Iron Man VR goes gold, Q&A with Camouflaj game designer Ryan Darcey

We’re a little over a month away from the release of Iron Man VR, one of the titles that could probably convince you to get that PSVR unit that you’ve been eyeing for such a long time. The game has just gone gold as announced by the Camouflaj official Twitter account and with it, a defining PSVR title that can possibly stand with the ranks of Astro Bot and Blood and Truth, among others.

Camouflaj, the development team behind this upcoming exclusive for the PSVR, was kind enough to give a few members of Southeast Asian media the opportunity to talk to game designer extraordinaire Ryan Darcey, as we pick his brain with some questions regarding the development of Iron Man VR.

*Actually, we held a couple of Repulsors to him and forced him to answer our questions, he basically had no choice.

It’s also quite amusing to note that Ryan’s initials are RD, kinda like Robert Downey from Iron Man… Anyways…

RD: My name is Ryan Darcey, I’m a designer at Camouflaj, I’ve been working on Marvel’s Iron Man VR for a little over 3 years now. My main focus is largely on all things gameplay, whether it’s locomotion, weapons, AI, or mission design, I’m kinda helping oversee all that.

So basically, all things considered, he is THE man.

The first question touched on the topic of VR being a challenging medium to create titles for, especially that Iron Man features 360 degrees of motion. What were the challenges during development and were there any key objectives regarding game experience that Camouflaj wanted to deliver on?

RD: The first thing we focused on as a team was ensuring that we nailed flight. Flight, being something that is joyful and natural was key to ensuring that the player felt like Iron Man. We knew if we couldn’t make that happen, then it wasn’t worth making the game… When we first approached it, the first thing we did was look at the source material, look at Iron Man, look at the movies and how does Iron Man fly in the movies…

I also think it’s really one of the standout features in the game, the ability to have that full 360 aerial freedom, is critical to feeling like Iron Man. Luckily, Iron Man is almost a perfect match for VR in the way that the helmet and the HUD translates to the Visor and the thrusters translate to the Move controllers.

And it’s true, Iron Man was really built for the PSVR. Similar to getting the feeling of Web slinging in Spider-Man right, Camouflaj had one job to do and it was flying. If you haven’t tried the demo yet, spoiler alert, they did it and did it well.

The flow of the discussion brought us to the next logical question, how tough was the prototype? How long did it take Camouflaj to get it right considering that there was nothing in the current VR space to base Iron Man on?

RD: The story is that Ryan Payton, CEO of Camouflaj, went down to Marvel suggesting that “hey Camouflaj would love to develop a Marvel IP for our upcoming VR game, would you want to partner?” Iron Man is obviously such a natural fit for VR and Marvel said that “It’s a really special IP and we wanna make sure if you can pull it off. If you come back with a prototype that shows the flight and combat in a way that makes you feel like Iron Man, we’re in”…

And we’ve got 2 weeks to create the prototype, so let’s go for it...

We brought the prototype down to Marvel, Marvel played it, and it was enough to push them over the line.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Given that Iron Man is a Marvel property, You may be wondering next if the game is set in the same universe as the MCU. It’s actually not, and the next question touched on why Camouflaj decided to choose an original story as opposed to working with an established universe.

RD: Speaking from a developer standpoint, I prefer that because it allows us the freedom to take inspiration from the film and comics, and pull what we want and like, that will craft this experience specifically for VR. We get to choose what locations the players travel to in the game and ensure that locations are going to work well with flying around.

Working with Marvel, from day one, our lead writer Brendan Murphy developing this story that is largely influenced by comic books, specifically the Demon in the Bottle series. That was a big influence on us and a lot of the themes you see in the comics should be present in the game and this overarching theme of Tony Stark being his own worst enemy is something we really latched on to as a team.

Obviously, to get the players feeling like they are Iron Man, they have to appreciate the fact that they can see themselves wearing the suit. Leading us to the next question – Is there any photo mode or third person mode in the game?

RD: The best way to get an up close and personal view of the suit is back in Tony’s garage… What you see in the demo shows off the two main components in the game… The third component, going back to Tony’s garage in between missions where you can access your hub and there’s a suit station there where you can get up close and personal with your suit and also customize it, swapping out your repulsors for unique options… you can also equip unique auxiliaries weapons on each hand and those are things you unlock over the course of the campaign…

Also purely aesthetic changes, where through challenges in the game, unlocking custom decos so you can customize the look of your suit.

In case you didn’t know, we were supposed to be playing the full game already if it weren’t for the unfortunate delay that hit the title. The COVID-19 situation across the world has delayed even the most top tier of titles, so this was understandable. During the time of delay, what has the team focused on with regards to the game?

