Indie Developer DreamSail Games Creates a Mecha VR Game That's Essentially 'Pacific Rim'

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 3:10PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Virtual Reality
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 3:10PM
Indie Developer DreamSail Games Creates a Mecha VR Game That's Essentially 'Pacific Rim'
< >
Image credit: DreamSail Games
Every kid who saw the original Nintendo Power Glove had the same thought: the future is now, and it is awesome. For this generation, VR is evoking the same reactions (wonder, awe, child-like excitement) and meeting the same problems ("Jesus, that's expensive, and it's still this clunky?"). At the center of it all are VR game developers like DreamSail Games, who are taking the plunge to explore the boundaries of this shiny new VR future.

DreamSail seems to be one of those rare companies that walks the line between being driven by good business practices and sheer, exuberant joy, and they're staking their company and careers on the idea that gamers will want games designed by nerds who are even more enthusiastic about games than them. Case in point: The Iota Project.

The Genesis of DreamSail and Iota

I got a chance to speak to Becky Benett, the Marketing and Community Manager at DreamSail, during the 2017 NYC Worlds Fair Nano. After watching some fairgoers strap into their headsets and stomp around an incredibly colorful cityscape in a VR mech, we talked about the genesis of The Iota Project and what makes DreamSail unique.

According to Benett, the story of DreamSail is that of nerds who have grown up: they've already put out the well-reviewed multiplayer robot brawler Blade Ballet, but after doing some soul-searching, the company decided to follow its dreams and pivot towards VR. The team noticed that there was a dearth of mecha games on the market, and realized that their mission, to create passion projects that they could get excited about, meshed nicely with what fans already wanted.

The Iota Project came about after a 3-week "coliseum"-style brainstorming process, in which the DreamSail team was split into pairs (each with one programmer and one artist) to create 12 game 'gems,' which were essentially miniature demos for new games. One of the most popular was called Thrust, which was essentially a VR flight sim, while the seed for Iota was a sort of hybrid of mechs and Kerbal Space Program (which was eventually deemed to be too complex). After a lot of discussion, it was decided to simplify the mech game gem and make that the company's new project.

Put on the Headset, Shinji

One of the main challenges during the making of Iota had to do with locomotion—DreamSail didn't want to make a mecha rail shooter, but allowing for the realistic sensation of movement (ie, stomping around) meant dealing with the persistent problem of VR motion sickness. The team dealt with the issue by making the cockpit view more or less static, with just a hint of swaying, and removing peripheral vision from the pilot's view.

The bulk of the game has the player navigating around buildings, shooting barrages of rockets, dodging enemy missiles, and punching out hovering drones, all of which is relatively fast-paced and responsive. The bright colors add to a slightly cartoon-y feel, but the sweet enemy mechs and powerful punches from your fists make it feel like you're piloting a Gundam rather than a Zord. The free movement is the real star—the sense of freedom that comes from dodging, maneuvering, and charging around makes Iota look genuinely exciting.

DreamSail is already planning on bringing Iota to VR arcades, along with features like local saves and high scores. The game currently has a free Alpha demo on Steam (you can check that out here) for the HTC Vive and Oculus, but the wild dream is to integrate the game into a full mech rig—maybe something like an arcade version of ED-209 from RoboCop that players can climb into, or (hope of hopes) something like Hankook Mirae's life-size robot (the Method-2), which features natural movement controls.

We're not suggesting the real-life mech would actually move...we're just saying that we would pay cold hard cash for a chance to strap into our local arcade's 15-foot-tall robot statue. 

The Future of VR Robot Fights

Like a lot of VR, it's the idea of The Iota Project that excites people. It doesn't have the next-gen graphics of Crysis or the insane gameplay flexibility of MGS: V, but it does speak to gamers' dreams. As Benett says, "It's a power fantasy." As simple as that may sound, it doesn't change the fact that you get to step out of reality for a half-hour or so and pretend you're in Pacific Rim (or Neon Genesis Evangelion, if you're a psycho). 

So far, Benett has been blown away by the response DreamSail has gotten from the fan community, which has been tracking Iota's progress. These, Benett says, are the early adopters who are excited about the tech more than the graphics, who don't care if the Gen 1 headsets become obsolete by the time VR finds its stride. It's part of the magic of watching the dream of virtual reality slowly come true. 

And that's what DreamSail is banking on—according to Benett, "we're betting our lives on VR." It's a bold move, but it's inspiring to see a game studio go for broke doing what they love.

The Iota Project is available on Steam.
Science News
Science of Sci-Fi
Virtual Reality