Bebylon Battle Royale was first announced by studio Kite & Lightning back in 2015. Coming off of several impressive early VR experiences, the pivot toward a full fledged game was an exciting new path for the studio. But with sporadic updates on the game’s development over the last four years—and some radical changes in scope—it isn’t entirely clear what the studio will deliver, even if the game does launch this year.
Back in 2015, before the moniker ‘battle royale’ was strongly associated with the modern game genre, Bebylon Battle Royale was conceived as a third-person, beat-em-up VR brawler, well before motion controllers became a de facto part of the VR experience. At the time the studio expected to launch the game in 2016.
In 2016, Kite & Lightning announced that it had raised $2.5 million in venture capital, spurring the studio to expand the scope of the game from a “hybrid of Mario Kart party mode and Super Smash Bros” into a “mini-Sword Art Online… except in comedy… with adorable narcissistic babies….who love trolling each other.”
While the Smash Bros-esque game is the fundamental core of [Bebylon], we always envisioned a world that you could immerse yourself in. We want to create this amazing comedic world where you can craft your own personal character, cheer/boo/support your friends as a live audience member in the gladiatorial stages, or explore the world of Bebylon, from the shows it has to offer to the characters that inhabit it.
At the time, the studio expected to release the game in large chunks, starting with the first part in 2017, with more added “every couple of months.” However, the initial release never came.
In early 2018, the studio received $200,000 as part of Epic Game’s Unreal Dev Grant program. The no-strings-attached grant was given in recognition of Kite & Lightning’s low-cost real-time motion capture pipeline which has allowed the studio to do a lot with a little when it comes to Bebylon’s animations. At the time the studio expected the game would launch later that year.
This week—following sporadic development updates over the last four years—Kite & Lightning announced that it has launched a new Bebylon Battle Royale website, which now says the game is due to launch this year.
Not oblivious, the studio poked fun at itself by writing on the site, “[Beylon is] coming
2017, 2018, 2019, 2020!”
Along with the revamped website, the studio also released a cinematic short. The footage is claimed to be rendered in real-time in Unreal Engine 4—with animations captured with an iPhone and Xsens mocap suit—which makes it an impressive demonstration of the studio’s technical abilities. Considering the lack of gameplay footage, however, it does little to build confidence that the game will actually ship sometime in the next six months.
In the intervening years, it doesn’t appear that much has changed to bring Bebylon Battle Royale in line with motion control-based VR design, making us wonder whether the studio is hamstringing itself by sticking with VR.
The game’s zany premise (and resulting aesthetic) is still there in full force. It posits a world where an immortality drug caused babies to stop growing physically beyond a few years old, leading to a futuristic world controlled by babies which gravitated toward a gaudy gangster fashion—an intentional clash of polar opposites.
Despite the unorthodox characters, it should be said that the studio has honed the look of its ‘Bebies’ over the years; the game’s attention to visual detail is perhaps the one thing the studio has clearly demonstrated thus far.
But what about that whole “mini-Sword Art Online” element? It’s entirely unclear if that’s even still on the table. The game’s new website glosses right over that part, and instead speaks to combat, arenas, items, vehicles, and characters.
Instead, the closest glimpse we see to that vision of an expansive Bebylon virtual world that the company had mused about is—and I’m pretty sure they’re serious—a “multi-season animated series with a ruthless story arc between Game of Thrones and Fight Club.” The studio says it plans to “pitch the networks later this year.” They also have plans for a theme park (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if I’m joking here or not).
Kite & Lightning produced objectively impressive experiences in formative days of VR, but nothing close to the scope of Bebylon. It’s clear that the studio is full of creativity, talent, and ambition. But ambition might outweigh the other two.