Comments made by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney late last year seemed to suggest that the project was funded to a level close to the $9 or $10 million of the original Gears of War (2006). “I’d have to check with Tim on that,” Whiting said. “He may have been referring to something other than the $10 million Gears budget that some people inferred from another interview.” He elaborated further, leading to our own estimate of a much more conservative budget.
Maybe not as high budget as Gear of War, but now armed with a more substantial team and with the backing of a major VR platform holder, attention turned to the task of building on what they had.
“The genesis of Robo Recall was all the stuff that we didn’t do in Bullet Train. We decided to make that into a full game. One of the things we noticed was that everyone had a great time shooting things, but they couldn’t reach out and grab anything and interact with it. Everybody was a little disappointed that they couldn’t and so that’s the first thing we did for Robo Recall.”
One thing that didn’t change between the two was the choice to go with teleportation for movement.
“We really started with comfort. That was one of the big things, we said nobody can get sick on this;” as a serious sufferer of simulator sickness I’m grateful for that, and it seems I’m not alone: “fortunately we have a few people that are very susceptible to motion sickness in the office, so they were our guinea pigs.” Poor fellows.
As laudable as this commitment to comfort is, there is a vocal portion of the VR community that want to see full locomotion options in all games. Would it be possible to drop the teleportation and implement direct locomotion? “No, it’s a central tenet of the game. The slow-mo is tied to that, getting up [close] and tearing the bots apart is tied to that. I just don’t think you could do that in a traditional locomotion game. You couldn’t move around as fast. We wanted to make sure that teleporting didn’t feel like a way to cheat, it was integral to the gameplay.”
Interestingly, writing this just a few days after release, modders have added exactly this type of functionality to the game, thanks to official mod support built into Robo Recall. While it doesn’t appeal to me personally, there are those out there hailing the modder as a hero and claiming to enjoy the game a lot more without the teleporting.
From my perspective they’re not playing Robo Recall any more; as I made clear in my review, I’m a huge fan of the speed at which the game plays out and full locomotion doesn’t have that same hyper-kinetic feel. With a button to trigger slow-motion it loses a lot of the rhythm that made the game fun for me personally, and literally breaks the design of the gameplay and all of the balancing work that was done.
That said, at least with mod support, Epic are allowing for people to take their creation in different directions even if they have no interest in taking it there themselves, and the community at large get the choice as to how they want to play. I can’t help but wonder if this is a route more developers might take going forward to avoid what seems to be an increasing schism amongst VR players.
Room to Grow
Leaving the locomotion aside, another potentially contentious point is the length of the game. It’s something that many other VR releases have been taken to task for, so clocking in at two hours for a run through the nine missions there’s an argument to be made that Robo Recall is a little light on content.
“The interesting thing,” Whiting says, “is that now we have to do two markets: those that have been using VR for a little bit, and those [for whom it’s] still their first or second experience. Two hours for a seasoned pro seemed reasonable—we’ve seen some people take upwards of three hours—but then on top of that the thing that really keeps it going is the stars and the unlocks.”
He’s not wrong. I spent a whole hour completing all the challenges for just one of the missions.
“We have a full modding system in there so people can go and make new bots, new weapons, new levels and all those classic mod things. We’re hoping that through seeding that community with a few Epic Games collaborations in there and then a few external partners can add a little more longevity to it.” That seeding, it seems, will include content from Epic’s properties such as Fortnite, Paragon, and Unreal Tournament. “We also have some collaborations that we haven’t announced yet with some external studios that use Unreal technology to bring their game content. So we’ve got bigger plans that are rolling out after [launch], but initially a bunch of exemplar content from Epic’s internal games.”
Something else I point out in the review is that the world itself can seem a little lifeless and static—especially compared to Showdown. I mention this and the response, while predictable, is reasonable.
“That’s mostly just a content creation time issue,” Whiting says. “There’s no reason we couldn’t add more of that sort of stuff to it but we had a limited art budget so we focussed on making the city look cool, and focussed a lot on real time reflections in the little pools of water and stuff that we couldn’t actually pull off in Showdown. So we went for a more static environment but we tried to pack more stuff into it. A nice next step for the next project would be to add some more dynamism into it. We definitely had more plans for it but the time budgets always get in the way of such things.”