Feb 19, 2013

Zombies on the Holodeck! New Game for Project Holodeck and Oculus Rift Plays with Film Conventions in Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a young medium. Zombies on the Holodeck was started to explore virtual environments outside of strict realism.  Recreating a wholly photorealistic world is still a huge thing to explore in this emerging field. However, because Virtual Reality offers the opportunity to create alternate realities altogether – why be bound to the notion that the alternate reality must strive to behave like normal?

In that case, how does Film relate to Virtual Reality?


The Idea – Living in a Movie
Zombies on the Holodeck uses the modular Holodeck platform to immerse players in a survival horror environment.  Players use the Oculus Rift to explore with peripheral vision and head tracking, and use Razer Hydra controllers to shoot guns, pick up items, and build defenses.  If players choose to use all the Holodeck hardware, the game can support two players together over a network, sharing a playspace, and moving in 360 degrees with positional tracking.  Alternatively, if all you have is a laptop, you can just use mouse and keyboard – although admittedly this is not ideal!

But hardware aside, the inspiration for Zombies on the Holodeck is to explore what VR might feel like if it was combined with film conventions – meaning the goal is not to convince the player that they are in a real world, but to convince the player that they are inside a film. That is the foundational idea. Since the VR medium is still so young, we assume its better to start with film conventions that audiences immediately know and recognize as opposed to crafting a subtle experience that attempts to innovate. Why? Because otherwise the player has way too much to process and the VR game loses focus very quickly.

Its a question of where to start. You’re not going to start out creating a VR experience that strives to be like Lost in Translation or Casablanca, because those films are full of subtlety and nuance that pushes the film medium itself to be innovative. However, you CAN start out crafting experiences like Jurassic Park or Night of the Living Dead – because those movies are all about action within a contained environment.  In other words: let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Its important to start with cliches that a large audience can recognize, so that everyone can easily grasp how exactly Virtual Reality makes it new and different.  We know Jurassic Park on the silver screen, but what is that like if you were to actually live that experience in first person?  How do we articulate with words how this is different in VR?  This is literally an exercise in fleshing out the nature of VR as an entertainment medium.

With that in mind, the goal of Zombies on the Holodeck is to play with horror film conventions – specifically horror film conventions from around the time Horror was invented. If we’re going to start with recognizable cliches, why not start with the original ones? Let’s try circa 1940’s during the Golden Age, post silent era.

We give the VR game a title sequence, an old-fashioned musical score, and original Hollywood horror movie aesthetics – complete with lightning strikes and orchestral hits. The color palette is desaturated or even black and white. We have team members’ names fade in and out on the corners of the screen for the first minute, just like intro credits tend to do in movies. We play with elements on the screen, which means we’re actually playing with depth and parallax in a stereoscopic space. This is something that 99% of people have never witnessed before. No matter how we do it, it will be both cliche and totally new at the same time. In fact, thats the point!


The Game – What Makes this Unique?
The game mechanics you have seen a million times before – killing zombies, attack phases, build phases, ammo, health, and the like.  So what’s the big deal?  With Project Holodeck we learned very quickly that gameplay is intimately tied to your input devices. A game plays much differently when you are using mouse and keyboard, or a joystick, or an Xbox controller, or a PS Move wand, or a Hydra.  Gameplay and Input are two sides of the same coin.

By innovating with the input devices, as we’ve done with fully embodied virtual reality in Project Holodeck, you can provide a fresh perspective on even the most tried-and-true game conventions.

The objective of Zombies on the Holodeck is of course to survive as long as possible.  The game is set in alternate history 1940’s Chicago, where the population has transformed into monsters from biochemical warfare. The core mechanic is all about attacking incoming monsters and building defenses in a contained barricade or “Hold Out” spot in the streets somewhere deep within the city.  These build / attack phases run in about 2 minute cycles.

In build phase, players have to use Hydra controls to physically pick up boxes and stack them to make defensive walls.  They have to physically pick up wood boards and hammer them over doors – just like you would in real life.  It’s a bit less complicated than hammering a nail in reality, but the motion becomes a gameplay mechanic in itself.

In attack phase, players will focus on killing incoming zombies with headshots. Weapons function with Razer Hydra motion controllers, making for very natural and intuitive gunplay. Players must aim down the sights of a gun to shoot – there are no reticles or HUD. A shotgun or machine gun requires two hands to operate.

Imagine how intense it is to be hammering a door shut with Hydra controllers, then hearing zombies approaching behind you from the street, and having to turn your head, pull out your handgun, aim the gun, and blow some heads off?  And the gun doesn’t have infinite ammo either.  In fact, you don’t know how much ammo you have unless you’re counting.  To reload, you have to pick up a clip somewhere and make the physical motion to reload.  The same goes for health.  Say you gain health from stabbing yourself with an antidote syringe of some kind – in that case, you got to pick up a syringe and physically stab it into your arm!

Shooting, reloading, healing, building, and even moving are basic gameplay elements that are radically transformed with Virtual Reality input devices.  By using the Holodeck platform and the Oculus Rift to craft an immersive experience in this way, we can truly explore how the VR medium is transforming the nature of gameplay, narrative, film, and everything in between.

The game has already made significant headway and we’ll be updating this website with a section dedicated to Zombies soon.  The new trailer will be posted too.  If you like the idea of Film and VR, or have ideas on how a VR survival horror game should be like, we would love to hear it! Leave a comment or shoot us an email.

