What would you do if you could enter a world with others as you all discovered an abandoned town? Who would decide what skill would be suited to help develop this land? What would be your skill, a carpenter, cook, warrior, or maybe a blacksmith? Then what if there was more to the place than just a town waiting to be developed? If there were caves and monsters, do you think you and the others could work together and make it a safe place for all? All these are really good questions that could really make you think of the opportunity if it came about. But when I heard that developer Alta was combining elements from the genres of MMOs and life simulation of sorts where you do exactly all of this more with live people, I had to learn more. So I reached out and game director, Boramy Unn was happy to discuss their newest game, A Township Tale, and also talk about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the game developer from ALTA, Boramy Unn
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Alta?
“Hello! I’m Boramy Unn, the game director for A Township Tale! My role is to come up with the game A Township Tale is, I specify how mechanics and features for the game work. I also create concept art and a lot of the 3D art for the game. That includes the environment, enemies, machines, and effects around the world.”
Growing up what were some of your favorite games to play and what was that one VR moment that hooked you in?
“I loved playing Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Golden Sun, and Ratchet and Clank! I was a huge fan of RPGs, and Ratchet and Clank was the first time I researched how games were made. There were a lot of moments that really sold VR, but one in particular, where I feel like something obvious clicked, was when playing I Expect You To Die on the Oculus DK2. It was a short demo before there were controllers, so you played entirely with your gaze and head position I think. There’s a moment where you lean your eye into a retinal scanner. That simple awareness the developers had for the headset made me think immediately. “This medium is really unique!”.”
A Township Tale has recently been released. What can you tell us about the game and why did you decide to bring it into VR?
“A Township Tale was birthed from the idea that we wanted to be living residents inside of the awesome fantasy worlds we grew up with. VR was finally able to unlock that feeling, where building your gear and equipment would require some craftsmanship. We take a very hands-on approach, both literally, figuratively, and ‘pun’-itively. A Township Tale treats your hands as exactly hands, where you physically interact with the world using stations and tools. That level of interaction for a multiplayer game is quite exciting and has let us build a long-lasting community of players. The Quest brought over a new wave of VR players excited for the future, and we wanted to bring them on this game’s journey to witness what’s possible.”
Will there be cross-play support between PCVR and Quest players?
“Currently at launch, we won’t be having cross-play between the PCVR and Quest versions of the game. There are some features that aren’t yet ported on the Quest version that PCVR players have. As we approach feature parity, we will begin evaluating what’s needed to make cross-play work. We’re being a lot stricter with the Quest version of the game, with a player cap of 8 and reduced server commands for players. This is to keep the performance of the game a top priority on Quest. It’s likely that we’ll be supporting PC players joining Quest servers, but Quest players won’t be able to visit PC servers.”
One of the things that caught my interest is how there is this abandoned town where players can make it their own in a social way while becoming different classes such as a Blacksmith and a Cook to name a few as well as going on adventures together. What can you tell us about the different classes, skills, and how all of it will play in the game with other players?
“All players in A Township Tale start off neutral, without any particular affiliation to roles or professions. Once a player begins to perform activities, they will gain experience for that skill tree. For example, cutting down trees, mining ores, and forging weapons provide experience for woodcutting, mining, and blacksmithing. Melee combat and archery are also another two skill trees we have at the moment. Eventually, players will level up in those fields, and that will allow them to unlock an ability for that profession. However, each player has a total of 8 ability slots they have to distribute amongst all skill trees. This is where players can really specialize based on their preferences. You could choose to put 3 points in melee combat, and 5 points in blacksmithing for example.
Within each skill tree, different branches lean towards different playstyles. For example, archery is split between a set of skills for fast-firing archers and long-draw ‘sniper’ style players. Combining these differentiations between profession abilities as well as the different equipment players can choose, can really allow a party to be made of diverse players.
Additionally, concepts like carrying weight, hunger/nutrition and social ‘roles’ add to the complex choice players make when deciding their path.”
By going on these adventures, if your character doesn’t make it alive, what happens to your character?
“It varies between the server settings each player chooses. By default, players will drop all of their items on death. The leveling experience is kept, and they simply must retrieve their gear. But you can change settings to keep items on death, or some servers have attempted ‘hardcore’ settings where you get kicked from the server when you die. Those are quite intense.”
Are there any options to customize your look in the game and make it unique?
“You’re able to customize your character avatars for each server you play on. There’s a default set of cosmetics you can wear, or you can purchase more using in-game purchases. With our cosmetics system, we really wanted to increase the usability of each piece of clothing. So players are able to color every single element. And there are a lot of elements, there are; shirts, jackets, skirts, hats, vests, belts, arm accessories, gloves, earrings, glasses, masks, necklaces, hairstyles, eyebrow styles, and even eyelash styles.
