Developer Pixel Reef shares inspirations, challenges, and tips for its unique VR adventure.
Dreamlike odyssey Paper Beast launches for PlayStation VR tomorrow. We had a talk with Eric Chahi, Creative Director & Game Designer about the four years he and the team at Pixel Reef spent developing the game. Read on to learn about the technology they developed specifically for this game and the challenges they encountered as they worked to make this universe feel so alive.
Where did Pixel Reef find inspiration when creating Paper Beast?
The living world, of course! The way animals move, their curiosity, the way they look at things… There is a strong bond between the land and the living. Animals have an impact and influence on their environment. Look at ants, beavers, or even simple earthworms and how they change the terrain. That’s part of the gameplay.
Another inspiration is traveling and wild areas like Sahara or Tassilia, with their majestic dunes and rocky outcrops.
Virtual reality allows you to feel that. Paper Beast plays with these spaces; you go from closed environments to open spaces. This is often shifted and surrealist by the intrusion of elements related to data, another of the game’s themes. It’s a surprising hybrid world that draws on reality to sublimate it.
How long did development take?
Four years is a long time! What kinds of challenges did you encounter along the way?
The main challenge was to create a home-made physics engine that suits our needs. We wanted creatures to have fully simulated locomotion. We started by working on the sandbox for two years, which gave us the foundation of the engine.
Then, we worked on level design. We were looking for large environments with lots of landscape elements. As we progressed, we zeroed in on a balance between design and technology.
The most challenging part was to work on the game’s performance, ensuring that it could run at 60 FPS in VR. It has been a tremendous effort. We made sure there was no compromise on the quality of the game.
An important aspect of Paper Beast is the use of physics, especially to animate its creatures. Is there a particular reason you decided to go that route?
In a video game, you usually have nice predefined animations, but you can’t really manipulate a character; their posture doesn’t adapt in real-time. In Paper Beast, animals have virtual skeletons driven by physics and animated by an adaptive algorithm. With this technology, these virtual animals can move smoothly in any situation, making them feel truly “alive.”
Physics seem to go beyond gameplay, becoming part of the game’s universe. It’s quite unusual. Why this choice?
Creatures are actually calculated by the physics engine and parts of the landscape, such as sand, water, wind… even moving paper. It’s part of the narrative.
For example, we used physics to create data and paper storms: powerful aerial phenomenons. It creates a flow and coherence throughout the game, from the gameplay to the environment. Like looking at a raging sea in the real world — beauty comes from physics!
There is no dialogue in the game, yet the player lives a story. Is this a form of narration that you had already explored in Another World / Out of This World?
Absolutely, but the story is told differently, by creatures’ behavior and big changes happening in this world. Paper Beast is set up in a kind of crazy world. It gives the freedom of imagination to the player; in hindsight, I realize it’s a deep breath in a world overwhelmed by the stream of information. During the creative process, I had strong surrealistic visions that I could hardly describe with words. The team was very in phase with this vision. We were in sync with Pascal Lefort, our Artistic Director and 3D artist. The incredible skies in Paper Beast — it’s him. Floriane and Roly had total freedom on the audio and musical ambiance. The result is very emotional, and even though I played the game hundreds of times, I still happen to have tears in my eyes… but nobody knows, because I’m wearing a VR headset.
What advice would you give to Paper Beast players?
- Use a good audio headset and make sure the volume is high enough to be totally immersed in the universe of Paper Beast.
- This adventure is an odyssey about emotion and discovery vertigo. You are about to discover a brand new world with strange but logical rules. Pay close attention to the environments and emergent behaviors.
- The sandbox is a place for experimentation. Enjoy it from the “god mode” view where you will feel like a giant. You can terraform the terrain and observe creatures’ behavior.
- Don’t forget the linkers! You can bond creatures to each other and create some funny situations.