RD: We’ve been focused on polishing all across the board. The team has responded really well to the COVID-19 situation… and we’ve just continued to pour tons of polish into the game, this time at the end when everything is in there and all you’re doing is polish polish polish, making these broad sweeps across the game, and it just starts elevating everything every single game… What we try to do during this final stage of polish, is we try to take a step back and look at the game holistically, and try to identify where the big wins are… where could we push the game forward without a crazy amount of effort, without introducing instability, and those are the areas we’ve been focusing on.

If we’re to base everything off of the demo (which you should definitely try, by the way), it sure gives off a very fun vibe, one that indeed gives the player the feeling of being the man behind the iron mask… and suit. Will the game feature a deep story narrative to compliment the fun flying mechanics?

RD: It’s definitely both… The core combat loop, that starts evolving across the entire campaign and the narrative also evolves across the entire campaign. It’s very limited, what I can say about how the narrative evolves, that’s something I think you’ll have to experience first hand. As far as how the gameplay evolves, you get a solid slice of what the game has to offer from the demo, but the way we start mixing it up is by introducing new environments and new iconic Marvel locations and set pieces, and then new weapons that you unlock and upgrade over the course of the campaign. And introduce new enemies that are unique and can challenge the player in different ways.

We’re really confident that we’ve delivered, what is ultimately landing to be an 8-10 hour campaign…

And since we’re on the topic of storylines, one thing about the Marvel universe is that a lot of these superheroes meet in some way or form eventually. Apart from Pepper Potts and Friday, who are in the demo, who are the other Marvel personalities that we’ll be able to see in the game?

*Side note – we knew he was probably not going to say too much about this to avoid spoilers but hey, it was worth a shot to try and get him to spill the beans, yeah?

RD: I’m definitely limited with how much I can say at this point. You mentioned Friday and Pepper Potts of course, Nick Fury has been announced as showing up in the game, and then also we’ve announced Ghost as our villain. We haven’t said a ton about Ghost and I probably can’t say a ton more, but we’ve been really happy with the choice of leveraging her character in a way that puts Tony and Iron Man toe to toe with a villain that’s worthy of Iron Man’s powers…

We’ve been working super close with Marvel games from the beginning, to ensure that the game does hit that Marvel level of quality when it comes to what the player expects.

As we approach the end of the interview, one thing that has not been asked yet is how the game stands out from the VR space. What can Iron Man VR offer players that has not been offered before from the other typical VR experience?

RD: I think 2 key areas… The freedom of flight, I think that’s something that’s super unique to our game… the idea that you can turn full 360 degrees and you have that freedom… I genuinely believe that that freedom is something that we’ve really pushed forward in the VR space.

In addition, we’ve put a big emphasis on making sure that we’re telling a meaningful and impactful story. The interactive cinematics, the character development and the writing, these are all things that we put a lot of time and energy into, that in my opinion, elevates the game to that true triple A quality but in VR.

Well, not everybody can be Iron Man, even in a game. Consequently, VR is not for everybody. Some people get queasy easily, some may even encounter motion sickness within minutes of playing the game. Are there any measures set to counter that?

RD: There’s the traditional things that you do to when you’re developing a VR game to ensure that the player is comfortable and that’s maintaining high frame rate, vignetting the sides when you’re turning, but that’s only going to get you so far…

What we’ve been able to do to ensure that the player walks away feeling comfortable is creating the closest 1:1 connection between the players mind and body in the game… When the player wants to do something… We need to make sure that the game responds in a way that they expect, and so that they don’t break that connection with the game… We also support snap turns and smooth turning that you would see in more traditional VR titles…

Lastly, with the PSVR hardware nearly 4 years old, were there any limitations with regards to what Camouflaj wanted to do that the PSVR could not handle, hardware wise?

RD: I can say for Iron Man VR is that we didn’t cut anything because of any hardware limitations. One of the biggest challenges that we had to overcome was just the fact that the camera was front facing, so we came up with a system that handles lost tracking, so when you turn around and the controllers are hidden by your body, we created a system that takes the best guess of where you want your hands to be in the world… and it transitions in and out of that lost tracking system totally seamlessly. Pretty much after we got over that hurdle, like I said we did not take anything out of the game that we wanted in there.

Oh, if by any chance you were expecting any post launch content, Camouflaj has been totally focused on the initial launch for now.

We all wanted to take more of Ryan’s time but duty calls and he had to don his suit and make a superhero exit. Maybe next time, we’ll get him to say “I am Iron Man” or maybe even make him snap his fingers?

Iron Man VR is scheduled for a July 3 release and is exclusive for the PSVR. A special bundle All-in-one pack will also be available and will set you back PHP19,990, which includes a PS VR Headset, PlayStation Camera, two PlayStation Move Motion Controllers, and Marvel’s Iron Man VR Blu-ray Disc.

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