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Stormland wants to change how you think about, and move in, VR

Insomniac Games’ upcoming Oculus Rift release is ambitious in just about every way

A robot flies through the air above high cliffs
Movement plays a huge role in Stormland
Insomniac Games/Oculus Studios

Insomniac Games has a substantial history in virtual reality development these days, having launched Feral Rights, Edge of Nowhere and The Unspoken for the Oculus Rift. The studio’s next game, Stormland, is an open-world game that focuses on exploration, whether you’re playing by yourself or with other players online.

You play as an android gardener who has the job of taking care of an alien world. That’s before the bad guys show up and wreck both your body and the environment you care so much about. Now you have to repair your body, and then upgrade your body, in order to fight back and save both the world and your friends in it.

“The big idea is that we’re presenting a world that changes over time and reveals a playground of movement and combat and loot — and then we turn you loose to explore this world freely with a set of android movement abilities,” Insomniac’s Chad Dezern told Polygon. “You can fly above the slipstream, you can use a laser to make a ramp and then launch yourself off of that. You can vault yourself up cliffs, and then push off and glide back down, all the while controlling your descent with your outstretched hands.”

You’ll discover new islands, weapons and creatures as you explore, and you’ll also be attacking enemy strongholds. You’ll also be scavenging equipment to continue the journey from gardener into warrior.

Stormland is meant to be a game that’s played for longer stretches and in a more serious manner than past VR releases, which have often felt like demos or short tastes of what the technology can do. Insomniac sees it as an evolution of everything it’s done in both traditional and VR games up until this point.

“This is taking components from the open world structure and the game play systems we’ve made for games like Ratchet and Clank and Sunset Overdrive, and it’s marrying them to an evolved form of the VR mechanics that we’ve developed in Edge of Nowhere, Feral Rights and The Unspoken,” Dezern said.

That dedication to doing new things in VR and stretching their limits as a team was tested when one of the developers in charge of the game’s traversal systems linked up with a programmer to see what it would be like if they got rid of the ladders and cliffs that visually suggested, and enforced, where you could and couldn’t climb ... and let the player climb on anything.

Insomniac Games/Oculus Studios

“They conspired to make this demo to sell that idea, and playing that for the first time was a ‘holy cow’ feeling, the game had just changed in a moment,” Insomniac’s Mike Daly said, looking back. “That new level of expressiveness where you could go under and around and approach things from any direction with complete control. We had to throw a bunch of things off the table, but it also opened up a bunch of possibilities and played into combat design and exploration.”

The downside was that radically expanding how the player could move and where they could go meant that much of the game had to be redesigned and rethought.

“We played it, and it was immediately clear that it was really cool, and then we go talk to the environment artists and they were just sitting in their desks and hugging themselves, rocking back and forth,” Dezern said with a laugh. “But luckily everyone played it and everyone saw it right away. There was a lot of enthusiasm with retrofitting after that, but that initial ‘oh my god’ feeling was a hard one to get over.”

Once players get good at all the movement systems, from the walking, flying and hand-over-hand climbing mechanics, they can start stringing them together to have the sort of control over their virtual bodies that traditional games can’t replicate.

Stormland is hoping to be one of the games that helps players get serious about spending more time in VR, playing more ambitious games that feel closer to what we expect from premium games on consoles and PC. That’s a tall order, but Insomniac Games is in the rare position of having large amounts of institutional knowledge in both standard and VR gaming. And Oculus itself has a lot riding on Stormland; this is one of the titles that the company hopes will drive interest to the hardware that’s now much more affordable.

We’re looking forward to playing it for ourselves, but this is a promising reveal of a very interesting game. Stormland is expected to launch in 2019.

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