When it comes to classic games, which ones do you think of? Does something that a lot of action, fighting, or horrifying come to mind? Maybe it’s a platformer, racing, or competitive? Classic games can mean something different to different players. But when I think about classic games, I start to think about the ones that helped help pioneer the ones that we see and play today. So when I heard that developer, Vertigo Games, was bringing one of those classic games and bringing it back in new ways thanks to VR, I have to know more. So I reached out and the project lead, Paul van der Meer, was happy to talk about one of their newest games, The 7th Guest VR and Virtual Reality.
Interview with the project lead at Vertigo Games, Paul van der Meer
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Vertigo Games?
“Hey, I’m Paul van der Meer and I’m a project lead at Vertigo Games on the 7th Guest VR game.”
Growing up, what were some of your most influential gaming moments, and what was that one VR moment that made you want to do more with Virtual Reality?
“Since I’m middle-aged all my influential gaming moments date from a time when computers were not online yet. 🙂 But I fondly remember figuring out the puzzles of the original 7th Guest together with my best friend, sitting in his sister’s bedroom as she had a pc with a CD-ROM drive. But I also loved the classic point-and-click adventure games from LucasArts, Sierra, and several other companies. And I really liked sneaking around in Thief.
VR has always interested me, I remember playing on a very early headset in the nineties during some game exhibition. I think it was showing Rise of the Triad. The headset was bulky, the resolution very low and the latency was probably horrendous, but I remember thinking: “This is the future of gaming!”
Vertigo Games’ portfolio of projects continues to be impressive from titles such as Anne Frank House VR, Arizona Sunshine, After The Fall, Another Fisherman’s Tale, and Unplugged Air Guitar just to name a few. One of your newest games, The 7th Guest VR, is a game from the 90s that has a cult following and is now being able to be relived in new ways thanks to VR. How did the concept come about to bring both familiar and new players to Stauf Mansion?
“As a long-time fan of the original and fan of VR, it felt like a match made in heaven. VR would allow players to place them inside the Stauf mansion like never before and let them explore. When we got in touch with Trilobyte, the original developer, we got the license to re-imagine the game for VR. And from that point on we just ran with it and tried to make something special that would appeal to fans of the original, but also to create a new experience, especially designed for VR as well.”
For those who may not be familiar with the game, what can you tell us about The 7th Guest VR?
“The 7th Guest was a very popular supernatural, mystery puzzle game in the nineties where a player was dropped inside a spooky mansion where seven guests had been invited to a party by the mysterious and wealthy toymaker Henry Stauf. The Toymaker placed a puzzle in each room and after solving it you saw a ghostly video of what happened to those seven guests. At the time the animated pre-rendered graphics and full motion video were absolute technological breakthroughs, made possible in part by the availability of CD-ROM drives. In our VR version, we want to give that same sense of awe by putting the players inside a beautifully real-time rendered mansion and showing the ghostly videos with a special 3d technology called Volumetric video. This technology allows players to experience the ghostly flashback from all sides and as close as possible in a way only possible in VR.”
Without spoiling too much, can you tell us about some of the characters in the game?
“They’re an eclectic bunch. 🙂 We have Brian Dutton, the ruthless and up-and-coming businessman. The Knox couple is stuck in a loveless marriage and up to their neck in debt. Failed actress and former homecoming queen Martine Burden; Hamilton Temple, aging illusionist extraordinaire. And Julia Heine, the last of the renowned Heine family. All guests were invited by toy maker and famous recluse Henry Stauf. But there will be one more guest appearing at the party…”
For those that are familiar with the game, what are some new ideas and horrors that Vertigo Games has brought to life for the game?
“We stay true to the original story, but we flesh out the characters a lot more. And next to that, almost all puzzles have been redesigned from the ground up to make sure they take the utmost advantage of being in VR. As far as the horrors go, that’s something you have to find out for yourself ;).”
When the game originally came out, it used pre-rendered 3D graphics for the flashbacks throughout the mansion. What has Vertigo Games done to recreate those flashbacks for Virtual Reality and were there any challenges you were not anticipating when it came to making those scenes?
