Think about some of the adventure-mystery movies you may have seen, books you may have read, or games that you might have played? What was it that really pulled you in? Was it the adventure of the story? Maybe it was the mystery of trying to figure out what is going on that did it for you? To me, there is just something about trying to gather the clues while being part of the story that has always intrigued me. But when I heard that Peanut Button was bringing a VR game like no other before to tell a classic story retold from a first-person perspective where you play as a robot detective, I had to know more. So I reached out and Eyal and Asaf Geva of Peanut Button was happy to give us a closer look at their newest game, The Secret of Retropolis, as well as talk about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the writer, programmer, art and animator, and composer and sound designer of Peanut Button, Eyal Geva, Asaf Geva, Daniel Ho, and Yuval Levi
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Peanut Button?
Eyal: “Hey, I’m Eyal Geva. I’m the writer of Retropolis.”
Asaf: “I’m Asaf, Eyal’s older brother, and I’m the programmer of Retropolis, as well as helping Daniel with animating.”
Daniel: “And I’m Daniel Ho, I do the art and animation in Retropolis, and I’m not blood-related to Asaf or Eyal.”
Yuval: “I’m Yuval Levi, the composer and sound designer.”
Peanut Button has had some experience with Virtual Reality with Aharon Man VR and even the Peanut Button Labs. What can you tell us about these experiences?
Asaf: “We’ve been creating VR content for 5 years, and the Peanut Button Labs is a collection of 15 different experiences where we experiment with immersive storytelling, interactive animation, and spacially active characters. Most of these are still on my hard drive and I hope that after we finish production of Retropolis I’ll have some time to post them online.”
Eyal: “Aharon Man was our first commercial project and it was a location-based experience accompanying the release of the Israeli action comedy movie MOSAD!“
Your newest game, The Secret of Retropolis is coming soon. What can you tell us about this game and what can players expect and where did the concept of the game come from?
Asaf: “It’s a classical point and click adventure in VR. We were inspired by classical film noir, and LucasArts adventure games we grew up on, so basically expect a lot of puzzle-solving along those lines.
Yuval: “The game takes place in a futuristic city of robots, with 50’s-ish aesthetics, which represent our interest in how society deals with the past.”
Asaf: “And with nostalgia.”
So it really is a classic adventure game that is engaging and easy to play?
Eyal: “Yep, we’re designing our VR experiences to be accessible to all audiences, so it’s a seated experience and your main interaction is literally pointing and clicking.”
Asaf: “We’re excited that new audiences are joining VR all the time, and that there’s a need for good onboarding experiences for the medium. We also playtest with our mother, so we know it’s not just an experience that only hardcore gamers can enjoy.”
Daniel: “Regarding the classic adventure game aspect, I think players will find that the game really puts you directly into the shoes of the protagonist of a classic adventure game. It’s a familiar setting with a new way to experience the genre.”
Will there be multiple endings?
Asaf: “There will be, but we can’t say more than that.”
I like how there is a sense of old detective humor to the mix. Was it always important to have humor in The Secret of Retropolis?
Eyal: “From the first prototype we always tried to have as many jokes as we could. VR should have more humor and wit in it! Personally, I love reading Raymond Chandler to get inspiration for Philip Log, our robot protagonist.”
What can you tell us about some of the puzzle-solving players will encounter?
Asaf: “We made the puzzles so that you always have something to deal with. VR is less forgiving when it comes to getting stuck in puzzles, so we tried to maintain a good flow throughout the entirety of the game while making it very rewarding to find the solution to the harder puzzles.”
Yuval: “They’re also built specifically with the abilities of VR in mind.”
Eyal: “And… you can combine objects!”
Are you sure no robots were harmed in the making of the game?
Daniel: “We at Peanut Button Studio Corporations Incorporated ™ do everything in our power during the production of the game to ensure that harm only befalls humans ™, specifically those at Peanut Button Studio Corporations Incorporated ™.
