The words spy, espionage, undercover, and puzzle can have different meanings. For some, it may mean the spy movies like James Bond or even Austin Powers, it can mean a good book or T.V. show, like Get Smart or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, or even games like I Expect You To Die. But it can be safe to say, that the words can mean mystery, solving puzzles, and even trying to overcome a situation no matter how serious or comical it may be. So when I heard that Schell Games was bringing the sequel to one of the best secret agent games of survival of deadly situations, I wanted to know more. So I reached out and Charlie Amis was happy to give us a closer look into I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar and about Virtual Reality.
Interview with Project Director, Charlie Amis
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Schell Games?
“I’m Charlie Amis, He/Him, and I’m the Project Director of I Expect You To Die 2.”
What type of games did you play growing up, and what was that one game that made you decide that you wanted to get involved with making games?
“Some of the most formative ones were games I made up with my friends outside. I had two neighbors, and the three of us would always play together. When we would go to play soccer or sports of any kind, we would have to make up three-player versions of them all. Little did I realize that by doing that, I was game designing. I was modding games in making three-player versions.
Because we broke the seal of changing the rules to sacred games, we didn’t stop there. We started making up games. We made up hundreds; every summer, there was something new. We would iterate on it. We’d give feedback about what we liked and didn’t like so we could change it for next time. I had no idea that was a job someone could have.
Meanwhile, I’m also playing video games. Growing up in the mid to late 80s, I played Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Genesis, and renting games every day from Stop and Shop. I’m playing everything, whether it’s good or bad. I’m even “hate playing” stuff where it’s like, “I have the rental for three more days, and this game is trash! But I’m going to get all of the value out of this.”
By doing that, I realized that in a bad game that’s not fun or frustrating, there might be a little kernel of goodness. And I didn’t even know I was putting those tidbits, that knowledge, in my bag of tricks. To this day, I can reference Snow Bros. on Nintendo and how it did some pretty cool things with co-op. Not a great game, but some pretty cool co-op ideas in there.
The game that got me into game design was Shadow of the Colossus. You play it, and you want to show your friends, you want to explain why it’s great. It elicits a lot of conversation around it because it leaves so much room for player’s interpretation, for player agency. The way I would talk about it with my friends, they would say I should work in games. I would shrug it off, saying I didn’t know how to program; I’m on the artsy side of stuff, that’s technology-focused, and I don’t have any tech skills. But it planted the seed.
I graduated from college with a fine arts degree. After working some pretty weird jobs after college, I applied to grad school to bridge the gap to technology. It stuck in me that I should work in video games — I care too much about them not to try it.”
What have been some of the games you have been a part of or responsible for?
“Though I can’t share all of the projects I’ve been involved with due to client confidentiality, I’ve had the pleasure of working on:
Mo the Monster – https://www.schellgames.com/games/mo-the-monster/
Odyssey by UPMC – https://www.schellgames.com/games/odyssey/
Project Director for Operation Seat of Power and Operation Death Engine on I Expect You To Die
Project Director for I Expect You To Die 2.”
Schell Games made some fantastic games, and you can see that in fun. Games like Orion Trail, Orion Trail VR, Frostbound, I Expect You To Die, HistoryMaker VR, and the most Recent Until You Fall, each has this progression of ideas and concepts coming to life and striving to be the best that they can be. What do you feel is the winning formula for Schell Games?
“Regarding the progression of ideas, there’s no core team at Schell that makes all of the experiences, learns from our last project, and makes the next one better. We’re a bunch of parallel teams, and there’s only a little overlap between the projects listed in the question. So, the winning formula is not about what the single team does, it’s more about our studio values and our work culture.
Schell Games values the iterative loop of feedback, active listening, responding to feedback, and confirming that the feedback was addressed. We use this approach in client work, in some of the crazy technologies we take on during playtesting and even in our internal studio feedback program. The studio is always trying to get better at everything it does, including making games and taking on the next client project.
We can explore what went poorly with one project and apply that knowledge to future projects — even if it’s an entirely different team working on it. Our studio values and culture of iteration are the foundation of everything we do, and that’s genuinely the winning formula for Schell Games.”
The newest title, I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and The Liar was announced not too long ago. What can you tell us about the game?
“In I Expect You To Die 2, players return to the world of espionage. After secretly surviving the events of the first title, players go deep undercover to explore the diabolical intelligence the Agency received regarding Zoraxis’ move for world domination. Unlike the first game, this is less a set of standalone missions and more of a single experience with a cinematic feel that makes you feel like you’re the star at the center of your very own spy movie.”
At the early stages of the game, was it hard to look at the predecessor, I Expect You To Die, and figure out what worked for it, and come up with a way to make I Expect You To Die 2 even better?
“Not at all! It wasn’t hard because we’re always collecting feedback on what people liked and didn’t like. We knew exactly where to head next because we have all this data from playtests on the first game. We know there are different types of players who like the game and enjoy it for various reasons. Everyone has a favorite level. In some cases, it divided our player base into some people really disliking a level while it was others’ favorite. For the second game, we tried to unite those groups and have fewer times where only part of our community would like it, and other players would be frustrated. We want this to be a game that all of our fans will love from start to finish.”