Roughly every 2 weeks, we rotate new and old items back on sale as well as having seasonal rotations with clothes matching the current theme.”
With A Township Tale having other players, there of course could be those that decide that they want to test things and try to be the bad villains of the game. Have you thought about adding jails to maybe hold those players who elect the wrong way of life to learn of their ways?
“I’ve definitely thought of having a prison for bad villains. Generally speaking though, player vs player gameplay is very difficult to balance and requires a lot of underlying honor to keep things civil enough between parties. Once we’re happy with the state of the game’s PvE experience, we’ll start to look at how we can create interesting social dynamics like this. It takes a groundwork of rules and incentives to have players fit these archetypes in a meaningful way.”
When voice chat is added, that can add a variety of different experiences to the game. You can get people who are really into the game to those that just want to have fun and everyone is laughing and even those that may say things that could be offensive to others. What have you done to make sure the experience of those playing is the best it can be?
“Voice chat is maybe one of the more difficult aspects of multiplayer games to moderate, but we’ve worked hard to foster a community that is respectful and can deal with player-to-player friction quite well. In VR and in A Township Tale, people react in quite a human-way as opposed to being their ‘virtual’ anonymous persona. This generally means they are more polite, or they can feel more remorse when having wronged somebody.”
What can you tell us about some of the enemies in the game that the players may come across on the adventures and could some of those enemies attack the town?
“One of my favorite enemies is a creature called the ‘Gotera’. They are these tree-trunk sentries that prowl in the woods and fire pellets at players. They typically leave these tracers behind them as they fly towards their target, and so you’re dodging and weaving between pellets as you approach them to cut them down. They perhaps take the most spatial awareness to know from which direction you might get attacked, so much so that in-between attacks you’re trying to dodge other Goteras shooting at you.
So far we’ve treated the town as a safe place from dangerous creatures, aside from a bit of an avian pest that wanders around. That may very well change in the future though!”
Virtual Reality is all about immersion and being able to communicate with others while in the game in real-time is a way to make sure every time is a different experience. Did you find any challenges when adding this feature and were there any surprises that you came across when making the sound for Virtual Reality?
“There weren’t really any differences to making sound for A Township Tale so far compared to regular flat-screen games so far. Although we haven’t yet invested time into producing lots of sound effects and sound tricks for the game. But we’re quite keenly aware of how acoustics can work in a virtual space. It can really help with the embodiment of the characters and highlight the precision of VR interactions.”
When making the game for a platform like the PCVR and then for Oculus Quest/Quest 2, did you find any challenges when fine-tuning the graphics for the headsets that you either surprised or puzzled you that you were not expecting?
“The biggest question for us with regards to the PCVR to Quest port, was whether or not it was even possible. In theory, we had a lot of reasons to think it would but we know that in practice things can take a turn. We took the process step by step and quite carefully, and eventually that led to something we could actually release.”
A Township Tale releases on Oculus Quest/Quest 2 on July 15, 2021. Do we know when the game will be available for the Oculus Rift/Rift S on the Oculus Store and will it have cross-buy as well as do we know when the game will come to Steam VR? Do you see the game releasing on other platforms such as Viveport and PlayStation VR in the future?
“We currently have no plans to go to SteamVR, Viveport, or Playstation VR. PCVR players can get the game from our website, through our own Alta Launcher, and Quest players can buy the game from the Oculus Quest Store.”
If you entered a door through THE VR DIMENSION and ended up in the game, but could be anyone from any time period, who would you be, what would be your skill, and how well do you think you would do?
“If I could be in the game, it’d be very similar to how I play A Township Tale. I wouldn’t be anybody from a time period, I’m happy being me. I’d most likely be a trader, explorer/collector. I’d have some of our game’s gathering skills that let players do a Pokeball/vacuum type of interaction to swallow up resources. As a trader, I’d trade my way up to better equipment, and help others with logistics. For example, house building is being worked on for the game and will require moving a lot of very large lumber around. I’d offer my services to help mobilize that lumber to building sites and such. I quite favor a social role, as it’s something that doesn’t factor into the functional tests I’ve done for the game a thousand times.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience A Township Tale?
“If you’ve ever thought of what it’d be like to be an NPC in someone else’s adventure, and that you want those adventures to be ‘real’, I’d recommend A Township Tale. There’s something for everybody, whether you like to cook stews or go on an adrenaline-filled expedition. I often join servers cooking food in the wild over a campfire, and I know that somewhere else in the world, somebody is making their weapons, or engaged in combat miles below the ground. And at some point, our paths will meet and we can share a story about what we just did. That’s A Township Tale for me.”
I really want to thank Boramy for taking time out of their busy schedule and for giving us a closer look at A Township Tale and for also talking about Virtual Realty.
To learn more about the game please visit the site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, follow them on Instagram, join their Discord, join their Reddit, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.