VR escape room games are one of the emerging genres that are particularly well-suited for the affordances of VR, and Schell Games’ I Expect You to Die sets the standard for creating this type of puzzle game. I had a chance to catch up with game design director Shawn Patton at GDC in March where he shared some of the design strategies for I Expect You to Die.
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I Expect You to Die finds the sweet spot of not making it too difficult as to be impossible, but at the same time challenging enough as to not be too easy or boring. So they do expect you to die, but to also learn something new about the puzzle with each iteration. Shawn talks about their primary design considerations which included making it a comfortable VR experience, creating it within a certain budget, making sure that available objects had clear affordances and goals to be achieved, and that solving the puzzle would make the player feel clever. They have also included a number of other achievements and being able to complete a level with style so as to encourage replayability.
There is also a lot of fun narrative elements sprinkled throughout the experience, and the game has one of the more epic introductory sequences that calls back to the early days of cinema where the credits showed before the movie begins. There’s also a really great tutorial at the beginning to teach you the button combinations that you’ll need to know in order to manipulate objects within an experience. They’ve designed the experience such that you can use some of the six degree of freedom affordances of the touch controllers, but most of the gameplay is done through analog stick controllers and buttons that are also available on a gamepad or even a mouse and keyboard.
I Expect You to Die was originally released as a short demo for Oculus’ Rift DK2 development kit, where it was the top-ranked experience for many months, and it also earned a number of different VR industry awards. I previously interviewed Jesse Schell after winning 3 Proto Awards in 2015 as well as after winning the Vision Inspire Award at the Unity Vision Summit. Jesse has a lot of experience in working with virtual reality prior to the consumer renaissance of VR, and has applied a lot of insights for how to cultivate and not break presence within an experience.
I Expect You to Die is also one of the five games that’s currently included within the Oculus Touch bundle selling for $80.