The virtual reality space has grown in significant ways these past few years. Though still far from mainstream, it’s come quite far regardless, and the pace at which we get excellently developed titles that properly leverage the unique technologies of VR has become much more frequent. Another such game that launched a few months ago was Phantom: Covert Ops, nDreams’ stealth-oriented first person shooter released in partnership with Oculus. A game that looks as good as it plays, Phantom: Covert Ops has been received well by players and critics, and recently, we got the chance to catch up with its developers, and ask about its development, post-launch plans, their take on the VR medium and where it’s headed, and more. You can read our interview with game director Lewis Brundish below.
"The concept of the game is so unique that there was always a risk that people just wouldn’t understand it. It’s been wonderful to see players reacting so well to it."
Congratulations on the launch of Phantom: Covert Ops! How does it feel to finally have your game out there and being received so well by players?
Thank you! It’s a great feeling – the concept of the game is so unique that there was always a risk that people just wouldn’t understand it. It’s been wonderful to see players reacting so well to it, and finding the same fun and immersion in the gameplay that we always have.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the development of Phantom: Covert Ops?
The central concept of the kayak is really the core that the whole game is built around, but it also poses the biggest design challenge. Delivering an entire game where you interact with characters, complete objectives, take on an enemy army and save the world all from within your boat was no easy feat. Many basic principles of gameplay which are usually taken for granted had to be reconsidered and approached from different ways. It was exciting to develop gameplay in ways that no one has attempted before!
Stealth as a genre has sort of been neglected in this industry over the past few years, which is one of the reasons why Phantom: Covert Ops has looked like such an alluring prospect. During development, how important was it to you to develop a hardcore stealth experience, especially one that leverages the unique capabilities of VR technology?
Much like the horror genre, we think that stealth is an excellent fit for VR. There are lots of very emotive and suspenseful moments which feel significantly more powerful and immersive when you are experiencing them yourself rather than just seeing them on a screen. It was always extremely important for us to capture that tension, and we went through many iterations of the stealth mechanics to find something which maintained the believability whilst still being fun and fair to play.
Since launch, have there been any particular fixes or updates that you’ve been working on directly in response to player feedback?
Player feedback is very important to us – we’re listening to what players have to say, and have recently addressed some issues that were raised.
"Much like the horror genre, we think that stealth is an excellent fit for VR. There are lots of very emotive and suspenseful moments which feel significantly more powerful and immersive when you are experiencing them yourself rather than just seeing them on a screen."
Do you have plans to add more content to Phantom: Covert Ops down the line?
We released the first of our free challenge packs a few weeks ago, and I can confirm that there is still more content to come.
Given Phantom: Covert Ops’ unique mechanics and premise, there are many who feel the game has a lot of potential for some great multiplayer gameplay, especially co-op. Is that something that you’ve considered adding?
It’s something we discussed early on in development, but with the idea already being very unique as it is we decided to focus our efforts on creating the best single-player experience we could.
The frequency with which we see ambitious VR-only games such as Phantom: Covert Ops has been increasing, which has been great to see, especially for those who’ve invested in this technology and want to see it grow. How close do you think we are to seeing VR offering similar kinds of experiences on a regular basis?
I think that these kinds of experiences will naturally start to appear more and more regularly as VR becomes more and more mainstream. Huge IPs like Half-Life and Medal of Honour are now appearing on VR platforms, and others are likely to follow suit. We’re proud to have been among the first wave of these large and ambitious VR titles, and can’t wait to see the bar continue to be raised.
nDreams as a developer has been at the forefront of delivering VR-exclusive experiences for a while now. Given all that experience, and comparing where you started to where you are right now with Phantom: Covert Ops, how encouraged have you been with the growth of VR and the potential it has for even further improvement?
As a company we have definitely grown alongside the VR market, with our studio more than doubling in size over the last few years. Even now VR is still relatively niche, so we see a lot of potential for future growth – with the investment that companies like Facebook are putting into VR, all signs are pointing towards a mass-market adoption of the tech in the not so distant future.
As far as console VR is concerned, what improvements do you wish to see for next-gen as far as VR and PS5 is concerned?
I think one of the largest barriers to entry for new players into VR is the setup – plugging cables into the back of consoles, positioning cameras etc. The Oculus Quest has taken a great step in removing those barriers, and I hope that a lot of future VR tech follows suit. Creating an experience which is easy for players to interact with is more important to me than graphical or processing power alone.
"I think that these kinds of experiences will naturally start to appear more and more regularly as VR becomes more and more mainstream. Huge IPs like Half-Life and Medal of Honour are now appearing on VR platforms, and others are likely to follow suit."
What’s your take on Microsoft’s stance on VR and their reluctance to invest in the technology for Xbox Series X?
I think that VR and AR technology has a huge amount of potential applications outside of videogames, and that’s where Microsoft seem to be focusing their efforts currently with the Hololens. As this tech rapidly evolves it’s not surprising to see different companies exploring different applications for it, and while VR gaming hasn’t found a home on Xbox yet I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. As long as companies are continuing to develop the technology and push the boundaries of what it can do, we are all benefitting from that.