Schell Games, the studio behind VR titles like I Expect You to Die (2016), today announced its next project which promises to “blend various styles of sword fighting to create an intense, real-time combat expe­ri­ence that hasn’t been seen before with VR.”

It seems like VR gaming is finally starting to move away from trying to make everything an FPS. I’ve said in the past that ‘guns are the laziest method of VR interaction’ because most incarnations amount to little more than dressed up laser pointers, which ultimately don’t make great use of VR’s unique strengths (with a handful of key exceptions, of course). Melee combat stands to be more interactive and interesting because of how much it incorporates body motions and spatial awareness (things which VR does very well).

Following other prominently melee-focused VR games like In Death, Blade and Sorcery, and the upcoming Asgard’s Wrath, Schell Games is throwing its hat into the ring with Until You Fall, a “magic-infused, VR sword fighting game.”

Image courtesy Schell Games

From the brief description the studio revealed today, it sounds like the game will be a procedurally generated roguelike dungeon crawler, meaning players will battle as far as they can until they are inevitably vanquished, but may earn some sort of progress with each playthrough. In that sense, it sounds like it could be similar in concept to In Death [our review].

The initial announcement is short on details and offers no look at screenshots or gameplay footage, but the studio is promising “a VR sword fighting game that delivers a satis­fying combat expe­ri­ence,” and quite ambitiously aims to be a “visually stunning” game with a level of combat interaction that raises the bar for VR.

“We’re blending various styles of sword fighting to create an intense, real-time combat expe­ri­ence that hasn’t been seen before with VR,” remarked Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games. ​“Using our deep knowledge of these platforms, we believe this game will push bound­aries and leave players with the immersive mêlée fighting expe­ri­ence they’ve been craving.”

Oculus Unveils Viking Melee Adventure 'Asgard's Wrath' for Rift, Trailer Here

Those are some seriously ambitious claims, but they’re backed by the studio’s game development experience dating back to 2002, including well received VR games like I Expect You to Die and Water Bears VR.

Granted, much of the studio’s development experience leans toward educational/puzzle games, and nothing under their belt to date is as combat-focused, visually rich, and action-packed as Until You Fall is being described, which could make the game a defining moment for Schell Games.

Until You Fall is set to launch sometime in 2019 but the studio isn’t actually saying on which headsets it will be available. Considering that the studio isn’t saying, the upcoming Oculus Quest seems like a good bet, though a game of this nature would surely be welcomed by the high-end VR segment on PC and PS4 as well.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Andrew McEvoy

    Great. Looking forward to this. Looks like it could be another great knuckle cracker.

  • 3872Orcs

    SteamVR please!

  • MosBen

    Something that I wish we could move beyond is the idea that “better” in VR means “requires more physical skill/finesse”. I appreciate games like Beat Saber getting the player’s heart rate up, but I don’t think that “harder” is the same as “better” in basically any game. I tried Creed: Rise to Glory, and while I should go back and do some training, the game was much too difficult in my mind.

    • Michael Dean

      How was creed too difficult? What do you propose instead?

      • MosBen

        I don’t really have a good proposed solution, at least not specific to Creed. The issue is that it seemed very much to me like success in Creed depends on the player being pretty highly agile and willing to learn some complex physical maneuvers. Even fighting against what appeared to be the easiest guy quickly led to a loss, as I wasn’t moving or dodging fast enough and mostly just wanted to pummel on him.

        And that’s not to say that nobody should make games that are physically taxing or where developing a fairly high degree of physical skill is necessary for success. But there does seem to be a trend in VR now for games that require a lot from the player, physically, in order to succeed. And while I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not in nearly as good of shape as I was in my 20s, neither is most of the population. VR isn’t going to achieve mainstream adoption by placing high physical demands from the player, nor does the average person want to build a high level of skill in fake VR swordplay in order to have some fun in a game. I haven’t put a ton of time into Gorn, and frankly I think that Gorn could have done a better job giving the player an idea of how to start the game, but without knowing anything it’s pretty straightforward to get into the game and achieve some level of success. I’m sure that higher levels require more skill, but there’s still fun to be had for people who don’t care to reach that level. Similarly, Beat Saber looks cool at Expert +, but I’m only on Hard, and the friends that I show it to are mostly on Easy or Normal, and everyone has a good time.

        Basically, if “the immersive mêlée fighting expe­ri­ence they’ve been craving” means that player movements are tracked well and feel good when connecting with objects, that’s cool. If it means, “a difficult game that requires practice, skill, and fitness to succeed”, then I think that that’s a trap that VR could fall into by appealing to a very specific group of players with somewhat high mobility and fitness, and not appealing to anyone else.

        • Brian Burgess

          I think the easy solution to that is difficulty settings akin to those found in a game like Uncharted. Make normal difficulty accessible to a wide net of players and then a hard difficulty setting for those who desire more skilled play.

