Frost Earth Studio’s Andrea Marinelli talks to us about the dream-like VR alternate world experience.
VR is a medium that’s still very much in its infancy, but games that try to leverage the very distinctive and specific capabilities of virtual reality occupy a unique space in the gaming industry. Owing purely to their very nature, they try to offer experiences that are very different from what one would expect from a regular video game in the most fundamental ways. One such title is Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams, which, above all else, is a collection of environments that, blending beautiful visuals and art style with evocative music, look to be places where you can just exist and relax. It’s a curious concept, and curious as we were about it, we recently sent across some of our questions about the game to developers Frost Earth Studio. The following questions were answered by Andrea Marinelli, head of development on Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams.
"Sometimes it’s a pity to have so many beautiful games with beautiful landscapes but the objective of the game keeps pushing you forward, and quite often you can’t really stay and enjoy the environment, because the gameplay keeps distracting you with monsters, other people to shoot at, and so on. But this is different in Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams, because we specifically want the player to take their time, hear every sound, enjoy the music and enjoy the moment."
How did the idea come about to make a game that is focused more on immersing the player in an environment rather than one that focuses more on story or action?
The main concept idea was at first of the publisher Oxygene Media and we worked together to evolve it into what it is today. I believe the concept is absolutely valid, and the reason is that there are a tons of games already focussed on story and action, but almost none that try to do something different. Sometimes it’s a pity to have so many beautiful games with beautiful landscapes but the objective of the game keeps pushing you forward, and quite often you can’t really stay and enjoy the environment, because the gameplay keeps distracting you with monsters, other people to shoot at, and so on. But this is different in Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams, because we specifically want the player to take their time, hear every sound, enjoy the music and enjoy the moment.
And with the kind of atmospheres we were able to create, I believe there are really reasons to stay and chill in the environment. However, Mind Labyrinth is not just music and environments, but it still has some gamey aspect to it, like the runes to hit for inspirational quotes or the hidden spheres to find to unlock a special scenario.
We believe there’s a portion of VR gamers out there that was waiting for a more peaceful and emotional experience, and Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams delivers exactly that.
How does the music and art in Mind Labyrinth ensure that it evokes the right responses and emotions from players?
While we’re all different and as such everybody react to visuals and music in different ways, there’s still a common pattern we can follow, both visually and musically speaking. We have really different kind of scenes, some of them are a lot more peaceful, some other are more adrenaline-fuelled or adventurous. We made sure the default music combined with specific scenario evokes a specific emotion. Obviously, as I said, everybody can react differently, but it’s really rare you’ll not find your own piece of world to relax in in Mind Labyrinth. We have a lot of variety that should be good for a lot of tastes. Last but not least, we also took advantage of chromotherapy with a lot of different scenarios with different predominant colours that help evoke the right emotion.
How many different kinds of environments are there in Mind Labyrinth?
Mind Labyrinth has 10 environments in total, plus another one that is unlockable. Most of the environments are relaxing, a couple are a bit more energetic, we also get one that is specifically darker and a bit more scary. But most of them are for positive emotions.
Can you talk to us a bit about how puzzles work in the game?
We have few simple puzzles in the game, but they are there to be mixed with the main idea of the game of just being there, chilling and relaxing. There are really just few puzzles in some specific “dreams”, and they are not particularly challenging, so as to not feel frustrating, but not even that simple. They are not the main focus of the game at all though.
"I really feel like this game is born and meant to be played in VR since the beginning. I’m sure if we’ll ever decide to release it on non-VR platforms, it should have quite a lot of changes, but this isn’t planned at all for now. We’re 100% focussed on the VR experience."
Mind Labyrinth seems like the sort of game that wants its players to interact with their environment- does the game itself do anything to encourage that or to prod players in that direction, or is that dependant on the player’s own curiosity?
The more the player will be curious the more he’ll be able to interact. The interactions are there to enhance the experience, increase the immersion and to create that moment of amazement when you realize you can actually pick a candle to light fireworks, or extract a sword from a rock and so on. We want players to interact with the environment, but we don’t want to make it obvious so players will need to understand and feel with what they can interact with.
Given the narrative surrounding VR games and motion sickness, how did you go about trying to sidestep potential issue with Mind Labyrinth?
