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Ubisoft brings Werewolf party game to virtual reality

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You have five minutes to figure out who the werewolf is and kill them

Ubisoft's Werewolves Within gives friends a chance to drop into virtual reality and try to figure out who the killer is among them when it hits this fall, the company announced today.

Social party games that have a group of friends gathering and trying to figure out who the outsider is before they're killed by him or her have been around and popular since the '80s. What started as a Russian psychological experiment of sorts called Mafia quickly spread among college students in the country and then abroad. By the '90s it had been commercialized and taken many new forms, including Werewolf.

In all of the games, the concept has a group of friends all secretly taking on different roles, with nearly everyone trying to figure out who the baddie is.

Ubisoft's Werewolves Within is based on that classic party game, giving each player with a VR headset a cartoonish avatar and a secret role to play, and then setting players loose on one another as they sit around a campfire.

While the game allows players to cast suspicion on a player, or use their roles to see or hear certain clues, it is mostly driven by the players themselves and their ability to talk, argue, like and compel one another over the built-in voice chat.

As you speak, your avatar's mouth moves and the game uses the tone of your voice to animate the character's face and body movements. A player can also use the D-pad to call up a few canned movements, like pointing at someone or crossing your arms.

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After five minutes of gameplay and arguing, the game forces players to vote who to kill as the werewolf. Then, based on that decision and the rules, it announces the winner.

To win the single-round game you either correctly choose who the werewolf is, survive as a werewolf or convince players to kill you when you are the "deviant."

The game is given a bit more in the mechanics department than simply bluffing and arguing through the use of randomly assigned roles, each of which has its own ability.

  • A townsperson can elect a leader, giving that one person two votes.
  • A village tracker can lean in either direction and, if a werewolf is on that side of them, hear growling.
  • The watcher learns two possible roles for a player; one is true and one is false.
  • The gossip learns one possible role for one of two players.
  • The werewolf can sense each player's role and know the identity of other werewolves.
  • A turncloak is a human who wins if the werewolves win. He or she also knows who the werewolves are, but they don't know who he or she is.
  • A deviant can only win if he or she is killed.

Gameplay starts with the game showing each player a piece of paper with their identity written on it. Once started, players use a book to see how many of each role are in play that session. They can also use it to help mark someone as suspicious or use their special ability.

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Every time a person is marked suspicious, they receive an exclamation point over their head that everyone can see but them.

The game also allows two players to lean toward one another, if they're sitting side by side, and activate a private chat that no one else can hear. Standing up in real life mutes everyone in the game for 10 seconds so the standing player can argue their case.

The charming graphics and setting, a campfire, add a lot to the experience, but mostly they are powerful tools for inspiring people to really invest in the game and become more gregarious. The result is surprisingly fun.

David Votypka, creative director for virtual reality at Ubisoft's Red Storm studio, said that the team started playing around with ideas for VR games a few years ago. Ubisoft's chief creative officer, Serge Hascoet, mentioned the classic party game formula of Mafia and asked if the team could figure out a way to get that sort of social play into a VR game.

"We spent about a year and half," he said.

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What the team discovered, he said, was that when you put a group of players — in this case, six — into a shared virtual environment and network their head positions, body movement and voices, it starts to feel like they are really in the same space.

In action, that sense of community is quick to take root, and powerful once it does.

Granted, in the demo I tried, I was in the same room as the five other players. But in the game we were all sitting around the fire in a random order. After the game ended, I took my headset off and was a bit surprised to find that the person who was sitting next to me in the game was actually sitting across the room with another cluster of three players.

Werewolves Within is designed to be played entirely remotely, with no two players in the same room, and the team has put a lot of work into increasing the social aspects of the game.

"There's a lot of nuance that drives discussions between the players," Votypka said. "For instance, no one can figure out who the werewolf is by theirselves."

While the game felt fully fleshed out to me, Votypka said it's still in alpha.

"I feel like we're in the right place for balance," he said. "Now it's about finishing it up."

That includes things like potentially adding scorekeeping for people who might want to play a set of matches, or adding a way to let players feel like they've progressed in the game or accomplished goals.

I saw six character models in action, but Votypka said there are many more and even the ones I saw had different variations.

Werewolves Within, which is due out this fall, is "targeting all major" VR headsets, he said. He declined to specify which setups that included, though we played the game on the Oculus Rift.

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