          • MosBen

            Sure, an “easy mode” is always a good thing to include, but it does seem like several companies are focusing their VR game designs specifically around more “real” or “skilled” interactions. Is there anything worth enjoying in “Until You Fall” if you play on easy mode and don’t care about mastering their version of sword combat? It doesn’t seem like it to me because the focus seems to be on creating a game around more accurate/challenging dodging/blocking/parrying/etc. It comes off to me as a game designed *for* difficulty leading to mastery. And there are certainly successful game series in the 2D space that do this, you Dark Souls, etc. But those games exist in a niche of hardcore gamers who want that sort of thing. It seems like VR should be moving towards a more general audience, attracting non-hardcore players.

          • Brian Burgess

            Which games do you feel are leading this trend? Most I have played are accessible. And for every simulation style game, there is atleast one alternative that is arcadey. In fact, there are a lot of cases in which more arcadey titles exist than sims in any given genre. Creed is a good example. Creed itself is a boxing simulation which has a great alternative in Knockout League.

            If a dev team has a vision for their game that includes it being difficult, I believe there is room for it in VR and they should pursue it. I don’t think such games threaten the continued development of games like Job Simulator.

          • MosBen

            In Death, Creed, and the writeups for Asgard’s Wrath sound like the direction that they’re going in. It’s just a trend that I’m noticing. And I don’t think that it’s completely unreasonable. Roomscale VR is largely about moving around in a space, it’s not crazy that some studios are taking that in the direction of requiring more precise, physical movement in that space.

            It’s also possible that I’m reading too much into phrases like, “intense, real-time combat experience”, but it certainly sounds like “get gud” to me.

            But I think that this is something that people should talk about because I think that it would be a shame if the experiences of transporting people to a virtual world became closed off to people with different physical capabilities. You’re right, of course, that there are lots of VR games that aren’t physically taxing, I just hope that this isn’t how a lot of VR companies are seeing the future of VR.

    • namekuseijin

      I grew up mashing buttons on a sofa and I hate fitness/gym. That said, VR is all about having a sword in your own hands, not pushing buttons and watching the steely muscles of the game hero swing the sword. There’s no feeling like that when it is you pulling it off. Superhot, Raw Data, Sairento, Gorn, Blade & Sorcery, etc… bring on the true VR revolution!

      • MosBen

        I think that we should be careful about defining what “VR is all about” too narrowly. And I’m not suggesting that melee based games are bad, just that the developers should be careful to make games accessible for all fitness and skill levels. Really high level Beat Saber players are capable of pretty impressive physical skills, and the game caters to that, but it’s also a game that is extremely welcoming at easier difficulty levels. Beat Saber isn’t the first VR experience that I show to people, but after I’ve run them through a few VR basics, I usually have them try a song or two, and even people who aren’t super fit or mobile can usually do well at basic levels. Or at least, they can have fun without feeling overwhelmed (especially with no-fail mode on).

        It’s great that some people like getting into VR and working up a sweat as they bob and weave in some virtual fight, but if that’s the only way to experience a game then the potential audience is limited, and right now I want VR to be as welcoming as possible to the widest number of people possible.

  • IanTH

    In Death, the game where you use a bow for not only all your kills, but also as an option for movement, is “melee focused”? That’s news to me :-p

    • Baldrickk

      They probably meant “not focused around guns” or the name crept into that line being on their mind due to being similar in terms of being a rogue-like VR game.

    • namekuseijin

      yeah, not quite melee, just ranged combat. Trickster fills the bill here as a great melee combat and roguelike maps…

  • Rosko

    Personally I much prefer games with some progression story and adventure over rogue like procedurally generated levels. In death and compound are great games apart from not having the motivation or desire to play for long periods. Also don’t agree with authors thoughts about melee being somehow better for vr. There are some serious issues and difficulties with getting melee to work in VR and I think no matter how clever the devs might be there will be some clunkyness when interacting with virtual objects until we have much better feedback and haptics.

    • Brian Burgess

      I find Rogue Lite games compelling if the core gameplay mechanics are good. As far as sword fighting mechanics, I feel differently about development. VR is a new frontier and the standards for gameplay mechanics have not been standardized yet. This will only occur if developers takes chances and lay the groundwork, just like in the mid 90’s when 3D games were new.

      Flat gaming is the polished medium it is now because of the many gameplay mechanics that were layed out over four generations. The first 3D games were awkward and did not control well. Many different types of gameplay mechanics were created until a standard was formed for each style of play. The same thing needs to continue to occur in VR. Development of gameplay mechanisms shouldn’t halt until this or that periperhal is created, they should continue to develop as the technology develops so that gameplay mechanics will coalesce into a polished experience.