From the first game, was there any feedback on some of the puzzles that when you looked at I Expect You To Die 2 and think that maybe we shouldn’t try that type of puzzle here or maybe if we do this to that type of puzzle it will it might have a better effect than you thought about?
“Because you have to start at the beginning of levels after dying, we made sure to limit trial and error, difficult timing, or tricky twitch puzzles, especially near the ends of levels. If we have puzzles like that, we tried to put them towards the beginning to create a faster loop of getting back in to try again. This way, players can get back to where they left off quickly.
The first game had some puzzles that took some amount of time to complete just by their nature– even if you know the solutions. So replaying puzzles can be frustrating as you wait for the solutions of puzzles you already know the answers to. For this game, we tried to create more shortcut skips so that once you know the solution, you’re able to get back to the spot in the level where you last left off, faster.
Will the players be surprised with some of the situations in the game, something that they were not expecting that you cannot wait for them to experience?
“Definitely! Some of the early feedback we received from people who played the experience so far is that each level felt like a surprise. They were surprised by the diversity of places they went and the challenges faced, and we were delighted to find players never knew what crazy situation they’d find themselves in next.”
The opening song of I Expect You To Die was just perfect. Please say there will at least be a song in I Expect You To Die 2?
“Yes, there is! In fact, music plays a larger role in this game than in the first as well. We know how much everyone loved our virtual music video. We knew we had to deliver something of equal or greater caliber this time around. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
Sound is always important with VR. Were there some things that you have found to be more difficult when trying to get the right sound for a game that you feel shouldn’t be a challenge?
“The main challenge I’ve found for sound design in VR is that while our players can see things in their peripheral vision to make them look in a particular direction, they can only hear in either their left, right, or a combination of their headphone speakers. Getting a sound to really seem like it’s above you is very challenging. We can simulate it to a degree, but because of the nature of the headphones we use and the headsets’ speakers, we’re pretty limited in how much of that simulation we can do.
Lucky for us, if you happen to have your head turned, and the thing above you happens to be a little bit closer to your right ear than your left ear, that helps us simulate a bit more. Below you and above you tend to be riskier design areas, puzzle areas, because of that audio limitation.”
The art style can help or hurt the visual immersion in VR, but Schell Games has pretty much found the winning formula. Is there a certain style that would be amazing in VR, but maybe the technology is just not there yet?
“I think studios can produce just about any style in VR that you’ve seen in other games. The main difference is that the player is embodying the camera. There’s definitely a ton of styles I’d love to see in VR that I haven’t seen yet, but I don’t think they’re held back by technology, so it’s just a matter of time!”
Do we know yet about how many levels will be in I Expect You To Die 2 yet and will there be possible DLC in the future?
“We’re not ready to reveal how many levels the game has, but it does have levels. One of my main goals for this project is to make it feel like a single experience and not just a set of levels. By the end of the game, we want you to think back at your experience as a singular story.”
When it comes to Virtual Reality, where do you see VR in the next 5-10 years and what are you the most excited for?
“What I’m most excited about is more people playing. Not just in numbers, but also in greater diversity. Early numbers are showing that more women are playing VR percentage-wise than traditional console games, which is really encouraging. Greater representation of who’s playing and developing VR games is also exciting. One of the huge benefits of a new medium like this is that it can have a different culture around making the games and playing the games and experiences.
Those are the two related things I’m most excited about. I think VR will explode in popularity when more people get their hands on it. It can be a platform for everybody and not just predominantly white males first, with some indie stuff on the fringes. It could have a different cultural foundation than we saw from traditional console video games.”
I Expect You To Die 2 on Steam is coming in 2021. Is it safe to say that it will release on other platforms such as the Oculus Rift/S & Oculus Quest/2 on the Oculus Store, PlayStation VR, and Viveport in the first half or second half of 2021?
“We just announced I Expect You To Die 2 is returning to PS VR during PlayStation’s PS VR Spotlight. Stay tuned for more announcements! :)”
What are the top 3 things you would tell your younger self?
“I don’t know about the top 3, but I would want to tell my younger self, the kid in the backyard making up games, that game design is a skill and profession. I learned that very late. As a kid, it just felt like video games were made by companies full of programmers and that was somewhat true for a lot of early video games. I don’t know how much different my life would be if I figured that out sooner, but I feel very fortunate that I eventually figured it out.”
With the library of Virtual Reality games continuing to grow, what would you say to someone on why they should experience I Expect You To Die 2?
“Chances are good your library has a lot of diverse games, ones that have you moving, interacting with other people, maybe you have your battle royales and your horror games, but you may not have a lot of games that make you feel like you’re in a movie, put a smile on your face, and make you feel cool and clever. I also really appreciate that IEYTD is played seated, so it’s a great break from the more exhausting VR games. It’s also a great game to play with friends, even during quarantine. You can pretty easily play over video calls and have your friends telling you what to try next. Once we’re all back together, it also makes for an excellent hot headset game where you cast to a big screen and you and your friends take turns in the headset to solve the puzzles.
I’m really excited for you all to enjoy IEYTD2. I think you’ll really enjoy it and all of its surprises. I think the first thing you’ll want to do when you beat it is to share it with your friends.”
I really want to thank Charlie for taking time out of their schedule and day to give us a closer look at I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and The Liar coming in 2021 to PlayStation VR, Steam (and hopefully other VR platforms) as well as talking to us about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.