With the Echo Combat open beta just around the corner, we took a few minutes to catch up with Ready at Dawn CEO Ru Weerasuriya who filled us in on the newest abilities coming to the game, how it might change prior to launch, and the studio’s commitment to VR.
With one week until the Echo Combat open beta, Weerasuriya told us about new abilities that weren’t available in the recent closed beta: the Ark Grenade which, unlike the basic explosive grenade, expands into a large sphere and acts like an EMP, stunning enemies that touch it, and giving the attacker a chance to close distance and finish off the kill. There’s also a Shield, a new piece of equipment (alongside the Repair Matrix and Threat Scanner) which deploys into a large piece of cover which can be climbed upon and also shot through (from one side only); the shield can be especially good for the defensive team as it allows players to set up temporary cover in otherwise vulnerable areas.
As for the closed beta, Weerasuriya said that it validated a lot of Ready at Dawn’s approach to Echo Combat, but with the game not coming out until later this year, he expects more will change before its final debut, even following the open beta.
“One of the things that we’re also going to do is add to the game,” Weerasuriya told me. “One goal that we always had was—especially Echo Combat—was gonna be a game that was gonna start with the closed beta with a subset of things that you had, and you see today that we’ve already added a couple more things. And the goal really is, by launch of the game at the end of the year, that we actually put something together that has more functionality, potentially more modes, but more ways to play the game. [We want to really] build this into a way where you get into the game, you play the way you want to on the map that you want to, and the mode that you want to.”
Echo Combat is novel compared to other VR FPS games because of the way that weapons aren’t separate items, but are instead actually built into your suit and deploy from your hand. Weerasuriya said that the studio eventually came to this conclusion after testing a more traditional item-based approach to weapons.
“One of the very first [approaches we explored] was using weapons in your hand that you can actually equip—that means that you would hold weapons, different kinds of weapons, and you could equip them them and shoot—but then we quickly realized that it went against the idea of why our movement mechanic kind of was something that people adapted to and loved, so we decided the guns need to be integrated, they needed to actually be part of your hands,” Weerasuriya said.
He told me the first three or four months of developing the game were about figuring out how players would interact with weapons. By opting to integrate weapons into the player’s hands, the grip button can continue to be used for the game’s novel zero-G locomotion which has players grabbing the environment and pushing themselves off of it. The guns even have a subtle animation where they fold slightly out of the way when you grab onto a surface, to make room for those beautiful procedurally animated hands.
When Echo Combat launches, it’ll be integrated into the very same lobby where players currently go to Echo Arena matches and practice their Arena skills. And beyond the Echo Combat expansion, Weerasuriya said that the studio continues to focus on expanding the Echo universe in a cohesive way.
The way he described it, it sounds like Ready at Dawn wants to expand the range of things that players can do from the single lobby space, rather than isolating players by creating content that functions as a completely new game, disconnected from what’s already available in the Echo universe. In that sense, it’s starting to sound a bit like Rec Room, which has a host of activities all under the same roof, allowing players to seamlessly have many different VR experiences without jumping between apps.
And while Echo Combat is nearer on the horizon, Weerasuriya affirmed that the studio isn’t done telling the story of Jack & Liv, the AI and human pair that are the central characters in Lone Echo (2017), the lauded single player counterpart to Echo Arena & Echo Combat, which left players with quite a cliff hanger.
“There is a lot behind the story of Jack & Liv that we want to keep on exploring. There’s more to that story, there’s more to what happens after you finish Lone Echo, there’s more to things that happen to them before,” he told me. “We’re trying to figure out how to best leverage not only the IP but what people are expecting of this in the future. We haven’t decided really yet what that truly is going to be as in like if it’s just going to be just an add-on or more. We truly hope that actually it’s going to be […] an experience that is as satisfying as the one that you’ve had in the past if not more.”
In Lone Echo and Echo Combat, Ready at Dawn has succeeded in making two of the most praised titles in VR to date. With Echo Combat well underway and some sort of Lone Echo continuation planned for the future, VR has become an inseparable part of the studio’s identity, and not something they intend to stop working on any time soon.
“I think VR is an amazing medium purely because we’re learned so much in the last three years of being in VR that we can’t see ourselves kind of detaching from it, because we’d lose part of who we’ve become as a studio,” said Weerasuriya. “We’re currently exploring a lot of ideas that would guide things that we haven’t seen in VR. In the future we hope to actually address certain things that we see today that we take for granted maybe that are not possible in VR, but we’re very much looking into breaking those boundaries and seeing how we can do things that are not being done yet, and kind of move the medium forward.”