If you were stranded on a remote mountain facility facing not only the unknown but enemies everywhere you looked, what would you feel? Do you think you would go in and take the atmosphere by the hands and use your infamous battle cry or would you be more strategic about it? Do you think your thoughts would be clear or would they be clouded based on what was going on? Maybe you would just see your life flash before your eyes and everything go in slow motion. Hopefully, none of us in real life will ever have to face such a situation. But when I heard that developer nDreams decided to allow us to be the action hero and to feel the adventure as we try and save the planet, I had to know more. So I reached out and the Community Manager of nDreams, Jimmy Bowers, was happy to talk about their newest game, Fracked, as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
Interview with the Community Manager of nDreams, Jimmy Bowers
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at nDreams?
“I’m Jimmy Bowers and I’m fortunate enough to be the Community Manager here at nDreams. The role is marketing focused and can be boiled down to being an approachable contact point for our players, being their voice within the development team (passing on feedback and sentiment), whilst also being the eyes, and ears of the dev team to gauge what players like, what they don’t, and what they want to see. It’s a really varied role, equal parts social media management, reporting, and outreach. I love it.”
Growing up, what were some of your favorite gaming moments and what was that one VR experience that really hooked you in?
“I think the two games most responsible for making me decide that a career in games was for me were Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation and Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox. They both elevated the medium for me from “this is what I do with my free time” to “games can provide powerful stories and immersive experiences.” In terms of my interest in VR, I saw it as the next evolution of what video games could offer. It’s an unparalleled level of immersion that you just can’t get from other forms of entertainment. You’re stepping into a game world, becoming someone else. It’s truly Sci-Fi as a concept and an amazing example of escapism. My brain would have broken if you’d have tried to explain this to 11-year-old me, sat with his sun-bleached PS1. My first VR experience was actually a location-based game from The Void. They had a temporary pop-up location in the Westfield centre on the outskirts of London back in 2016 or 2017 which was showcasing Star Wars: The Secrets of the Empire from ILMxLAB. My brother and I made the five-hour trip to check it out and I was hooked from then. I started exploring home-based VR, what studios were working in this space, which ultimately led me to nDreams. All those years later, getting to play Phantom: Covert Ops (which has definite Metal Gear Solid inspirations and even features the legendary Solid Snake voice actor, David Hayter, himself) was incredible.”
nDreams has a fantastic VR portfolio including The Assembly, Bloody Zombies, and Phantom: Covert Ops, just to name a few. Out of everything that you have been a part of, which project has that special place in your heart?
“In the grand scheme of things, I’ve not been at nDreams for that long. We’ve enjoyed great growth over the last 12 months to meet the demands of a growing VR audience and our future projects. I joined back in March of this year, right as we were announcing Fracked to the public. It has been a fantastic experience getting to share this with our community, and we’ve had amazing support from the PlayStation and creator community. The Sony platforms have been a part of our studio lifeblood since we got one of our first big breaks making content for PlayStation Home, so being able to really deliver on PlayStation VR with an exclusive experience, built from the ground up for the platform, is really special.”
Fracked aside, I also got to coordinate our Phantom: Covert Ops first anniversary celebration. We had a number of giveaways running throughout the week, as well as a recap of the stats our players had racked up over the last 12 months. From bullet travel distance to their impressive K/D ratio, it was great to give back to the community and really champion a game we’re really proud of.”
Your newest game, Fracked is coming to PlayStation VR. What can you tell us about the game and the main hero?
“Fracked is a fast-paced and trailblazing action-adventure entry in the PS VR library. We wanted to provide players with the ultimate power fantasy of becoming an action hero, and we were heavily inspired by 80s cinema, with the likes of Die Hard and Rambo. With Fracked, we took the decision to provide a voiced protagonist, which isn’t something you often see in VR. You’re not just stepping into this world, you’re playing a character. He’s a retired special forces operative turned reluctant hero as he’s cast into a fight for his life. He’s got a cool and unshakeable edge and is more than happy to weaponize sarcasm. Roleplay and immersion are really important to us, and we wanted to deliver an experience that lived up to that but had a fun-first mentality too. That’s why you won’t be fumbling with ammo pouches or navigating digital inventories in our game. It’s a smart blend of realism and arcade sensibilities that should satisfy both camps of players. We keep the stakes and pace high throughout, with total freedom of movement. Fracked isn’t on rails. We want to empower the player to tackle each encounter as they see fit.”
What can you tell us about the different weapons and enemies within the game?
“In Fracked, we have our core interactive weapons, which are the pistol and SMG, which can be reloaded and primed after each spent magazine. The pistol provides you with unlimited ammunition, so it is the default trusty backup when all else fails, but you’ll need to keep your eye on the ammo counter for the SMG and scavenge spare ammunition where you can. Then there are the special weapons like the shotgun and the revolver. They’re limited use but really pack a punch when you’re in a bind and tackling a bigger enemy, like the Blaster. The Grunt is the enemy type that is most common. You’ll have seen them in the demo. They shoot back, they try to flank you. Then there are more specialized enemies, like the Screamer, that rushes your position and detonates with crystalline fury. We definitely want to keep the player on their toes, so just planting yourself behind cover and waiting it out isn’t a total solution to all of your problems.
Was the game always going to just use the Move controllers or was there thought about adding Dualshock 4, Aim controller, or even the 3Drudder as control options?
