Stress Level Zero’s New Game ‘Boneworks’ Revealed, Striving for “Hyper-realistic” Physics-based Interactions

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Indie VR studio Stress Level Zero has been quietly working on their new title, Boneworks since going into stealth development after showing off an intriguing tech demo last year which featured rich, physics-based interactions. Today the studio is revealing Boneworks as a full game, due for launch in 2019.

Stress Level Zero is a veteran VR developer, having released Hover Junkers as a Vive launch title back in 2016, and following up with Duck Season in 2017. Boneworks, however, is something of a reboot for the studio. Yes, it surely incorporates what the development team has learned in the intervening years, but from a tech standpoint the studio started with a fresh slate and set out to redefine the fidelity of VR interactions by rooting their game in physical simulation.

Boneworks is described as an “Experimental Physics VR Adventure” with a healthy dose of combat. Featuring a full avatar, Stress Level Zero has sought to give players a rich sense of immersion and embodiment by driving everything with physics, from guns to objects to enemies. The studio says to expect the following:

  • Advanced Physics: Designed entirely for consistent universal rules, the advanced physics mechanics encourage players to confidently and creatively interact with the virtual world however you want.
  • Combat: Approach combat in any number of ways you can think off following the physical rules of the game’s universe. Melee weapons, firearms, physics traps, environments, can all be used to aid you in fights with enemy entities.
  • Weapons, lots of weapons: Boneworks provides players with a plethora of physics based weaponry; guns, swords, axes, clubs, spears, hammers, experimental energy weapons, nonsensical mystery tools, and anomalous physics weapons.
  • Interaction: Hyper realistic VR object and environment interaction.
  • Story: Play through the game’s mysterious narrative and explore the deep inner workings of the Monogon Industries’ artificial intelligence operating system; Myth OS.
  • Character Bodies: Accurate full IK body systems built from the ground up provide a realistic looking body presence and allow for a maximum level of immersion with physical interaction in the game space.

Where in most VR games you might reach out to a table in front of you and watch as your hand clips through the surface, Boneworks treats your entire avatar as a physical object which properly collides with everything else in the game. This includes simulations of object mass, meaning that heavy stuff will be difficult (if not impossible) to move, while smaller, lighter objects will be easy to move and throw.

Building out the game world in this way means that the virtual world and the objects in it behave consistently. The game’s developers say this enhances immersion because players won’t run into situations where they can’t do things they expect to be able to do, like reaching out to grab an object only to find it isn’t ‘allowed’ to be grabbed, or trying to hit one object with another only to find that the objects don’t interact with each other.

What that means, Stress Level Zero hopes, is that Boneworks will offer a rich sandbox for players to feel immersed within. Players will need to use what they understand about how the game world behaves works to succeed. But the studio doesn’t want to script puzzles so deeply that there’s only one solution; in fact they hope that Boneworks will offer the freedom that players could find novel and unexpected ways to solve the game’s puzzles by relying on the consistent physics-based rules.

The folks from Node, the YouTube channel hosted by Stress Level Zero developer Brandon Laatsch, offered up a good look at some in-development gameplay:

Boneworks is due out in 2019 and is said to feature puzzle solving, combat, and a story to tie it all together. The studio is currently targeting the launch for Rift, Vive, Windows VR, and Knuckles.

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  • Andrew McEvoy

    Looks Fan-fucking- tastic!

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      • nitromonkey

        please no

      • RayROogie

        just stop

  • MosBen

    This has me wondering whether there’s some future development to improve current tracking, or if we pretty much have tracking down now, with some iterative improvements over time. It seems like full hand tracking is going to become standard in the next generation or so. Will that be extended to full body tracking? Camera tracking like the Rift uses seems like it would make that sort of thing possible, but from my understanding of Steam tracking it wouldn’t work with that system. And, of course, it probably wouldn’t work with inside out tracking at all, right? Is there some solution other than what is currently in use that would be better and is coming down the development/research pipeline? Obviously, it seems like we’re going to want something that allows for greater fidelity in tracking what we’re doing with our bodies, but doesn’t require people to wear mocap suits.

    • Darth Buzzer

      Cameras can track everything. Good enough computer vision would allow you to recreate the human body to perfection in every detail, including all micro-expressions on the face / eyes.

      So really, there is no need to wear anything for tracking, as it will just happen with cameras – and eventually will replace mocap suits as well.

      Haptic Suits would only be utilized for the haptics themselves at that point rather than as a tracking solution.

      • MosBen

        I’m not remotely an expert in this, but isn’t the knock on cameras that it’s costs more in processing overhead? Would there be some other tracking solution that would allow you to track the body for movement and would be accurate, but wouldn’t be as resource intensive?

        • Bob

          Ultrasonics?

        • Darth Buzzer

          Depth Cameras as apposed to RGB cameras.

          Tracking would definitely be intensive, but a lot of optimization work can be done. The main point is that mainstream VR needs to avoid wearable peripherals at all costs, except for haptic gloves at some point, as people will put up with the 10 seconds of time to put those on.

          • MosBen

            I wonder if a single, battery powered external sensor makes sense for future headsets in order to capture skeletal movement, while most tracking is performed by inside-out cameras.

        • Baldrickk

          The “simple” solution would be to have the camera do most of the processing on-board – it wouldn’t return the imagery to the host, but instead the tracking details gleaned from the imagery.
          It would reduce the processing overhead on the host pc.
          That said, as we are going towards more and more cores anyway, it’s likely to be less of an issue going forwards.