“Since projecting anything on a flat plane in VR simply falls…flat, we had to come up with another way to recreate those filmed sequences. An obvious choice would be to use rigged 3d-characters, but that didn’t feel in line with the spirit of the original which had ‘real actors’. So we went with Volumetric Video, captured at 4DR Studios using a 4DViews system and finally optimized using HoloEdit by Arcturus. This allowed us to film actual actors, complete in wardrobe, and play their captured meshes back in the game. Apart from just being really cool to see, this felt like a true spiritual successor to the original. And as far as challenges go, filming in volumetric has very similar challenges to filming for a green screen, both from a production point of view and from a technical one. They’re big to process, heavy to render, and time-consuming to film. So it felt very much like history was repeating but in a good way.”
The game has its fair share of puzzles that players will have to try to solve. Will there be anything that will assist the players with the puzzles, such as a hint option or maybe a way of taking notes?
“We will have a hint system that the player can carry with them, so it’s always there when you need it. We want the game to be challenging, but getting stuck and aimlessly walking around is no fun.”
There are also secrets and hidden doors within the mansion. Do you have a favorite room that you cannot wait for players to experience?
“That’s like choosing your favorite child. I love all the mansion’s rooms for different reasons. Some rooms I love because the artists did such an amazing job and it’s just so much fun to explore and look at all the details. And others have this fun puzzle that I think players will really enjoy. And other rooms have these cool ghostly scenes. So I don’t have a favorite, I really do love them all.”
“With the game coming to Quest 2, Steam VR, and PlayStation VR2, what did you find was most interesting when developing the game for multiple platforms and how will you be incorporating the PlayStation VR2 features, such as the haptics and eye-tracking, into the game?
“It’s always a challenge developing for multiple platforms, but we set up the project so that it can scale up with more powerful platforms. And the PlayStation has very interesting features, with eye-tracking you can delve into the intricate details of puzzles by focusing your eyes on specific pieces and areas within the rooms through foveated rendering and the haptics give that extra layer of tangibility, which helps a lot as we have a lot of items to interact with.”
Sound is important in a game such as The 7th Guest VR. Did you find any interesting ways to use 3D audio?
“The original soundtrack by The Fat Man is very iconic and so our composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden paid a suitable homage to it, while still giving it his own style. In our VR version, we have tracks that seamlessly flow from one to the next to match what players expect nowadays. And sound is very important indeed, so we have ambient sound effects to help the mood and physics-based sound effects when you interact with objects. And all are properly spatialized to match what your ears expect to hear based on what your eyes are seeing.”
Virtual Reality is all about immersion. What do you feel is most important about immersing the player in the game?
“There isn’t a single thing, a lot of things have to work to be properly immersed. It needs to run smoothly, the interaction needs to be intuitive, and the movement must feel natural. The story needs to be engrossing, the music must set the proper tone and the sound effects should match what you’re seeing and doing. And finally, you need to be in a beautifully modeled environment with interesting things to discover. If any of these things is lacking you won’t be as engrossed as you could be. VR development, just like regular game development, is very much a team sport. And at Vertigo we’re fortunate to be able to work with a lot of very talented people.”
The 7th Guest VR is coming out this year. Do we have a release window when players can expect to play?
“You can expect to roam the foreboding Stauf mansion sometime in 2023.”
If you walked through the door into THE VR DIMENSION, but it was in the world of The 7th Guest and you could pick anyone from any time period, who would be your Henry Stauf and why?
“For my Henry Stauf, I would select Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the renowned author, and creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s fascination with puzzles and his ability to weave complex mysteries in his stories make him a suitable choice. His literary background and understanding of suspense would add depth to the character of Henry Stauf. With Doyle’s involvement, the virtual reality dimension would incorporate intriguing puzzles inspired by the Sherlock Holmes series, enhancing the immersive experience for players.”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to expand, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience The 7th Guest VR?
“Of course, if you know and love the original I think you would already be intent on revisiting the mansion. But for anyone interested in escape rooms, puzzle games, or discovering a fun, spooky ghost story I’d say Henry Stauf would love to have you as his guest. Just be careful what you wish for…”
I really want to thank Paul for taking the time out of their day and for giving us a closer look into The 7th Guest VR and talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.