Developer Pixel Reef shares inspirations, challenges, and tips for its unique 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, are intrigued and curious, are looking 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 travelling and wild areas—Sahara or Tassilia, where dunes and rocky outcrops are majestic.
VR allows you to feel that. Paper Beast plays with these spaces; there are openings and closures. You go from a closed environment to an open space. This is often shifted and surrealist by the intrusion of elements related to data, another game thematic. This creates a new sensation of vertigo. It’s a hybrid and surprising world that draws on reality to sublimate it.
How long did the development take?
4 years is a long time, did you encounter challenges?
The main challenge was to create a home-made physic engine that suits our needs. We wanted to have a fully simulated locomotion for creatures. We started with the sandbox for two years allowing us to have 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, design and technology found their balance.
The most challenging part was to work on the performances so that the game 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.
One of the particularities of the game is the use of physics, especially to animate the creatures. It seems complicated to implement on the dev side, is there a particular reason?
In a video game, you usually have very nice predefined animations, but mostly you can’t manipulate a character; his 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, creatures can move smoothly in any situation. Manipulation is an important part of VR experience. With this technology interaction stay fluids in any situation. Those virtual animals feel very “alive”.
Physics seems to go beyond gameplay since it is part of the game universe. It’s quite unusual. Why this choice?
Actually, creatures are calculated by the physic engine but also landscape components. Such as sand, water, wind and even moving paper. It is part of the narration.
For example we used physic to create data and paper storm, powerful or aerial phenomenons. It creates a flow and a coherence in the whole game, from gameplay to environment.
When you look at a raging sea in the real world, beauty comes from physic!
There is no dialogue in the game and yet the player lives a story. Is this a form of narration that you had already explored in Another World?
Absolutely. Paper Beast renews with this narration. The story is told differently, by creatures’ behaviour and big change happening in this world. Paper Beast is set up in a kind of crazy world. It gives a liberty of imagination to the player and in hindsight I realize that the game is a deep breath in our world overwhelmed by the information stream.
During the creative process I had strong surrealistic visions I could hardly describe with words. The team was very in phase with this vision. With Pascal Lefort, our Artistic Director and 3D artist we were synch. These amazing and incredible skies, it’s him. Floriane and Roly had total freedom on the audio and musical ambiences. The result is very emotional, and even though I played the game hundreds of times, I still happen to have tears in my eyes. Nobody knows because I had a VR headset.
What advice would you give to Paper Beast players?
Use a good audio headset and make sure volume is high enough to be totally immersed in Paper Beast universe.
This adventure is a true odyssey about emotion and discovery vertigo. You are about to discover a brand new world with strange but logical rules. Observe well the environments and emergent behaviours.
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 behaviour.
And don’t forget the linkers! You can bond creatures to each other and create funny situations.