Have you ever looked at the city at night with all the lights, the people, and just wonder? Maybe wonder about what really goes on or think about who truly is good and evil. Each person has a tale to tell if only you willing to take the time to listen. But what about those that can’t make it for whatever reason? The ones that if given the chance could be something great, they just need to be able to want a better life, but something, whatever the reason is holding them back. It really is quite inetersting when you think about how even your own city could be filled with some type of wnderer just wanting to have a purpose. But when I heard that developer IRIS VR was creating a game that was full of life regardless of the curruption and able to give the player the choice to either doing the right thing or fighting with moral conflict, I had to know more. So I reached out and the CEO and Creative Director, Blair Renaud was happy to talk about their newest game, LOW-FI, and to also talk about Virtual Reality.
Interview with CEO and Creative Director of IRIS VR, Blair Renaud
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at IRIS VR Inc.?
“Hey. I’m Blair Renaud, overlord and creative director at IRIS VR Inc. I do the art, design, sound, and pretty much everything outside of the code and music.“
You are a man of many talents as you have previously worked at RockStar Games, is the co-founder of Quantum Capture, Occupied VR, and IRIS VR, which includes projects such as The Holy City VR, Technolust, and Body Mind Change Redux to name a few. What have been some of the projects and games that you have been a part of that the players might be aware of?
“I worked at RockStar long long ago. I think the only game people would recognize from my time there was Grand Theft Auto 1969. I did the sound design, a bit of mission work, and build the map of London. The first game I worked on was the sequel to Quarantine called “Quarantine II: Road Warrior”. You play as Drake Edgewater, a cab driver in a dystopian cyberpunk city. Maybe more of an inspiration than I thought at the time. I released a few free demos of pitches I did for VR stuff early on as well. Including They Live and RoboCop.“
Your newest game, Low-Fi, was announced a few years ago. What can you tell us about the game, the main character, and what it really means to be LOW-FI?
“One of the driving ideas behind LOW-FI is that you (the player) decide who the main character is. We’re really trying to do everything we can do to let them decide what kind of game LOW-FI is. The loose background story is that you’re a police officer who has been transferred to city-block 303. A particularly crime-ridden area, where you are basically the only authority. That’s it. What you do is up to you. You can be as corrupt as you want, or play things by the book. You can discover the deep mysteries of the world, or just hand out in the arcades and casinos and cable your money away. Most of the population is jacked into the Platform. The only people left on the streets are the “low-fi”. Those either too poor or medically incapable of jacking in. Though a few decide to live outside the platform for ideological reasons.“
Ever since I saw the game was announced there was just something about the city that I could tell would come alive in VR. What can you tell us about some of the updates you have made over time to get LOW-FI that right amount of cyberpunk feels?
“The mood and atmosphere of the world are super important to us. It’s something that VR can deliver better than any medium. I generally work backward from what most would consider normal. I’ll jump in and start working on an idea of an environment with no plan at all, other than creating something that popped into my mind from a dream, or maybe some other inspiration. So the mood comes first. Once I’m in VR, inside that environment, that’s when the writing and gameplay start to come in. I just sort of hang out and think to myself “wouldn’t it be cool if X happened?” or, “I think there should be a robot working there”. I think the cyberpunk feel sort of comes from that kitbashing mentality. Its cyber, and a bit punk. As is a lot of my inspiration.“
I like the fact that in the game there is a lot to do, but it’s up to the player what you want to do. Without giving too much away, what are some of the things that the player can actually do?
“Well, pretty much whatever they want to do. There’s not really an overarching plot of slay the dragon or rescue the princess. You’re in the world with other characters who have their own stories. If you choose to, you can get involved with them, help them out, or extort them, or even kill them. I want the morality to be grey in that way. Maybe you find out that a character is a horrible person and you want to fulfill your Dexter fantasy. I say go for it. You may choose to try to find out more about a particular aspect of the world, like what is happening on the Platform that everyone is jacked into, or what the AI that have walled themselves off are up to.
Outside of the stories, there’s a ton. You can hack machines on the street to mine crypto for you, you can hand out traffic tickets, become a mercenary and decommission some robots.. honestly, hopefully, whatever you want to.“
So you can really hang out in the arcade or test your luck in the casino?
“Yes, totally. If you want to blow all your money on arcade games, that’s up to you, we’ve got quite a few addictive games to play, and playing the slots can be more lucrative than being a cop if you get lucky. 😉“
I take it because it is up to the player to do what they want, that there will of course, like in life, be consequences for the actions that are performed?