We have enabled by default the teleport system. The teleport is one of the most used and comfortable system for those people that really aren’t able to stay in VR for too much, or they are particularly sensitive to motion sickness. We also got snap rotation, which is also quite common in VR, to avoid motion sickness while artificially rotating the camera. However, we always encourage people to disable teleport and use the free locomotion system, which lets the players walk and run where they want, because that’s the most recommended way to play Mind Labyrinth to truly explore every inch. We also made sure to have slow and constant movements instead of a lot of different accelerations, which also help quite a lot while walking in VR.
Overall, we really didn’t hear almost anyone feeling motion sickness in our title.
Can you talk to us a bit about what your plans are for DLC and post-launch support?
Sure! We’re already working on our first patch, which should improve quite few things already. Our first patch should fix and improve some stuff, like improving a few assets, improving and adjust a few FX volumes, and we’re also almost done with an improved interaction system that should make it a lot easier to grab and interact with objects, both with DualShock and PS Move. We implemented the smoothing turning, which is a highly requested feature, and we visibly improved the sharpness and visuals on the PS4 Pro, another highly requested feature.
Future patches will also keep fixing every bug that will pop up, and improve whatever we can. We also think we’d like to improve our currently available environments with more and new ways to interact with it, and even expand some scenes to make them even cooler and bigger.
Speaking of DLCs, we have plans for completely new and additional environments and music packages with well known composers.
Do you ever see yourself launching the game on non-VR platforms, or do you feel the game would not be able to have the same effect in any other way?
I really feel like this game is born and meant to be played in VR since the beginning. I’m sure if we’ll ever decide to release it on non-VR platforms, it should have quite a lot of changes, but this isn’t planned at all for now. We’re 100% focussed on the VR experience.
"At the moment Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams has better performance on PS4 Pro, resulting in more responsive tracking and slightly better visuals."
Do you feel there is potential for experiences like Mind Labyrinth to occupy a larger space in the VR market?
We definitely hope so! Everybody should give it a look, because even people that don’t think they need to may find it really peaceful, and they may want to come back to it when they need to relax. Or they may want to show it to friends, to show maybe some darker and adrenaline-fuelled atmospheres.
VR is a growing medium, but one with a lot of potential. What kinds of experiences do you think can help push it further? Have there been any VR games till now that have particularly stood out to you?
Obviously I think games and experiences like Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams can definitely help. There’s a whole portion of gamers that are kinda left to themselves in terms of having calm/relaxing VR games, because they are often too simple, and sometimes they don’t even give you the chance to move and are basically almost 3D slideshows, which is not our case at all. But that being said, I believe also some high quality multiplayer games could help a lot. The hardware isn’t there yet, but to be honest what I’m mostly looking forward is a true VR MMORPG. That would surely excite quite few people!
Are you taking advantage of the PS4 Pro’s extra power to deliver better visuals or performance?
Yes, at the moment Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams has better performance on PS4 Pro, resulting in more responsive tracking and slightly better visuals. However, we’re working on pushing the limits of PS4 Pro way more in the next patches, and hopefully we’ll improve the visuals quite a lot on PS4 Pro.
The game is not coming on the Xbox One due to obvious reasons, but given that the Xbox One X is a pretty powerful console, do you think Microsoft is missing out on not working on their own gaming headset like PSVR?
I believe Microsoft is kinda missing an opportunity here, yes, I believe so. I don’t think it’s a huge one just yet, because the VR market isn’t huge already, but PSVR has sold 3 million and more headsets, which isn’t really that bad. I guess Microsoft is waiting to have an even more polished headset, maybe something wireless or with less wires or is even waiting on the next console. I obviously prefer the Sony approach.
"I believe Microsoft is kinda missing an opportunity here, yes, I believe so. I don’t think it’s a huge one just yet, because the VR market isn’t huge already, but PSVR has sold 3 million and more headsets, which isn’t really that bad. I guess Microsoft is waiting to have an even more polished headset, maybe something wireless or with less wires or is even waiting on the next console. I obviously prefer the Sony approach."
Next-gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
I hope they’ll be powerful enough to make sure they’ll handle really higher resolution VR headsets, and most importantly I hope they’ll release a VR bundle with much improved VR inputs. It would be really cool to have inputs made specifically for VR.
Do you think VR will be one of the defining features of next-gen consoles?
For Sony? Probably yes, they’re seeing a growing and potential market. For Microsoft, it is hard to tell, because they seem to be ignoring VR a bit this, but hopefully I’m wrong and they’ll surprise us all.