After more than a decade of working on home and portable consoles, Ready At Dawn last year released Lone Echo and its multiplayer spinoff Echo Arena on the Oculus Rift & Touch. We talked with Ready At Dawn Founder & Chief Creative Officer Ru Weerasuriya to understand how the games came to be, the challenges faced during production, and the future of VR.

Update (2/7/18, 9:41AM PT): All of the Lone Echo keys in this article have been claimed!


Update (2/7/18): In celebration of Lone Echo’s win as the Rift Game of the Year in Road to VR’s 2017 Game of the Year Awards, Oculus has provided us with five keys each valid for a full copy of Lone Echo on the Oculus Store. We decided to give them away in this cool behind-the-scenes article that we published back at the game’s 2017 launch.

We’re not going to make you sign up for anything to get them (though if you aren’t already following us, feel free to link on FacebookTwitter, or snag our Daily Roundup newsletter); the keys are hidden in the images of this article. Use these instructions to redeem your code through the Oculus desktop app. After you’ve redeemed your code, it would be mighty kind of you to drop your code as a reply in the comments below, that way your fellow readers don’t waste their time trying to redeem codes which have already been claimed.

Original Article (7/24/17): “Literally, from that one conversation, everything happened,” an animated Ru Weerasuriya told us, talking on the eve of Lone Echo’s launch. He’s referring to a conversation he had with Jason Rubin—Head of Content at Oculus—way back in late 2014.

“We were in the last six months of working on The Order (2015) and we had ideas in the team about what we wanted to do next. I happened to meet Jason at a convention and we just took a little time to the side and started talking. He was telling me about why he had joined Oculus and what they wanted to do there, and I shared some ideas about what Ready at Dawn wanted to do.”

The team had their interest in VR piqued around 2012, at an internal conference for Sony developers.

An early prototype of PlayStation VR, codenamed Project Morpheus | Image courtesy Sony

“Shu was there with the tech team,” Weerasuriya said, referring to Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, “they were showing the very first iterations of ‘Morpheus’ which of course became PSVR. We had a chance to play, a chance to experience what VR would feel like in this generation.”

Clearly that early experience had a big impact on the team.

“Every time before that where VR had started and stopped I don’t think any of us felt, as development and content creators, that we were totally sold on VR. This time around, though, there was something different about Presence. Not just the resolution, but we truly felt that we’d be able to make people feel like they’re in another world.”

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With development on The Order wrapping up, with Ready at Dawn talking about future projects, and with a familiar face from the game development scene in Jason Rubin arriving at Oculus, there was what Weerasuriya calls a perfect storm.

“But we didn’t want to just start making a VR game, we wanted to figure out what about VR we needed to do differently. And that’s how it started: we created a movement model, trying to figure out how to break certain boundaries in VR. We did a very, very small demo. It was just this little room with the movement model with a controller and two balls that were basically your hands. As you pressed the bumper buttons you would basically reach out to the world and move around. From there Oculus decided to sign it on.”

Prototypes & Development

Space suit concepts | Image courtesy Ready At Dawn

And so work began in earnest in May 2015 on the project that was to become Lone Echo. At the time, however, it had a different name. “It was called Ascendant,” Weerasuriya said, “since we were creating zero-G movement and a zero-G experience how better to do it than to do it in space, in this plausible vision of a future for humanity.”

Turning introspective for a moment, he continued. “What we didn’t understand at the start of the project was what VR was gonna be about. So we started off with the idea of this story-driven single player game, same kinda thing that we’ve done in the past. But we had to relearn the basics of building a game to build it in VR.”

This learning extended to team sizes. “At the very beginning it was a handful of guys, four or five guys. Then after the demos the team went from 5 to 15 people very early on.” This is a number that crops up a lot when talking to VR teams working on AA content. It didn’t stop there, though. “We ended up, at the height of the project, at about 60 people on Lone Echo,” he told us. “It’s a pretty big team. A very big team, for VR definitely.”

From one conversation and the demo it spawned, Lone Echo and its evocative setting began to take shape. Before fully committing to a direction however, another demo was required to explore the idea further.

“The second demo was a space station and a big ball that was Saturn.” And the visual fidelity? “It was all grey-box, very basic.”

Weerasuriya shared stories about people just hanging out in this demo, as simple as it was, and how the team knew they were on the right track. Remembering back to those days, and indeed our own formative experiences with early VR content, we know exactly why this would have been captivating for people. Indeed, in the final game it’s possible to lose a lot of time just soaking up the atmosphere.

On the subject of time we shared that Road to VR’s Scott Hayden, in reviewing the game, spent around six hours inside. Was that about par for a play through? “That’s actually on the shorter side,” he suggests. Of course a lot comes down to the individual; some people race between objectives on a sprint to the finish, while others stop to smell the virtual roses.

