Robo Recall is the game you wanted Epic Games' Bullet Train demo to become. After a quick but helpful tutorial showing me how to grab the pistols from my virtual holsters, teleport around the level and tear robots limb from limb by grabbing them at certain points, I was given a mission to go out into the world and recall some rogue robots.
And the game throws them at you. Gameplay will slip into bullet time, allowing you to dodge bullets or even swat them out of the air with your pistol or shotgun. Shoot one in the head, throw away the gun you’re using as if you were in an action movie and then grab another pistol from your holster in one smooth motion. It felt great, and the tracking on the Touch controllers was flawless throughout the demo. It was like being inside the best '80s action film about killing robots that was never made.
"You want the gun from a robot?" Epic’s Nick Whiting, technical director of VR and AR asked. "You just rip his fucking arm off. You can beat people with robot limbs."
The game outputs a single eye from the head-mounted display on an external monitor or television, allowing people to watch the carnage. There is also a chance the team will add scoring information to the external screen so people can keep track of how well the player is doing while they’re streaming. This is supposed to feel like an arcade game, complete with a robust scoring system and combos. The more creative you are with your kills, the better you’ll do.
The game will be an Oculus exclusive — that company is funding its development — and the five-to-ten-person team that created Bullet Train has ballooned into a full 15 person team at Epic in order to turn this into a real game with a release date in "early 2017." It will include a number of graphical jumps from Bullet Train, and this benefits Epic in other ways as well.
"Robo Recall pushes the visual and performance bar for UE4, which runs the game at a rock solid 90 FPS," the press release states. "Developers will benefit from Robo Recall’s features, as Epic regularly ships new engine upgrades to the UE4 community."
How to make it fun
Creating games in virtual reality brings up many challenges, and not just technical ones: How do you design a game that takes advantage of what feels like your entire body during play?
The team found that it needed to bring the holster a bit further out from where it would be normally on the hips of the player to make it more visible. You have to press down 90 percent on the Touch controller’s button to grab a gun, and let go to at least the 25 percent area to drop a gun. They didn’t want players accidentally grabbing stuff, nor dropping it once they found something they wanted to use. Those thresholds seem to work and give the player a sense of actively deciding to do those things, rather than it being an accident of the controller.
The other struggle was balancing the fact that the game included a lot of violence that shouldn’t feel wrong to the player. They struggled with that during production.
"It was hard to make sure the game was fun but not a murder simulation," Jerome Platteaux, the game’s art director told Polygon. "So we made sure it’s colorful, it’s fun, it’s arcadey so people feel good coming back and not feeling like killing people again and again. That was one of the big pillars we had."
They learned a lot about this subject from Bullet Train.
"Bullet Train was slightly on that path, we were shooting human with suits," Platteaux continued. "So that was the first thing, we made sure we’re not shooting humans anymore. We’re going to make sure the robots look like robots ... Even in the design of the gun, we weren’t trying to make them too real, or too close to the real one. We added some futuristic stuff so it doesn’t feel too bad."
There’s a tone they’re aiming for in regard to the scoring cues and the nature of the combat and action.
"We’re trying to hit that feel of like an '80s or '90s action movie, of not taking yourself too seriously," Whiting said. "To make it more comical."
Robo Recall was one of the best games I played at Oculus Connect 3, and grabbing new guns, ripping apart robots and becoming the star of a virtual reality take on movies like Demolition Man or Predator 2 was pretty great. While the full game won’t be out until early 2017, it will be free. And they’re hoping to release Bullet Train as well in the meantime.
"We’re talking to people," Whiting said. "We’re not ready to say anything yet, but that’s something we’d be happy to do."