What if there was an alien invasion, how well do you think you would do? Would you be able to fight against them if needed? Would you be able to do it by yourself? If you had the right people, how well do you think the outcome would be in your favor? Aliens and the thoughts of invasions have been part of our culture through books we read to movies we watch to even the games we play. But when I heard that developer VoyagerVR created a game where you and over ten other players could do your best against the aliens using anything from weapons to vehicles, I had to learn more. So I reached out and the Co-Founders, Jessica Villarreal and Christian Bretz were happy to talk about their latest game, Alien Dawn as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the Co-Founders of VoyagerVR, Jessica Villarreal and Christian Bretz
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at VoyagerVR?
JesV: “Hello! I’m Jessica Villarreal and I’m a Co-Founder of VoyagerVR. I focus on biz dev of the company, animation, and environment design, along with the editing and producing of all our marketing materials and website design. I also live stream Alien Dawn on our Twitch channel.”
Christian: “Hi! I’m Christian Bretz and I’m also a Co-Founder of VoyagerVR. Like Jessica, I also work on the biz dev side, but my specific focus is mainly on the coding and engineering for our projects.
In terms of the creative side, we both work together to develop the visions for the ideas and concepts we eventually develop.”
Growing up, what were some of your best gaming memories, and what was that one VR moment that made you really want to work more with Virtual Reality?
Christian: “I think my best gaming memories, in general, are the LAN parties me and my friends would have as kids, bringing our computers to each other’s houses and playing into the night. I still play games online with that same group of people, and playing with them is actually what inspired the ideas that went into the design of Alien Dawn, like the large group co-op ect.
In terms of VR, there is one moment that made me want to work in virtual reality and it was the first time I put a headset on at E3 2013. It was a Sci-Fi flight sim game and the sensation of being in another world, and then in addition to that being in another body was a surreal and awesome experience and I knew right then.
I had dabbled in game modding as a kid and then did VFX for film and TV for part of my career, so it wasn’t a completely foreign concept to me to develop in VR, but I can say it has many more challenges and there is a lot to learn.
There’s also the technological hurdles that come from being an early adopter of a new technology, especially as a developer as new standards are always being introduced, but that is all starting to get better now with things like OpenXR coming out.”
JesV: “Some of the best gaming memories I have from when I was a kid was playing on my Sega Master System w/ 3D glasses or my NES w/ Power Pad. My sister and I would stay up all night trying to beat Double Dragon (we never could) or use our fists to run Track and Field on the Power Pad, waking up so sore the next day.
But I think my ultimate memory growing up is when I was 8 and had called my dad at his work to come home to watch me make it to the last level of Altered Beast because it was a level I had never gotten to until then. I ended up taping it on our camcorder and counted the hours until he came home so I could show him. “
VoyagerVR created Stonehenge VR back in 2017 where it originated as one of the first room-scale VR exhibits in a museum. Your newest game has been gaining a lot of ground. What can you tell us about Alien Dawn?
Christian: “Stonehenge VR was our first project and a very rewarding experience. We always imagined VoyagerVR as a company that would develop all types of programs, so doing games as well as education has always been part of our plans.
And yes, the reception of the game and the community interaction has been a really great part of the experience creating the game. We’re very appreciative of all the early adopters and supporters.”
JesV: “Alien Dawn was inspired by quite a few elements really. One of the primary reasons for its creation was because of the Voyager A.I. Camera (which we describe in detail further in the interview). In order for the camera to work the way we had designed it, it needed a game to film.
We decided to make a game we would want to play with our friends in a co-op setting. We needed it to accommodate more than the usual 3-6 team members because our group would get so big, so we made it 10+. We also realized that not everyone in our friend group has VR, so we needed to make it both VR and Desktop PC crossplay.
And finally, we wanted something that would start everyone out as equals and have to work together to build up their inventory in order to survive. So there is no leveling or save systems currently. It’s meant to give players a 60-90 minute mission where you can fail immediately or experience the reward of escaping together.”
When we first heard about the game last Summer, the game looked wild. From a helicopter crash to driving vehicles and running over an alien. What can you tell us about some of the vehicles the players can operate?
