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.