Another thing I noticed is the music that really sets the mood. Was it hard to come up with the music and sound for the game?
Yuval: “We came with the idea to create music with a film noir feel. The three elements that drive the creation of the score and sound design are nostalgia, the robotic aspect, and their human nature. These elements are ingrained in a cinematic score, that helps immersive players into the experience. The music genres I worked with were classical jazz, electronic music of different types, vaporwave, and classical film scoring.”
Eyal: “We also recorded a live improvisational jazz singer. I don’t know of any VR game that’s done that before…”
Virtual Reality is also about immersion and sometimes the art style can really add to the experience. What can you tell us about the style and was it always going to be what we see now or were there different looks at the beginning?
Daniel: “Well early on in the project we were considering just regular 3D modeling and animation, but in the Global Game Jam in 2020, we were making this VR puzzle game and Asaf had the idea of working in Oculus Quill. So I started drawing weird creatures in VR while Asaf created a special importer for Quill to Unity, and the end result had this awesome hand-drawn style with flat-shaded forms. That was basically the seed of the art style of Retropolis. As a comic collector, I also got a lot of inspiration from comic books and other retro aesthetic video games like Bioshock and Fallout. Oh, and of course Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse was a huge inspiration for the animation style!”
What do you feel makes Virtual Reality just work when it comes to games and experiences?
Daniel: “Gamers are always buying bigger screens in higher resolutions for a reason, VR is just slapping the screen directly onto your face.”
Asaf: “I’m in it for the story personally, I want to experience fictional worlds and stories up close.”
What has been the most challenging and rewarding when it comes to developing in Virtual Reality?
Eyal: “Our first prototypes for Peanut Button Labs were very challenging because we started from scratch and had to figure out how to convey a storyline. After that, it was very rewarding to see the engagement you get from players when they embody heroes in fictional worlds.”
Asaf: “It was challenging to make the game assets in VR, but rewarding when you get to finally have hand-drawn 3D drawings in the same space as your viewer… Does that make sense?”
Eyal: “Yeah, it’s good.”
Daniel: “For me, it was challenging to leave behind the modeling rules I had from working in Maya and Blender. Quill has a much more freehand approach. As someone who doesn’t enjoy the process of rigging and the stiffer animation approach of classical 3D, working in Quill was immensely more freeing and fun.”
If you had a choice to escape reality as you know it into a different reality, but never be able to return, what would be your new reality and why?
Daniel: “Star Trek. The utopian nature of that universe is something that has really helped me stay positive throughout this mirror-universe year.”
Yuval: “I concur, Captain.”
Eyal: “The Goofy Movie’s universe.”
Daniel: “But why?”
Eyal: *shrugs non-chalantly* “I just really love the Goofy Movie.”
The Secret of Retropol is coming to Steam in the Summer of 2021. Are there plans for an Oculus Quest or PlayStation VR version down the road?
Eyal: “First of all, anyone reading this should check out our Steam page and give us that wishlist. It would help us out a ton and you’d see the game before the internet is filled with spoilers.”
Asaf: “Porting to Quest and PSVR is something we’re looking into, but we can’t share anything on that… Yet.”
With the number of choices for Virtual Reality, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience The Secret of Retropolis?
Asaf: “It looks unique and different to any other VR game out there, and offers a deeper character-driven story than most of what’s out there.”
Eyal: “Supporting indie developers is always good, and it helps broaden the genres available to play.”
Daniel: “Like robots? Film noir? Retro-aesthetics? Do your hands not reach far enough? Are these enough reasons?”
I really want to thank Eyal, Asaf, Daniel, and Yuval for taking time out of their busy days while making sure no robots were harmed to give us a closer look at The Secret of Retropolis and about talking about Virtual Reality.
To learn more about the game, please visit the site and subscribe to the YouTube channel. To learn more about Peanut Button, please visit their site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, follow them on Instagram, and join their Discord.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.