“Depends what you mean by consequences. Moral consequences for sure, but not really any sort of limiting gameplay consequences or fail states. You’re the lay here, and people get away with murder all the time.“
What can you tell us about the different types of upgrades in the game?
“Loot can be pretty special in VR, as its more tangible. You can hold the object in your hand and examine it from every angle. We want the player to be able to loot and build and buy as much cool stuff as we can think of. In the game already we have skins for your gun and cruiser, upgrades for your guns, decorations for your apartment (as well as new apartments), AR programs and a ton more. In the future we’ll be adding a lot more upgrades for the cruiser, EMP weapons, engine upgrades for speed and maybe even a bobble head and some fuzzy dice.“
I really like the music that is being used in the trailer. What can you tell us about the music of Low-Fi and was it too difficult to find the right sounds and music that fit?
“The music in the trailer is by Secret Sign, a great local group from Toronto. https://secret-sign.bandcamp.com/. We had the good fortune of hooking up with Gunship https://www.gunshipmusic.com/ for the Kickstarter who are doing an LP for the game, which will also be sold separately for their fans. I wish I were a musician and could take any sort of credit outside of recognizing dopeness, but I’ve just been lucky to have amazing artists come to me and offer their help.“
Originally Low-Fi was supposed to come out on PlayStation VR, but you made the announcement that it is instead coming out for PlayStation 5 and PSVR 2. Besides the power of the PS5 and potentially the PSVR 2, was there anything else to hold off on the release such as a feature that the PSVR 2 might have that would take advantage of your vision of how Low-Fi should really be experienced?
“Well, the plan has always been PSVR 2, we just had to be careful about the wording for legal reasons. Early on we just said PS5 I think, and people assumed VR as it’s a VR game. haha. That said, the reason we skipped PSVR on PS4 is more about the controllers than the power of the device (though it’s definitely a bonus). Playing LOW-FI with PSmove or DualShock would take a lot away from the experience.“
Working with VR has to have some amazing and challenging moments. What has been your most amazing and challenging moment thus far and what still surprises you about Virtual Reality?
“Honestly, most of the technical challenges are quickly forgotten about once they’re overcome. I think both answers are more about the VR market itself. The most challenging thing is to survive in the VR market especially as an indie. And it’s amazing to me that we’ve managed it, and that I get to do what I love, bringing my dreams to reality for other people to experience. Yes, I know how corny that sounds, but it’s true. I’m constantly surprised by the direction of VR experiences and what works and doesn’t. I was expecting more deep cyberpunk RPG and Dungeons and Dragons (you know.. nerdy VR stuff), but instead, we have pop arcadey rhythm games and brightly coloured low-poly mobile stuff. In the beginning, I was surprised that VR didn’t blow up and go mainstream out of the gate, but the more steam it picks up, the less surprised I am (if that makes any sense) haha.”
Do we have a release date for LOW-FI that you can share and do you see it coming to like the Oculus Quest or the Oculus Store or even Viveport in the future?
“We’re already way behind our initial launch date, almost entirely due to the pandemic and having to take care of family obligations. Things are picking up again though, and the best we can estimate is “before the end of the year”. Really hope it will be sooner than later.
LOW-FI will definitely not be coming to Quest. It’s a purely next-gen title. Though we do have a spinoff experience planed called AGENCY, which has already been approved by Oculus, it will come after LOW-FI’s launch. It will be on the Oculus Rift store, probably not Viveport, and definitely will be on Steam.“
If you could open the door of Virtual Reality and escape the world as it is today, but never return, who would you be, where would you go, and what would be doing?
“I would escape into a copy of this world and be me, making a VR world that I could come and go from whenever I wish. I would also wish for more wishes.“
So what’s next for you?
“Just going to keep on keeping on. Building LOW-FI and making it the best it can be. I’ll probably never stop making VR experiences. Hopefully, eventually, I’ll be programming holodecks.”
With the library of content for VR continues to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Low-Fi?’
“Indies are the ones pushing the medium forward, but we need support from the community. For the average player though, I think you should just check out what’s there and see if it sounds like something you want from VR. If you want a neo-noir cyberpunk world to explore and feel like you’re in a holodeck program instead of playing a game, LOW-FI might be for you
I really want to thank Blair for taking the time out of his day to give us a closer look at LOW-FI and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
To learn more about the game, visit the site. To learn more about IRIS VR, please visit the site. To learn more about Quantum Capture, please visit the site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and follow them on Instagram. And to learn more about Occupied VR, please visit the site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, follow them on Instagram, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.