JesV: “The vehicles in Alien Dawn are important to us in a number of ways. First of all, the map is fairly large so having a vehicle to transport you is less time consuming, but can also be used as a weapon to run over enemies, or use as cover to protect you in a fight. Players can also hide inside them when the Mothership is shooting overhead to keep you from taking damage from her.
But in order to keep your vehicle around, you have to make sure you’re carrying gasoline and a repair tool for when it takes too much damage. Without those two elements, you’ll have to make the trip on foot.
Christian: “We’re currently working on the ability to store weapons and items in the vehicles so they become even more integral to the survival aspect, and eventually the new Base Building Mode”
The game supports up to 10 players at one time and everyone can communicate. How important is communication in Alien Dawn?
JesV: “I’d say communication is a big part of Alien Dawn. You’re constantly having to move across the map due to the Mothership striking, enemies attacking, asking for food, trading loot, and much more. We do have an in-game voice chat so that players can strategize without third-party software and a text chat just in case. We recently had someone join our party who could hear us but didn’t have their mic on and just used the text chat and we managed to escape. I would say as long as a “leader” could be heard by the party not everyone is required to speak, but something about the small talk and jokes while traveling or battling adds so much more.”
Christian: “We think the best way to play Alien Dawn is with the in game voice chat as it adds much more realism to the experience for two reasons. The first is that the voice chat audio actually changes based on your environment, so if you’re in a cave it will echo. And the second is that it relies on the distance of the players to be near each other to actually hear each other.
This makes for a much more tense experience because if you run off on your own, you might not be able to find your team again since you can’t communicate with them.”
Is it possible for the aliens to abduct each of the players and if so, is there a way to rescue said abducted players?
Christian: “An abduction scene is definitely something we’ve brainstormed almost since the beginning of development, where you would be picked up from the ground in the middle of a forest somewhere, and then have to traverse and find your way off the mothership, maybe even finding some better weapons on there.”
JesV: “That sounds like a super fun mode to explore. We are constantly coming up with new ideas and taking suggestions about what to add next, so we may just have to add that to our list of upcoming features.”
What can you tell us about the different weapons in the game?
Christian: “Right now there are 11 weapons in the game that include pistols, rifles, LMG, grenade launcher, landmines, and melee weapons.”
JessV: “When you first crash land in the world, handguns, shotguns, and knives spawn with you which work in a pinch, but you really want to explore to find higher-tiered loot like LMGs, grenade launchers, or even a sci-fi shotgun that have more rounds and are more powerful when being surrounded.
With the loot drops being random, you never really know what you’re going to find and may have to switch up your loadout in the middle of the game, creating a sense of urgency to where you should always keep moving.”
Christian: “A big priority in future patches will be the addition of more scf-i weaponry, as well as traditional weapons and attachments like red dot sights, etc.”
Is Deathmatch still planned to be in the game? Will there be any other modes in the game as well?
JesV: “One of the toughest things about VR is the optimization of the variety of headsets and motion controllers. Not making a player sick and causing motion sickness is a priority while developing, but when there are so many elements in an open-world game, pinpointing what’s causing an issue can take time to find and is definitely one of the biggest hurdles.
Testing is another challenge. If we change something, almost anything, we have to test to see if it works with both VR and Desktop each time, along with Server/Client communication for multiplayer working in unison for every build.”
Christian: “We almost spend more time testing than we do developing because there are so many variables involved with VR and Desktop Multiplayer Crossplay.”
Speaking of immersion, you have a feature where a spectator camera can edit and film players. What can you tell us about this and how will it actually work as it does sound very interesting?
JesV: “The Voyager A.I. Camera is a spectator camera for On-Line games that edits and films player’s gameplay as they Livestream. It’s designed to follow the player and capture the most exciting moments, or what it deems the most interesting based on the algorithm we’ve programmed.
Before going into game development, Christian was in the film and television industry. This combined with developing VR games and merging them into one is the result of our A.I. camera.
The seed of this idea came from a show we created called Best Game Show Ever in 2014, where one of the segments we produced was having our friends all try VR games and filming their reactions. Because their reactions felt so legitimate and authentic, we were able to make a compelling story around them.
Christian: “The next evolution to this was to train a computer to be able to film and edit players completely on its own based on what they are doing in the game. The camera selects angles, music, and editing pace based on statistics from the game to tell the story, and the audience at home will see the streamer playing as though they are characters in a TV show. While it’s still early in development, we’ve been streaming Alien Dawn with the A.I. Camera on our Twitch livestreams. Alien Dawn is just the first example of where we will use this camera technology.”
