‘Bonelab’ Dev Reveals How Custom Avatars Drive Unique Gameplay

Items, levels, and vehicles can be modded too


Bonelab, the anticipated sequel of Boneworks (2019) from developer Stress Level Zero, is pushing ahead with its physics-driven gameplay by allowing players to import custom avatars which will gain dynamic stats that influence gameplay.

In the release date trailer last week we saw how Bonelab will give players a way to quickly jump between avatars which will change their size, appearance, and other attributes like speed and strength. In a new video, the studio shows off the attributes the game uses to assign the capabilities of different avatars: Height, Mass, Agility, Speed, Strength Upper, Strength Lower, Vitality, and Intelligence. The studio says the stats are based purely on the avatar’s proportions.

The studio says it also worked diligently to create a ‘body remapping system’, so that avatars that are vastly different in shape compared to the actual player’s body continue to have a realistic range of motion without having the avatar clip through itself.

But players won’t just be restricted to the avatars the game provides—Stress Level Zero founder Brandon Laatsch tells Road to VR that players will be able to import custom avatars. The game will attach stats to those avatars just like the pre-installed ones.

Image courtesy Stress Level Zero

Custom avatars for Bonelab will be based on the studio’s ‘Marrow SDK’, which will be available on launch day. The Marrow SDK will allow users to adapt third-party avatars to work with the game.

“We’ve been testing with a large variety of avatars from the Unity asset store and other popular tools and have been getting good results. We’ll likely add a template that represents best practices [for configuring avatars for Bonelab] in a later version of the SDK,” says Laatsch.

And while players can technically important whatever size of avatar they want, the studio recommends sticking to bodies from one to four meters tall in order to prevent unintended issues.

“[The height recommendation] is to prioritize any fixes that fall into that range before fixing things that go wrong at extremes. For example, if you make a 0.1 meter avatar [in the current version of the game] you are smaller than your holsters [which would be problematic]. We don’t impose any limits, so modders are welcome to venture into the WIP realms.”

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Bonelab modding will also go far beyond custom avatars, says Laatsch.

Players will be able to add new levels and avatars to the game on day one. Future versions of the Marrow SDK will also allow players to mod Bonelab with additional items, vehicles, and even more complex levels.

Modding will likely be easiest with the PC version of the game, but we expect it will be possible to mod Bonelabs on Quest via sideloading. We’ve reached out to the studio for more info on that front.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Ad

    Will it come to Pico 4? Will it support DLSS 3? And what is the format used for the custom avatars so I know how to find some?

    • kontis

      DLSS 3 for VR? Was there any announcement?

      That would be surprising, because Nvidia officially admits it INCRESES latency, as these fake frames are generated after the real frame (based on input) is rendered and is meant to make the game feel smoother, but not more responsive. They are trying to mitigate this problem with nvidia reflex and don’t recommend it for e-sport games…

      • Adrian Meredith

        Yeah dlss 3 looks (tons of artifacts) and sounds awful (latency) and not a good match for vr.
        It’s basically a great way to cheat at benchmarks

      • Ad

        Motion smoothing is core to how VR works. Also all VR has huge input latency and it doesn’t matter because arm movements take 1000x longer than thumb movements. I don’t see people using wired VR controllers to reduce their latency.

    • MeowMix

      Oculus made a big deal at Connect (6?, 7?) that the next Stress Level Zero game was coming to the Quest2 (Project 4). My guess is there was probably some funding or other incentives (support, hardware) at play that may make BoneLab some type of exclusive — timed ? SLZ has responded to zero questions on Twitter regarding Pico support.

  • Oh, this is very cool!

  • Arcticu Kitsu

    This is on my list of games to get. Tracking it. Can’t wait to play around with it as I had with VRChat, and other games while also being overly curious about the whole modding side of things.

  • Most hyped VR game possibly of all time, and what engine is it made in? Unity, that’s right. Unreal Engine is really dropping the ball on VR.

    • If only a hit Unreal Engine series came to VR, one that had tons of impact and is due for a revival and could really show how VR and Unreal Engine go hand in hand… like Infinity Blade or something

    • Raphael

      It’s like betamax and VHS. Unity isn’t very good overall and with questionable practices by the developer. Unity = VHS.

    • I think “Hype” says it all. It’s not a pretty game. Asgard’s Wrath, Robo Recall, Red Matter, and Moss were all gorgeous, and all Unreal based.

      I think the biggest issue with Unreal games are that, if you’re going to make a game with a high level of graphical fidelity, you better have a user base to pay for it! VR games just don’t make NEARLY as much money as flatscreen games.

      It’s not that they’re “Dropping the Ball”, it’s that studios that employ that many artists need a big payoff to justify the salaries. If you’re game is basic, Unity is good enough. Boneworks/Labs is a very “good enough” looking game.

      The surprising thing with the Unreal engine is how easy it is to program with. I learned “Blueprinting” in 2 months and was making games. So you find alot of asset-store dumps from amateur game-makers, that look great but don’t have much real content to them.

  • Not a single person here pointed out that VRChat has had this same avie system for YEARS now?? This isn’t REMOTELY new! I can’t be the only person who’s used the really big and really small avie’s.