“The diverse range of traversal methods in Fracked meant that we were always aiming to have the Move controllers as our sole input method. It was important to us to provide immersion, and the Move controllers are the perfect tool for this on PlayStation VR. Being able to ski, climb, shoot, grab cover, and zip-line, meant that it was the most elegant solution across a broad spectrum of gameplay scenarios. We want the player to always have a hand free, so that they can navigate the environment and grab cover as they see fit, which is why all of our weapons are single-handed too. The Move controllers were a natural fit for this and really allowed us to explore a much wider scope of experiences for the player within Fracked.”
One of the things I loved about the demo was the art style. From the beginning stages, did Fracked look different or did it always have this great-looking style to it?
“The early concepts of Fracked looked very similar to the final art style you see now in the demo. At one point, we did start to move towards realism, with a bit more of a visceral palette, but ultimately it didn’t fit the tone of the game we wanted to make. It didn’t have the Fracked personality that we were aiming for, and although that art style is well suited to a lot of traditional FPS experiences, the graphic novel-esque visuals we have now are certainly more in keeping with the bold and brash attitude of Fracked.
The very beginning of the demo has the player skiing and once it ended, I was hoping there would be more of that tied into the game. How much of skiing is in the full game and how much fun was it to incorporate it in the game?
“The skiing of Fracked definitely ramps up further into the game. As you’ll have seen in our previous gameplay trailers, we’ll soon have you trying to outrun pursuers on snowmobiles, firing back wildly as you try to avoid environmental hazards such as trees and guard towers. It can get quite challenging, but it’s really fast-paced and fun too! One of the first parts of Fracked that we investigated during development was a skiing proof of concept, which proved to be really popular internally. We started building out from that solid foundation until we got to the game you see today. I can’t wait to see the walkthrough videos of a specific ski section, later on, to see how much better creators are than I am!”
I know you may not be able to say right now, but do you see or hope to see Fracked become a series in the future?
“We’ve loved creating the world of Fracked, with its own lore and characters, but there are currently no plans to turn this into a series.”
Immersion in VR is about bringing the player into that world with the help of graphics and sound. What still surprises you about working with VR?
“The feeling of being in an incredible location or scene, where the impossible can and does happen, and being able to share that experience with someone close to you, be that a family member, friend, or work mate. Think of the impossibly bendy roads within the movie Inception or a pulse-pumping chase scene from Fast and Furious. You’re not a passive observer in VR, you can actively take part. The VR medium just allows for so much immersion and shared experience that other creative outlets struggle to replicate or come close to. You’re transported to entirely other worlds, without leaving the safety of the one you know. You’ll get goose-bumps, you’ll rush to share a game recommendation with someone you know. There’s a lot of presence in VR and a lot of opportunity for human connection and storytelling.”
Were there any sounds that were trickier to get just right compared to others?
“For Fracked, we approached sound design in a much different way to our past titles. For VR games specifically, you have to use sound to really ground the player in the environments and provide spatial awareness. They need to feel that the virtual world you’ve built them is believable and providing a sense of scale and space is really key to that. To complement the art style of Fracked, gunplay needed to sound chunky and the soundtrack needed to gel with the nostalgic undertones of the game’s themes. It’s a fine balancing act for sure. Matt Simmons, our Audio Manager, had a lot of fun experimenting with the game’s soundtrack. It’s based off a mixtape that the hero’s companion, Rosalez (who is part of the local mountain rescue unit) listens to whilst she’s in her chopper. It’s a really eclectic mix of everything from 90s rock to 50s orchestral pieces, so blending that together and remixing it to deliver fun narrative and gameplay beats was a new challenge.”
Where do you see VR in 5-10 years?
“I’m not sure exactly on the timeline, but I truly believe VR will be a mass-market medium that can and will stand alongside other mediums with ease. All mediums offer something different. As an example, reading about a first encounter with a dinosaur is different from watching a play, watching a movie, or playing a game about the same topic. That being said, they’re passive experiences (for the most part). Getting to experience a first encounter with a dinosaur in VR makes the hairs on your arms stand up. It makes your shoulders go broad. Your body is physically consuming and interacting with this medium in a different way. Sharing these otherwise inaccessible experiences with others is something we really value. With the march of innovation and with next-gen VR on the horizon, the evolution of this technology is only going to make it a better and better place to work and play in.”
Fracked releases on August 20th for PlayStation VR. Are there any plans to bring the game to other platforms such as Oculus, Steam, or even Viveport in the future?
“Fracked is 100% a PlayStation VR exclusive, designed for the PlayStation Move controllers. There are currently no plans to bring it to other platforms.”
If you opened the door to THE VR DIMENSION but had to be anyone from any time to be the hero in the world of Fracked, who would it be and how well do you think you would do?
“That’s a hard one. Does the person have to be real, because if not I’d definitely choose John McClane from Die Hard. His character was a partial inspiration for the hero in Fracked, so I think he’d take to that situation really well. He’s used to being up against the odds, outgunned, and outnumbered. He’d definitely do better than I would if I was thrown into that world as me.”
With the content of Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Fracked?
“We’re very privileged with Fracked as we’ve been able to come to a platform as strong as PlayStation VR later in the lifecycle after we’ve had years to fine-tune and really push the platform to its limits. Fracked isn’t our first PS VR title, but it’s the first exclusive we’ve tailor-made for it. We know what we can deliver, and we’ve pushed a little beyond that too. Fracked is a strong entry into the VR space, one that takes all of the elements that players enjoy, such as a variety in traversal, 1:1 movement, satisfying gunplay, total freedom of movement, an immersive cover mechanic, a more traditional game campaign, and rolls that up into one beautiful package with a great sense of style and some seriously striking art. Don’t just take my word for it though, you can check out the free public demo for yourself!”
I really want to thank Jimmy for taking the time to give us a closer looked at Fracked and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.