What can you tell us about the stealth mechanics?
LB: We’ve found that stealth gameplay lends itself absolutely perfectly to VR. The tension and atmosphere is really brought to life in a way that’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced it. It’s similar to the horror genre — when you play a horror game in VR, the fear is elevated to a whole new level, and we’ve found that the tension and anticipation of sneaking and hiding are magnified in much the same way in stealth games.
Because Phantom is a VR game, you really have to take your actions and surroundings into consideration when trying to sneak through an environment. Every movement and sound that you make could attract attention, and your enemies can be anywhere around you. You’ll often find yourself below a walkway with an enemy patrolling above you, and the only way to be sure of their location is to listen carefully to their footsteps creaking overhead. Of course, staying quiet isn’t the only way to get through an encounter — there are lots of options for distracting the guards, like shooting out light sources or engaging in combat.
How open are the environments? I noticed branching pathways in certain parts of the demo.
LB: Every encounter in the game has multiple ways to approach it. Sometimes this is down to the gameplay options presented in the area, and other times you can choose to take an alternate route through the level and discover different locations altogether. We’re designing the levels to give the player as many options as we can — not just to provide choice throughout the initial playthrough, but also to give players more things to try out and discover when they replay an area. We’re adding unlockable medals at the end of each level, which challenge the player to complete the mission in a certain way: no alarms raised, no kills, 100% accuracy, etc. Our hope is that players will keep coming back to experience the missions in new ways and discover everything that the environments have to offer.
When did work on the game start? How has the project shifted during development?
LB: Work on the game started around 18 months ago. Back then it was a very small team of about three people experimenting with the concept and seeing what ideas we could come up with. Initial prototypes were made on Rift. Once Oculus showed us the new Quest headset they were working on, we could really see the potential for untethered VR. As such, development of the game has been made in tandem for Quest and Rift.
What’s been the hardest thing about making Phantom?
LB: The hardest thing has been getting the kayak controls just right. We wanted to capture the feeling and expectation of real-life kayaking, but we also needed to make sure that anyone could pick up the game and immediately enjoy it, regardless of their real-life experience with boats. For a while, we thought that we might need two separate control schemes, one for novices and another for boating experts — but we kept persisting and iterating, and we finally arrived at a version that works great for everyone. It’s intuitive to pick up and play for first timers, but it also has depth and nuance that can be learned over time and mastered (or will come naturally to experts). It took us a long time to get there, but we’re really proud of the results.
How about the most surprising?
LB: The most surprising thing has been watching new people play the game and discovering how many different ways there are to hold a gun and use a paddle! We’re always surprised by the ways that people come up with to play the game, and we’ve tried to cater to as many playstyles as possible.
What’s something you tried during development that wound up on the cutting room floor?
LB: Early on in development, we tried all kinds of ideas for different boats — we had one with a motor and a steering wheel, one with a second character who helped you paddle, and even one with water jets that shoot out to let you move sideways. Maybe we’ll use a few of these prototypes again some day, but for now we’re sticking to the kayak.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell VR fans and stealth fans about Phantom?
LB: Phantom is unlike any stealth game or VR game you have played before. It’s a unique and original combination of elements that together create something incredibly memorable and immersive. We’re looking forward to showing more of the game soon!