The Tech Behind the Magic

A finished corridor aboard the Khronos II space station | Image courtesy Ready At Dawn

With the team in place it was time to move beyond the grey boxes into a world of 90Hz refreshes and forward renderers. Was there a temptation to jump into engines such as Unity or Unreal to jumpstart development? As it turns out, no.

“Everything is proprietary. It’s still the RAD engine. It’s the engine that shipped The Order, it’s the engine that shipped Deformers.”

Perhaps that answer isn’t surprising. Ready At Dawn are famed in the industry for being able to extract every ounce of power out of a host system, notably with their work on the God of War franchise on PSP and PS3, and more recently The Order: 1886 on PS4.

It’s one thing to build for a more traditional console title, however, and something else entirely to build for VR. When quizzed about the pitfalls and challenges in moving the RAD engine into VR, Weerasuriya seems entirely unfazed: “Those are the barriers that we love having, put it that way.” A little bit of revolution to mix in with the usual technological evolution then.

Were they not perturbed at the challenges of making their engine work with the intricacies of VR rendering?

“The reality is that everything is hard. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you work on mobile, or VR, or PS4. Whatever it is, everything is hard,” Weerasuriya said. It’s a very pragmatic view to take, and suggests a fearlessness in the face of the technical hurdles. “It’s a brand new beast. You have no idea what it’s going to be like.”

“The engine actually adapted quite well where the rendering was concerned. Yes: hitting 90 FPS is a must and therefore we needed to find inventive ways to actually get there, but I trust [our tech team].”

The larger challenges, it turns out, were to come in an area that works hand-in-hand with the pure rendering capabilities of an engine: believable human characters driven by AI.

Continued on Page 2: Believable Characters »

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  • CURTROCK

    A great read and a treat to get a peek inside what is arguably the best VR experience, so far.

  • Wednaud Ronelus

    This is an excellent article! It’s so well written and so touching. I am looking forward to try this experience and share my thoughts and ideas with you guys via this platform.

    W.J.R

  • Even if I spend the most time in the Vive, while owning both headsets, the sheer scale of this and the evident pedigree of the team, makes me want to absolutely not miss this. I need to either fix up my Rift machine/ space or I guess install Revive :P Hmm…

  • ShiftyInc

    Great article. This game made me feel excited again for the future of VR. Not sure if it’s because we have seen so many bog standard vr games lately that this was so good. Or this game is just that epic. Either way a must have for all VR owners.

  • YmpulsiV

    Great article. Like the fact that the team, unphased by the hurdles of the new VR medium, worked it all out. Kudos!!
    The result… I’ve already logged so many hours “inside” Lone Echo’s environment and I’ve only had it a few days. The game has a lot to offer and there’s also a lot to take in.
    I’ve experienced only a few minor glitches when playing where the game froze. I just re-started.

    • Lucidfeuer

      Where is it possible to try the experience?

  • Ninjai71

    It is an great idea to let the player be an AI. But some little things, I would like to have in Lone Echo too: if you wake up the first time as an AI, this should look and feel more like the grandios awakening scene from the good old Robocop 1 movie. Later on the vision could be also a little more robatic, if know what I mean. Just a very little point so.

  • Lucidfeuer

    I hope there is no tutorials.

    • Ninjai71

      There is a tutorial, but short and not annoyingly. In fact it’s very good integrated in the game.

      • Lucidfeuer

        It was more a way of saying that I hope it works so naturally well that you don’t need a tutorial. I will to try it out.

        • Ninjai71

          Controlling the game is very easy and immersive. Reviews say it’s a masterpiece. I’m very looking forward to play it finally :D

  • beestee

    I just finished playing this game.

    It is the best VR experience I have tried to date, even toppling my previous favorite Robo Recall.

  • Ninjai71

    I finished it too and I am amazed. For me it’s the best vr game ever, too. This should be a blueprint for other VR-Game Developers ;)

  • benz145

    *MASTER THREAD:*

    Key finders, AFTER you claim your key, please comment the key that you found as a reply to this comment. I will compile them here so that other readers don’t waste their time trying to redeem keys that have already been found. There are five keys total.

    • Benoit Djerigian

      Key Found: F933H-GMPNX-QFXEK-9NM37-FGMF4
      Thanks a lot for the update!

      • Newbee

        XKC9C-3MHXX-AEQK3-MF9H4-9TTGW
        Thanks!

    • Oak

      Thanks a lot for the key ! Found Olivia’s one :
      NP94X-XRT63-TEYQC-76TAE-7KPK6

    • Keimator

      Found Key: TNMKK-MRW3F-4XQMH-4R6GM-W4TKX
      Thank you, I’m excited to play it!

    • Leeloyd

      Found a KEY there : 497QR-NERNP-J4GY7-YKXRC-F4693