Spaceteam VR – The Interview

June 20, 2021 ·

Have you ever wanted to travel into space with your friends? What do you think you would do? Land on a planet, the moon, or try and risk it all and land on an asteroid? How well would you be able to handle gravity? But if there were a list of commands that had to be followed, do you think you all could work together to make sure the mission you were on was a complete success, or would you somehow blame the person next to you if you knew it would be your last moments in space? It’s quite interesting when you think about it with all the different calculations that would go into a mission like that. So when I heard that developer Cooperative Innovations was bringing their game, Spaceteam VR to PlayStation VR, I had to learn more. So I reached out and the Community Manager, Kevin, gave us a closer look into the game as well as talking about Virtual Reality.

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Interview with Kevin, the Community Manager of Cooperative Innovations

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Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Cooperative Innovations?

Hi, I’m Kevin. I’m the Community Manager here at Cooperative Innovations – though as a small indie team, I’m also involved with marketing, PR, testing and anywhere else I am needed. Everyone on our team has a diversity of skills and we all need to wear many hats.

For those that may not be aware what games or projects have you been a part of and what do you feel was that one VR moment that really sparked that interest for you?

“The studio was formed by Brian (Marshall) and Simon (Barratt) in 2016 with the goal to build high-quality multiplayer experiences. They have both worked and experimented with VR since the 1990s and with each iteration of VR became excited about the possibilities it can unlock. When the Oculus Kickstarter came about they knew that this new wave of VR had real momentum. Since forming the company we’ve built everything from immersive theme park rides, architectural walkthroughs, multi-user car simulator tools for car manufacturers, and a wide range of game prototypes including Raiders of Erda which we’re still hopeful of bringing to market one day!

VR for all of the team has always been about the immersion that it offers in terms of both the visuals and the 1:1 mapping from your physical to virtual body. We believe that the extra dimension that multiplayer brings means that any experience can be elevated.”

Your latest game, Spaceteam VR has been out for a little while on Oculus Quest/Quest 2, Steam, and Viveport and is coming to PlayStation VR. What can you tell us about the game?

Spaceteam originated as a mobile game where players would be given instructions to operate certain controls within a time limit. The added twists are that sometimes you don’t have the control you’re asked to operate, one of your team does – and sometimes, you have the control that your teammate has the instructions for. It’s a simple concept, but it can soon become chaotic fun. The mobile game was very popular and won multiple design awards.

With Spaceteam VR, we’ve brought that concept into an immersive setting. You can see and emote to your team while shouting instructions – but we also have elements of the environment that can be interacted with. As an example, pressing the wrong controls will cause them to break, requiring you to use the repair hammer to knock them back into shape. Multiple wrong inputs can even start a fire, so grab your extinguisher and put it out. There’s also a trusty ray gun to ward off any unexpected invaders!”

So everyone really needs to follow the commands in order to make it to the next sector? What can you tell us about some of the commands players will have to follow?

“The instructions are procedurally generated, so every game is going to be different. All of the instructions and controls are incoherent technobabble. Some of them can be difficult to read and even more difficult to say, especially under pressure. This is even more important if there are several controls in play with similar-sounding names. Players need to keep their cool, read instructions carefully, and relay them to their team clearly – but also quickly, while everyone else is shouting! We also have a symbols mode, which will replace verbal instructions with emjois just to spice things up!”

The game can be played with up to six players in full VR multiplayer. Since each sector makes it more difficult to control your ship, if a certain INDIEvidual were to not follow instructions, everyone could essentially just blame them in every comical way possible as everyone meets their fate?

“Games with more players tend to be more chaotic, and therefore more difficult. Everyone is panicking and trying to get their instructions across to the rest of the team while also listening for instructions they need to carry out themselves. Every missed instruction or incorrectly entered instruction brings the team one step closer to disaster. However, every correctly entered instruction helps the team’s ship outrun the supernova. In a team of 6, it’s not so bad if one member of the crew is sat crying softly in the corner if the other five are still hitting all of their instructions. Spaceteam VR does offer multiple difficulty settings for teams of different sizes and players of different skill levels.”

What can you tell us about the tool kit that will be used?

“There are a number of interactive tools which teams can use to help them through each sector. Giving a broken control a good smacking or two with the repair hammer will put it back in order. On the rare and unexpected occasions where a fire breaks out aboard the ship, everyone has an extinguisher which they can use – not only on your own controls, but the people standing next to you, if you’re close enough. Beware though, these extinguishers have been known to malfunction from time to time. A sponge is provided to clean up any spills and goo – and talking of goo……. sometimes you have to deal with some unwelcome guests – there’s a raygun to help in those situations. Besides that, there’s a whole bunch of random debris which can shake loose onboard a spaceship while trying to outrun a supernova. Who hasn’t wanted to throw a piece of toast at their friend, or play tennis with two stuffed whales and a mug?”

So for those that may be in a room and not enough headsets for everyone to play in VR, the non-VR players can use their mobile devices. Can you explain a little about this function and how it works?

“We understand that many households with VR are unlikely to own a headset per person – though this is now starting to change with competitively priced standalone VR hardware. Our “Face to Face” mode allows multiple players to join into a game using their phone, tablet, and even desktop or laptop via a browser. There are limitations though. This mode is designed for local play, so there is no in-game voice communication as it’s expected for everyone to be in the same room. The mode also disables the anomaly sectors and some of the interactivity as it wouldn’t be possible for the players on mobile to deal with them. For the players on mobile devices, they’re playing a game much like the original mobile app. The players in VR can see the mobile players represented as our lovable maintenance robots. Using this mode is as simple as the host of the game selecting “face to face” mode in the menu, then the other players visit a URL in their browser on their mobile device. They then enter the four-character game code provided by the host, just like in a regular VR game.

