Wolf & Wood is a small VR games company that I set up in early 2015 with the aim to create satisfying story driven Virtual Reality experiences. The first release, A Chair in a Room: Greenwater, is available on SteamVR now.
A Chair in a Room initially started as a free demo that I put out for Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard, and then, after seeing how well it was received and the potential for room scale in the HTC Vive, decided to develop into a full game.
I wanted to use the latest VR tech to see how I could fully immerse the player in the experience, atmosphere and setting. Rather than relying on jump scares, I aimed to draw the player into the narrative and place them as the protagonist of the unsettling story.
Jumping into brand new technology early on was a learning curve. The biggest challenge faced by the VR designer is that you can’t just point the camera at the action; you have to draw the player's attention to the next story beat, ideally without them realising. Subtle cues in the game, such as water dripping or the hiss of a snake, lead the player in the right direction.
I drew on elements of Southern Gothic, but also leaned heavily towards the styling of David Lynch and the atmosphere and setting of season one of True Detective. Each scene of the game is carefully considered to enhance and further explain the story, and the more discerning player will find images and symbolism repeated throughout, along with hidden film and literature references.
I don’t want to give too much away but the game starts with you undergoing a series of psychological tests in the sinister Greenwater Institute, where you find yourself known only as patient no. 6079.
You suffer nightmarish visions, which are punctuated by authoritative figures, hidden behind cameras and protective glass, who offer relief from your hallucinations in the form of medication. You then have to piece together your flashbacks and memories to figure out your past and the mystery behind your confinement.
Starting development around a year before the launch of the VR hardware meant that the design patterns had not yet been formed, so it really was a case of starting with a clean slate and asking what VR should be like. Some things looked great on paper but didn’t work in testing, and other things seemed good in testing but didn’t hold up against other games that had a better implementation of the same feature. Some of the interaction needed revisiting, but this is one of the pitfalls of being involved at the start of anything new. As the design language and tool sets evolve, the designers will have more time to concentrate on the experience rather than the technical aspects. Armed with everything learnt so far, I’m already feeling confident about what exciting things can be achieved as I delve into the next phase of VR.