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  • Maaaaan thiss iss soo crazy!!! i bet its gonna be AMAZING!! *–*
    i just think it would be cool if u uploaded more videos of gameplay
    and stuff but anyway, u guys are doing a great job, keep it up :)

  • The game is great, love the pistol mechanics etc. I find it seems to need a Hydra calibration phase, as otherwise it doesn’t necessarily know when your hands are at your waist, etc. A calibration setup like the PS Move uses (hold controller at arms length, to shoulder, and to waist) would help this I think.

    The biggest problem with the game on the Rift is with the black and white level design. While this does give the old horror movie look, its really not a good match at all with the Rift. The dark imagery makes everything even blurrier and harder to see clearly. I’d go with a more colourful look, like L4D’s, and use the black and white design for certain parts/levels, or perhaps even when you are badly wounded.

    Also, if there was a gameplay mode where the movement was relative to your view (IE, pushing forwards on the stick moves you towards what you are looking at) I would appreciate it. I find this type of movement causes much less nausea than the ‘virtual body you have to turn’ type of movement, and its much more intuitive for new players as well.

    Finally, if you drop a weapon, it would be nice to be able to pick it up from the ground (perhaps I just couldn’t find it in the dark?).

    Apart from these suggestions, great work guys! I love the way you have worked hard on making everything virtual. Quickly dropping a shotgun and whipping out my pistols in an emergency situation feels really natural and loads of fun.

  • Hey WiredEarp! Thanks for the feedback. You should run the game on “Fastest” for proper lighting, otherwise the game is far too overshadowed and you can’t see anything. This might have contributed to the first impression of black & white in VR. With the correct lighting the world is much brighter and it feels pretty good in the Rift. But we do want to develop different “Theme Modes” that will include color options.

    This game was originally developed for the full Holodeck setup so our Oculus + Rift control scheme is pretty simple at the moment. Having different modes would be a strong addition to the next build.

    We’ve found that players have trouble picking things up off the ground with Hydras (standing or sitting) so we went ahead and had weapons spawn back at their origin for now. I’m sure there’s a much better solution for this though.

    Thanks again for this great feedback and glad you enjoy the game!

  • The game looks amazing i think it will be much better once everything is fine tuned. I would definatly buy it if it was a full game. I think multiple levels and areas would be cool. Outdoor movie theater with a horror movie playing, graveyard, suburbs. And maybe a bit of story so you have something to try to survive for. I dont like wave based games that really dont have anything to give you as you advance besides five more zombies. Keep up the great work!

  • The use of the Hydras is brilliant so far, though I second the need for a calibration phase. Preferably it would be possible to recalibrate quickly on the fly similar to the Sixsense Tuscany demo where you press a Hydra button then move the Hydras to your shoulders and press both triggers.

    One thing that did annoy me with the controls though was that when I looked upwards my hands followed my view. This was especially annoying when looking downwards as I could no longer see my arms and made it harder to reach for my pistols.

    My Rift hasn’t arrived yet so I can’t comment on that, though on my monitor I found the setting and theme to be perfectly functional and gave the game a scary ‘gritty’ feeling.

    More Zombie spawns round the ‘loop’ through the evacuation area would add to the scare factor as currently you can run in knowing all the zombies are behind you, not in front. I found the narrow alleyway off the central area the best defensible place, but if the zombies came from both entrances to the alley, instead of one, it would become one of the most dangerous places in the game.

    I like the way the Zombies currently work, sticking to Romero style walkers and Crawlers with Headshot kills. As I’m sure you’re aware when things get crowded the frame rate drops considerably… hopefully this can get better.

    Obviously I hope to see the level expanded, or more levels added, an increase in the weapon arsenal, more base fortifications etc, but from what I’ve read and seen that should be planned anyway I think. Limited ammunition for all weapons would be nice as well with collectible ammo spawns and respawn timers for the weapons. As the chapter level increases perhaps the spawn timers on the weapons and ammunition could increase as well as the zombie count. The addition of a knife (perhaps in your sock Sgian Dubh style) would serve for when you’re out of ammo. The ability to sling a larger weapon over your shoulder would also be useful. Another cool perhaps find-able item could be a headtorch which would allow you to use a two handed weapon in a dark place. It could be toggled on and off by moving an empty hand to your forehead and grabbing. Finally an option for a 3D monitor would be nice.

    Your work so far is amazing, especially for a pre-alpha. I hope my feedback is useful and I’ll eagerly await the next build.

  • I think the whole idea for this game is great. Although……. um, I am totally diggin’ the idea of combining the Oculus Rift and the Hydras. I would completely support the use of the Virtuix Omni, to create and even more immersive gaming experience for Zombies on Holodeck. Link: http://www.virtuix.com/

  • Thanks for the console! :D
    You made me excited for the release of NerveGear even if its just for me..
    I really wanted to play VRMMORPG..
    I watched a Anime titled Sword Art Online. Its really fun that you can play a VRMMORPG :D
    Thank you again for making this I hope I could buy one ^^

  • I recently downloaded Zombies on the holodeck and I am having some problems with the game. I’m only using the razer hydra and I set it to the settings shown in the README. When I start the game my character looks down at the floor and starts spinning around in circles. I was wondering if anyone knows how to fix this.Thanks

  • I got the game working and it is really fun. One problem I have is that there is no calibration phase where I can calibrate the hydras. I found this really troublesome during the game. Thanks.

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