We do have some more good news here. We’re getting ready to launch a non-VR version of Spaceteam VR (which I understand might seem confusing), so we’ve called it “Spaceteam: The Second Dimension”. The Second Dimension will be a desktop version of Spaceteam VR with all of the same functionality of the VR game, except you’ll be able to use a mouse or controller, and play on one of those 21st century flat monitors. It will still feature crossplay with the VR versions, including Steam VR, Oculus, and PSVR, so everyone will be able to play together, no matter what hardware they’re using.”

Are there different cosmetics for your character in the game?

“We have a number of different cosmetics to customize your characters. Along with the ability to select your gender body type, you can also select from a number of different appearances, species (yes, we have aliens), and a wide range of different uniforms. We also have accessories such as glasses and silly hats. From time to time we run special events around holidays, such as Christmas and Halloween. We add new cosmetic options, some time-limited, and some to keep. We’ll keep adding new cosmetic options throughout the life of Spaceteam VR. We’ve just recently added a “fish head” alien species to the game to mark our 1 year anniversary since release.”

I see that there are UFOs and slim to have to deal with in Spaceteam VR. How much does this distract the players from trying to complete the tasks at hand?

I mentioned before that Face 2 Face mode disables anomaly sectors, and these are exactly what you’re talking about. There are a wide variety of anomalies that will give the players an extra challenge. Sometimes it’s having to deal with things onboard the ship which shouldn’t be there, that need dealing with quickly. Other times it’s something more subtle that may interfere with the controls or player displays. It’s up to players to decide how to best deal with these situations as multitasking becomes pivotal. Players will soon learn which threats need an immediate response – but they should always expect the unexpected.”

When you have added social interaction to the game, how important was it to make sure voice communication was a top priority?

“Communication is the key to making Spaceteam VR work. Without it, it just simply wouldn’t be possible. Spaceteam VR uses our own voice communications system, which allows us to fine-tune it for the best performance. The two most important elements are latency and clarity. As players are against the clock, instructions between players need to be delivered quickly with minimal latency. We also needed to keep the quality high, to try and filter out background noise and make sure players’ voices were clear and crisp. We use the same voice communication technology across many of our projects including our virtual museum platform “Curatours”, which we’re currently working on.

Was there anything graphically that was more difficult to implement than expected?

“We went for a clear but visually pleasing style with the game with some great-looking characters, as they are the focus of your attention a lot of the time. We have to optimise the game for the worst-case scenario in terms of graphical resource needed which is generally a 6 player game, with robots and slimes flying around, fires on every console, and everyone shooting their rayguns. To help achieve this we dynamically scale the VFX budget depending on the power of your device to ensure we make the best use of the GPU while delivering a great visual experience.”

Where do you see VR 5 or 10 years from now?

“The adoption of platforms such as Oculus Quest 2 and PSVR has been great to see both in terms of numbers and the variety of the audience buying and enjoying experiences available. As a company, we want to see the hardware continue to evolve in terms of clarity, comfort, performance but also balance that with price and accessibility. We’ll start to see a wide range of devices capable of both AR and VR in the coming years which will help to spread VR further both in enterprise and home usage. This is very exciting for us as a company.”

Are there any plans to add additional content to Spaceteam VR for the PlayStation VR release and do we have an official date when it’s coming?

“Not specifically for PSVR, though that will include PSN features such as trophies and PSN leaderboards. We do have some additional content coming, which will be a sort of version 1.5 of Spaceteam VR, and this will be across all platforms including PlayStation. There will be some quality of life improvements, such as a looking-for-game feature, allowing players to flag themselves as wanting to play an online game with a group. This will allow them to play in the single-player practice mode while waiting, and inform them when a game is ready to join. We’re also adding a number of activities to the lobby so that players waiting for a game to start can have some fun while waiting for other players to join. We also have some new in-game anomalies coming.

There’s no official release date for the PSVR version yet – but we are getting close. We’re expecting to see it this summer if all goes well!”

If you walked through the VR dimension and was teleported onto a ship in space and 5 other individuals were there from any time period, who would you hope it would be, how well do you think you could all work together, and how long do you think you would survive for?

“That’s an interesting question. As it’s the VR dimension, are we talking factual or fictional? I’ve always been a huge fan of SciFi, and with great space-faring shows that I grew up with such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate SG1, Farscape, and a whole bunch of others, there would be a pretty big list of characters who I’d be happy to have by my side in a space-based emergency – but I’m not even sure I could narrow it down to 5. I think I’d at least have to have Captain Picard there. I mean, while Picard himself is French, Sir Patrick is a Yorkshireman – the home of Cooperative Innovations. I also think he’d keep his cool under pressure. He’s also got a lovely voice – so there’d be no problem understanding his instructions.”

With VR content continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Spaceteam VR?

Spaceteam VR is one of those experiences where people make moments together. The game itself provides a great platform for people to have fun and work together – but it’s the immersiveness and expressiveness of being in a virtual environment and really getting the feeling that those other players are right there with you. The events of every game are unexpected enough, but add in the random element of humans and you’ll come away with some truly memorable moments.”

I really want to thank Kevin for taking the time away from his schedule to give us a closer look at Spaceteam VR and for talking about Virtual Reality.

Spaceteam VR is out now for the Oculus Rift/Rift S and Oculus Quest/Quest 2 on the Oculus Store, Steam, and Viveport, and will be coming to PlayStation VR.

To learn more about how you can be part of the Space Team, please visit the site, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. To learn more about Cooperative Innovations, please visit their site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.

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