, and also try out our previous three games: Raw Data, Sprint Vector, and Electronauts. They’re all very different, but we’re trying to tackle different VR problems and different genres with all our games, and I’m really excited about our 2019 lineup. I can’t wait to, I guess, show it to the world and see what you guys think about our next few experiences.
TechRaptor: Alex I’d really like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me, its been really interesting and I’ve have a lot of fun listening about Creed and the work that went into it.
Alex: Yeah, thanks man, I enjoyed this too.
We’d like to once again thank Alex and Jade for taking the time to talk with us.