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Ex-Wipeout developers want to send you to space (and let your friends mess with you)

Up to four spectators can use their phones to help or hurt a player in VR

In August 2012, Sony Computer Entertainment shut down Studio Liverpool — a development team with a long history, starting under the name Psygnosis and later building its reputation around the Wipeout franchise.

Shortly after the closure, part of the team reformed — becoming an independent studio under the name Firesprite, but continuing to work with Sony on various projects, contributing to PS4 mini robot toy box The Playroom and developing mobile and Vita runner Run Sackboy! Run!

Now, not quite five years after establishing itself, the team is unveiling its first big original project — futuristic spaceship survival PlayStation VR title The Persistence — and it’s easy to see the studio’s history in the game’s main trick.

The Persistence

On the surface, The Persistence looks like many early first-person VR games. You play as a member of a spaceship that runs into an “incident” that turns many of the crew into mutants, and you have to try to survive and save the ship. Every time you die, you come back with a new name and backstory. It’s moody. It’s gory. It has a variety of movement options in an attempt to curb motion sickness.

The trick comes with a companion app that anyone can download to their phone or tablet and use to interact with a friend playing in VR. On it, they’ll see a map of the space station the player is moving through and a bunch of tools to mess with that map. Think of it like “The Running Man” where outsiders watch the player try to survive, and the spectators can affect what’s happening as they watch. It’s an optional feature, but at first glance one that seems to largely define the game’s identity.

In a demonstration at a press event yesterday, Firesprite managing director Graeme Ankers showed how someone with the app can open a door to help the player, freeze a mutant to buy the player time or distract multiple creatures to clear a path, among other options. Or they can just see what’s ahead of the player in the next room. The game is set up for players to use the app while in the same room as someone playing in VR, so they can see the impact of their choices on a TV, and people using the app can earn points and upgrade their abilities.

According to Ankers, anyone using the app will have the choice of whether to help or hinder the player, and at times it will reward them with points for taking different approaches. In user testing thus far, he says Firesprite has seen about 80% of people who use the app focus on helping the player.

The Persistence’s companion app

“The whole psychology of this is you can have up to four players on tablets or phones in the room with you, [and] three people might be helping you out because they’re getting more points for upgrading to help you out, [and] one person might get more points if you die,” says Ankers.

Taking that concept further, the game also includes a “payback” option where the player in VR can upload a virus to a terminal in the game to wipe a spectator’s upgrade points.

All of this will be for nothing, of course, if the game behind it doesn’t hold up, and at yesterday’s event it was hard to get much of a feel for that one way or another. The version on display involved sneaking up on a handful of mutants to get melee kills and a bit of exploration around the spaceship, and it worked well but was too limited to make any concrete judgements about.

Firesprite is aiming for a May 2017 release for the game.

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