      • Adrian Meredith

        I’ve often wondered about what cool stuff they could do with oculus sensors. For example using the imagery to do automatic green screen or using the images for coarse full body tracking. Even just being able to track the shoulders and hips would make a system like this much more accurate

    • Jerald Doerr

      I think mostly what you’re looking at and thinking is bad tracking is actually physics and render power from the video card. Calculating physics takes a lot of processing power. If you can pump more CPU or GPU power into calculating physics and you can turn the physics calculation rates (calculation per second) up and you’ll get a lot smoother animation per say… Don’t forget your CPU and GPU still need to calculate + render your game environment…

      This is also why I love having two video cards… You can set one to calculate physics and one that renders polygons keeping your CPU free to keep the party going.

    • Jerald Doerr

      I think what you’re looking for is a full motion capture suit like used for the movies… Adding something like multiple Xbox tracking cameras or newer tech of that type would be the “cheap” realistic option as to a person not having to jump in a full body suit. But you also have to understand how insane that would be because of your play area and IK mixing OMG… Your avatar body animation might look good but let’s say you push walk on your controller IK needs to take over your avatar’s legs and walk with your real lags standing then after you let go of the stick your avatar legs would need to snap back…. In a physics environment, this is just a mess… IM NOT saying it’s impossible but my god it would be a pain to implement for everyone who has this and not that and different systems.

      I don’t get motion sickness but just thinking about the technical difficulties of making it look the way I think you want it makes me almost vomit.

      • MosBen

        Interesting points!

  • Half-Life 3 Confirmed

    • Badelhas

      It certainly seems like half life indeed. We just need a good story now Very interesting.

  • 3872Orcs

    That’s insane! This is now my most anticipated VR game!

    • That’sright

      Elysium vr is cooler.

      • nitromonkey

        Umm no. Elysium is cool and all but i mean come on I feel like only a 7 year old would be more excited for Elysium. Plus it doesn’t even have a release date yet.

      • moGobs

        I looked up the trailer for Elysium and it don’t even begin to compare to bone works. It legit looks like a crappy early access game.

  • That’sright
    • Badelhas

      Graphics look like we’re back to the 80s

      • That’sright

        It’s the gameplay.

    • If you think about it, the pitch is very vague on exactly *how* this will all work together. Or why anyone would want to do the more boring jobs in our society?

      • That’sright

        500+ server, A real economy engine, the ability to do anything you want, this game is the closest to ready player one, imagine hanging out in your mansion in the game with 10 of your in drug dealer buddies, you guys are sitting down in your appartment watching a real movie that is streaming to your virtual TV in your mansion, then next thing the cops pull up looking for you and your buddies, the cops aren’t just A.I these cops are human players, now there is a shoot out, the Ambulance pull up the medical personnels aren’t A.I they are real players, now you go to jail, the prison gaurds at the jail aren’t A.I they are real players. Well now you get the point of the type of game play this game is aiming for, I’ll take the dip in graphics to play this type of stuff.

        • Regis Souza

          nobody will want to do the boring jobs, everybody will want to be cops or “drug dealers”

          • That’sright

            People like to roleplay, however I would be a cop tho.

  • Brian Burgess

    I was impressed with what was demonstrated on Node. Definitely keeping a look out for this game.

  • johnny

    WOW! I’ve been following them since that teaser video on their node YouTube channel, they made an amazing progress,this is a game changer, so awesome, great job, can’t wait for the game and to see more work from these talented people!

  • Rosko

    2019 shaping up nicely in VR.

  • RJH

    Cor!

  • Moe Curley

    These guys were bleeding edge developers who took major risks (although that probably didn’t even appear on their radar at the time) and moved our whole pastime forward as no one else could have at the time. I hope this is a success! Good on ya!

  • mirak

    I have to play Hover Junkers single player campaign.
    To this date Hover Junkers is still on of the best Vive games.

    The issue is how multiplayer games are badly handle by Steam when the user base is small.
    There is nothing to help you know if players are currently playing without having to launch a game.

    Before that, GameSpy lobbies would let you know that, or server browsers like All Seeing Eye.

  • Adrian Meredith

    Holy shiiiiiiiiiii. That’s really impressive. Valve needs this for hl3. If anything this studio should license it like the havok physics engine.

  • LopesPipe
  • Jerald Doerr

    Hmmm free with an order of steam knuckles… I’m sold!

  • This seems an amazing title, with an interesting Half-Life touch

    • Baldrickk

      Probably not a co-incidence that those robots look like headcrabs ^_^

  • LowRezSkyline

    One small problem – the knuckles controllers are not available yet.

    Speaking of which, what the hell is the holdup on releasing them? Any idea on the price?

    Also where can I buy them as a developer, I’m sick of waiting and I’m working on something that could benefit from these improvements.

    • Jerald Doerr

      Funny you should ask..

      So after doing a bit of research/snooping in files and whatnot. This is what I’ve come to… I could be wrong about all of this but!

      It looks like this game was made using a developer kit from Valve… For Valves Knuckle Controllers… The game has a lot of files.. Images, Objects, Sound files.. from old Valve games like Halflife 2, Counterstrike games…. Day of Defeat Source…. The list goes on… I think most of it comes “free to use” from the developer kit thats why it looks so much like a Valve game.

      So here’s my guess….
      Why are they taking so long?

      Remember the leak of Valves VR headset? Well, I’m thinking they want to release the Valve Knuckles, Valve VR Headset and Valve Lighthouse also with software to showcase their VR knuckles…. So it’s going to come with a super + Steller version of The Lab???

      I don’t think they plan on selling the Knuckles Controllers stand alone until they have enuff stock to make however many complete VR packages for whatever it’s going to be called????? Any thoughts?

      • LowRezSkyline

        Yeah that sounds like a whole lot of reasonable assumptions. ;).

        Any luck digging up where developers can buy them right now?

        • Ben Bega

          You apply for them via your steamworks account

  • impurekind

    Well this just looks impressive.

  • Etailer

    I’m ready to play this on the Index with the new knuckles controllers.