Deadness – The Interview

March 18, 2022 ·

When you truly think of horror and Virtual Reality what comes to mind? Is it the screams that you hear or possibly make? What about the jumpscares when you least expect them? Maybe it is is being in the atmosphere of it all. There truly is something about horror in VR that is truly intriguing and can become even more surreal than you may have ever thought possible. So when I learned that developer, Alien studio was making a horror game where you can experience the fear of anxiety all while being confined to a wheelchair, I had to learn more. So I reached out and the project lead, Anton, was happy to talk about their newest game, Deadness, as well as talking about Virtual Reality.

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Interview with project lead Anton of Alien studio

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

“Hello, my name is Anton and I am the project lead in the Alien studio.”

For those that may not be aware, what have been some of the projects that you
and Alien studio have been a part of?

“The ALIEN studio is a 3D animation and VFX studio, with almost 20 years of experience, oriented
mainly on photorealistic animation for advertising and film. During our existence, we have produced
a lot of campaigns, that brought us many awards. Among others The Best 3D film award at Cannes
Corporate Media & TV Awards, Art Prix award for studio’s artistic contribution to Slovak advertising
and Best Film Craft on Slovak advertising festival – Zlaty klinec.

With Deadness, we wanted to bring the player even closer to our visuals. You can have 4k monitors,
big screens, but nothing brings you closer than VR. The player is literally in our graphics, and we can
do with him what we want. The original plan of this project was not to create a game, but to create
an experience.”

Growing up, what were some of your favorite gaming memories and what was that one VR moment that made you realize that you wanted to do more with Virtual Reality?

“The first one was most definitely Doom. I still can remember the code for ammo, which was
necessary for the nightmare difficulty. Since then, I have played lots of games, but the most
memorable was the Half-Life series, which included Portal and Counter-Strike. Resident Evil games, mainly
2 and 4 are also high on my list. I like to play story-rich games such as Until Dawn, Inside, or more recently The Last of Us. But the real inspiration for Deadness were games like Soma, Alien isolation, Silent Hill series, and who can forget about Outlast.

Around 2017 we got our hand on the first HTC Vive set and immediately we saw the potential of
combining our skill and experience with the potential of virtual reality. So, the idea of creating our
own game was born.”

Your newest game, Deadness, recently released on Steam VR? What can you tell us about the game?

Deadness is a horror VR game. We wanted to create total immersion – graphics-wise and also
gameplay-wise. Our goal was to create realistic graphics, that would pull the player into the game
more than ever. Therefore, we do not have any health bars, inventory, HUD which would break the
immersion. Everything is happening right in front of your eyes to distract you after you pre the “New
game” button. It is just the player and the wheelchair.”

I will say that playing a horror game in VR is one type of experience when you can run, but you are bound to a wheelchair. Was this always the decision you wanted to go with for Deadness?

“The story behind the wheelchair is simple. In the beginning, we were playing a lot of VR games, but
the movement always broke the immersion. Either teleporting, moving with the trackpad, or the
movement was limited by the space and tracking sensors. And so, the idea of a wheelchair was born.
You play seated, moving only with hands, like on a real wheelchair.”

What can you tell us about the main character?

“Without spoiling too much, you awake in an old research facility, you do not remember anything,
how you got here, what is going on. You only have this feeling in the back of your head, that says you
need to get out of here.

When we were discussing the approach to the game, we decided to make the game as realistic as
possible. No one is a born Terminator or a one-man army guy. You are bound to a wheelchair,
paralyzed, there have been some experiments going on to find the cure. But as usual, it went wrong.
We wanted the player to feel this – wanted to make the player feel weak and helpless, afraid, rather
run than fight. But slowly as he gets around you will find a way to outwit the enemies, learn their
weak spots.”

When the game first launched, it was more tailored to HTC headsets. Recently, you added an Oculus update. What can you tell us about the update?

“We wanted to create the best possible experience for the player. We have released the game for
HTC Vive and Steam index, which both have an external base station that tracks the movement of your
hands moving the wheelchair. But the community demanded we release the game for other
platforms, mainly Oculus Quest. So, we have tweaked the controls, tested it, and updated the game,
so more players can have a chance to play the game.”

Moving around in a wheelchair adds a whole new challenge to playing the game where you have to move your arms like you were in an actual wheelchair. Have you thought about adding additional movement controls such as using the thumbstick for movement?

“The movement itself can be frustrating, but as in real life, when on a wheelchair, you have an
obvious disadvantage to someone with working legs. We wanted to make the movement as real as
possible.”

When it comes to horror, the environment can play a very important part. And in VR, immersion also plays an important part. What can you tell us about the environments within the game and is there one part of the game that even scares you?

“We do realize the importance of the environment in a horror game, we scratched the previous
version after two years and started from the beginning. We have put a lot of effort to create the gloomy
and depressing spaces, added lots of details to the final product. After some time and loads of
playthroughs, you feel immune to the game, but the developers were perfectionists, they constantly
added new things, moved the enemies, changed their AI, to keep the player on their toes at all the
time.

Without spoiling too much, it was also shown in the trailer, there is a segment later in the game
when you get a gun. I have tested this segment maybe 20 times, almost felt safe, but then they
added two more zombies, which appear when you think it is all over. Much faster than the others.
This was the moment when I almost broke the headset. But in the end, we kept it there.”

When it comes to VR, is there anything that surprises you, and what do you find to be the most challenging when developing for VR?

“As I mentioned, the game has non-standard controls and the hardest part was finetuning it to work
on most VR systems. These were, for example, the millisecond tolerances of the wheel mounts. We
did not want to go for the easy game, as in real life you are at a disadvantage when in a wheelchair.”

Sound is something I pay attention to when I am in VR. How much fun was it to play with the different sounds so when the players are playing and they jump and you hear about it, that it puts a smile on your face because you knew it was the right sound at the right time?

“We paid a lot of attention to the sound effects. The sound adds greatly to the atmosphere and
tension in the game. All the sounds were tailor-made for the exact situation and the music was
composted directly on the segments you find yourself in. Many of the sound fx we polished, changed
to make them even scarier, so when you forget there is something new in the game and you still get
jump scared by the new sounds, you know we are going the right way.”

Deadness has been released on Steam VR. Do you see the game coming to other platforms such as the Oculus Store, PlayStation VR, or even Viveport in the future?

“Right now, the game is available on Steam and also Viveport. We do plan to release also on the Oculus
Store since we added the full support for this system. We are also playing with the idea of releasing
it on PSVR, but this depends greatly on how the game will be accepted on other platforms.”

This is a two-part question. Do you see Deadness as a part of a franchise and what is next for you and ALIEN studio?

“Right now, we see the lore of Deadness as completed, but it is not definite. Primary our field of
business is not games, but 3D and VFX for commercials and movies. This is rather a pleasant detour
for us. We have some ideas for the future and depending on the success of Deadness who knows,
maybe we will orient our business towards game development.”

With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Deadness?

“There are a lot of good games for VR out there. But if you want rather to experience true horror with
a different approach, I think you might want to give Deadness a try.”

I want to thank Anton for taking the time out of their schedule and giving us a closer look into Deadness as well as talking about Virtual Reality.

Deadness is out now on Steam VR and Viveport.

To learn more about Alien studio, please visit their site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

Also, check out the Deadness review.

In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.

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