I’m curious when it comes to the sound in the game, were there any sounds that you tried to get to sound as authentic as possible, but still feel like it wasn’t right?
JesV: “I came from a production background and had also studied music growing up, while Christian came from a television and movie background, so luckily we both have an ear for sound FX and the editing skills to create them. What makes sound mixing so fun is that there are no real world examples of what an alien or spaceship would sound like, so it’s a matter of just experimenting with all sorts of sounds and getting to be creative until you find something that feels bad ass.”
Christian: “One thing to keep in mind too is that this game is still in Early Access, so some of the sounds might be improved or replaced altogether, and we’ll be revisiting quite a bit of it moving forward.”
If you could tell your younger self three things about VR, what would they be?
JesV: “1. You’re gonna be able to spend time with friends and family in VR who live far away and it’ll feel more real and satisfying than you would think.
2. There is literally an adventure for anybody whether it be action packed, surreal, chill, trippy, terrifying – it’s going to exist and it’s going to be pretty awesome.
3. You’re going to get super motion sick at times and it’s going to suck, but you aren’t going to let that stop you from figuring out how to get past it. “
Christian: “1. It’s going to be just as awesome as you imagine it to be.
2. Even after it’s been out for a while and a great experience, there will still be a long period of refinement before it’s close to perfect (Even now).
3. Making it your career will open up all types of unique opportunities and projects you never would have thought you would create and you can build your own worlds that you can actually live in.
Alien Dawn was supposed to come out in October of 2021. I know you are working to make it the best possible version, but do we have a date planned, and do you see the game coming to other platforms such as Oculus, PlayStation VR/2, or Viveport in the future?
JesV: “Alien Dawn actually released for sale in Early Access in Oct. of 2021 and we have released around nine updates since, and are continuing to work on it every day. Right now the game is compatible with VIVE, Oculus & Quest, and Windows Mixed Reality.
The plan would be to expand to as many platforms as possible including PSVR, but in the meantime, we still have some updates to the current platforms before exploring that path.”
Christian: “We are particularly excited about the PSVR 2 as the specs really look like it’s going to be a great machine.”
If you walked through the door into THE VR DIMENSION, but it was in the world of Alien Dawn and could pick nine other players from any time period to be by your side in this adventure, who would it be and why
Christian: “This question was hard to think of in terms of historical figures from any time. If we are talking about strategy specifically it would probably be to bring people mostly from recent history. But if I picked just people I thought would be awesome from any time in history, I don’t think we would stand too much of a chance. So I just made the answer a little easier and changed it into movie/tv characters.
Hicks, Apone & Ripley from Aliens (They are in charge of the military operations)
Ash from Evil Dead (We need a loose cannon)
David Levinson from ID4 (For hacking Alien Motherships)
Nicholas Cage from Gone in 60 Seconds (For sweet driving skills & Nicolas Cage)
Iceman from Top Gun (Aerial support)
Camina Drummer & Chrisjen Avasarala from the Expanse (Cunningness and Governing Skills).”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Alien Dawn?
JesV: “Alien Dawn is a sci-fi action multiplayer game that bridges the gap between VR & Desktop players playing together. Gaming communities grow and it can suck to leave someone out of the game, so we’ve accommodated large groups of friends or random players in its procedurally generated Escape Mode. Working as a team to Escape can be very rewarding, but it’s also completely playable as a lone wolf.
With that, our Voyager A.I. Camera allows streamers and content creators to make videos that live edits their gameplay, giving the viewers at home a new way to watch from multiple perspectives in game.”
Christian: “Yeah, if you want a game to play with a large group of friends where you all need to work together and communicate in VR and on Desktop, Alien Dawn is a good place to start.
You’re also not just getting the first-person shooter experience, but the ability to drive cars and fly helicopters and even more soon. We want Alien Dawn to have a wide variety of ways to play and interact in game.
And as Jessica mentioned, if you’re a streamer we are working on some really cool features that will make streaming VR games more exciting for your viewers.”
I really want to thank Jessica and Christian for taking time out of their busy schedules to give us a closer look into Alien Dawn as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
Alien Dawn is out now on Steam VR.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.