Gnomes & Goblins is a real-time interactive experience currently in development by VR production company Wevr and created by film director Jon Favreau, an industry professional known for his work on films such as the Iron Man franchise, Chef (2014) and The Jungle Book (2016). Releasing yesterday on Steam for the HTC Vive, I curiously popped my head into the fantasy realm and was immediately entranced by the solidity of the world set in front of me.

Spoiler Alert: This preview will likely ruin some of the magic of playing through the 5-minute experience for the first time. It’s highly suggested if you own a Vive, that you download it here and play it once through before reading.

Entering the main menu, you’re confronted with a lone sign post. There are no instructions, no helpful voices to tell you where to go or what to do, only a lit candle sitting atop a tree stump and a number of unlit candles appended to the various directions. It’s simple, clever things like this that spark something deeper inside you, that drive you to look, touch and experiment with the world of Gnomes & Goblins.

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Lighting the ‘Goblin’ signpost with my candle (‘Gnomes’ was unavailable in this build), I was instantly transported to an enchanted forest filled with tiny rope bridges and homes carved into the trunks of living trees, all cast in an autumnal hue like some sort of beautiful dream. Fireflies buzzed as I playfully opened window sills to peak into the little village’s various homes, and even stuck my giant head down into a hollowed out tree trunk to find an archetypal medieval pub with beer flagons and wooden barrels.

Since locomotion is 1:1, meaning you have to actually walk around to move in the space, the experience is only so large, but the density of the village diorama and interactive items like acorns and apricots that you can pick from the trees had me exploring and playing around for a while before a certain rustling near my feet piqued my interest.

Wide-eyed little goblins peaked out of doors, ran on the tiny suspension bridges, and scurried around my feet. A curious little goblin inched closer to me as I beckoned him with an acorn in hand to lure him in. Snatching it from my grasp, he ran away behind the hollow stump, lurking back at me distrustfully and following me with his big, orb-like eyes.

Deciding that I could be trusted not to smash up their village (they are less likely to approach if you make sudden movements), another goblin wandered out of a tunnel at the base of one of the tree homes, toting a brass bell—giant for him, but normal-sized for me—and placed it at my feet.

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No words were exchanged between us, me and the goblin as he plopped down at the base of the tree, expectantly waiting for me to pick up the bell.

Grasping it, I started swinging it slowly like an old timey town crier as each ring of the bell awakened the a swath of different-colored fireflies around me. The more it rang, the more fireflies obscured my vision until the whole world was glowing in an ethereal light. My vision returned, I looked up to see that I was now the size of a goblin, standing in the center of the village.

With the bell still in hand, I rang it again to find that I could tour the village from the inside to see goblins drinking, sleeping, and staring at me with their large, expectant eyes.

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And that, sadly, was the end. It’s a world I desperately didn’t want to leave, although according to director Jon Favreau “[e]ven in this limited preview experience, I wanted it to be very rich. Where you felt like every time you went back into it you felt like you could find more.”

‘Gnomes & Goblins’ Preview on Steam (HTC Vive)

According to Wevr, who are also publishing the experience via their own ‘Transport’ software portal, and production partner Reality One, there is much more in store for the goblin’s fantasy world.

“As we look ahead to building out the full scope of the experience, we are engaging Doug Church, a veteran game designer and interactive story pioneer, to flesh out the game systems and design the interactions and activities – increase player agency and the range of possibilities you will be able to experience in this expanded world. We are already down the path of designing the expanded Gnomes & Goblins universe.”

No release date has been established yet for Gnomes & Goblins, but we’ll be following it closely.

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  • DiGiCT Ltd

    I just checked it but my setup is not on roomscale yet.
    They added probably a failover for it as i dont get the candle on the treestump.
    Need to check it again when i got it setup for roomscale.
    Only can say that the art already is amazing at the signpost VR menu.
    Those guys really know how to make VR shine,
    It is made in Unreal Engine 4, again super high end graphics.
    Even when its just that menu i seen it already let me feel bing in antoher place like a fantasy world.
    WeVR demos that came with vive are also awesome, but this one looks even more amazing.
    Hope to see much more coming from them,

    • DougP

      Re: “They added probably a failover for it as i dont get the candle on the treestump”

      I’m not certain if that’s the case or not but I know some people complained of not reaching the candle.
      However, like our 1st run-through, last night, the problem was actually that on 1st run the window doesn’t have focus.
      So even tho’ the ghost-controllers show-up, you’re unable to do anything.

      If you get around to trying it again, make sure & manually set focus to the window on your desktop. (like Alt-tab to switch/back & click into it).

      That’s fixed the problem for some, myself included.

  • DougP

    My spouse & I tried this last night – Wow, just WOW! What a great little experience.
    Graphics were fantastic, top-notch!
    Felt plenty *interactive*, unlike say TheBlu.
    And the little (brief!) “story” that unfolds feels very organic.

    [spoilers ahead…]
    The audio & visual cues that lead you along to take certain action.
    I used the branch to knock down the fruit the goblin wanted.
    I think there are truly multiple ways (some more/less interactive) that the brief scene can unfold.
    For example – I dropped a bunch of acorns down the shoot. That got action out of the goblin. As well, handed the goblin a bunch. Similarly, re-stocked some peaches I’d accidentally knocked from the storehouse.
    [end spoilers…]

    Great fun, incredibly immersive. Highly recommend to anyone with a Vive.
    I’ll put everyone one in this as a “1st time VR” experience, going forward.

  • zuben

    This nearly perfect little demo has reinvigorated my inspiration to design for VR.

  • Burke Drane

    I make games for the Vive and have been thinking along similar lines. Great art. Great interface… unfortunately, with my expensive developer setup that runs other Vive games great, this ran < 60 fps :( Also, one goblin approached, took an acorn, and I never saw another sign of life and I waited about 10 minutes… I'm really hoping the final product gets the polish it deserves.

  • craylon

    I also liked it very much. I only spend 20min with it but definitly will come back for more.

  • chaos_in_ashland

    Yes it is a very cool demo. More!