Arcade Saga was recently released on Steam and is as the first ever game published by Vive Studios. Developed by 2 Bears Studio, an internal HTC team, we decided to sit down with David Sapienza and J Epps - neither of whom are bears - to talk about the development of this fast paced, energetic retro-styled VR experience.
Hello 2 Bears! Tell us about yourself and a little about your careers.
David Sapienza: I'm Executive Producer of Arcade Saga. I’ve worked on 30-plus games throughout my career, from small GameBoy Advance titles, to huge PC RTS titles like Company of Heroes, to new endeavors like Minecraft on Hololens, and now I’m thrilled to be working on the Vive. I have a long time passion for video games and the art of game creation.
J.Epps: I am J. “Jay” Epps, Design Director for Arcade Saga. I've been making games as a designer for 25 years. I have worked on Gex, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Gears of War 2 & 3, Fable 2, Ryse: Son of Rome. 20 years ago I knew I wanted to work in VR and worked hard to forge and temper my design skills so that I would be ready when VR finally became mainstream.
The name, the look and the feel of Arcade Saga all hark back to ‘classic’ arcades and games. Is there anything you would specifically list as inspirations?
David Sapienza: Yes! Pretty much any arcade game where the player faced off against a boss that was 50x larger. Musically, I love the NES and SNES days and you will hear some of that through the levels. As for movies, I’d be remiss not to mention The Lawnmower Man and Tron.
J Epps: Arcade Saga is really a ‘love letter’ to classic arcade games like Sinistar, Track and Field, Mappy, Heavy Barrel, Street Fighter 2, Galaga, Outrun Turbo, Star Wars, Star Trek, Space Invaders, Gyruss, Rygar, Ninja Spirit, etc.
Given those inspirations, did the game mechanics of Arcade Saga seem like a natural fit for that style of game, or did you think of them before then?
David Sapienza: For me it all started with room scale and the motion controllers. My first time in true VR (i.e. room scale) all I wanted to do was move around and use the motion controllers to interact with objects. Focusing on the movement and the motion controllers was our first goal, everything else was secondary.
J Epps: The mechanics came first. We wanted three games that all used natural motion mechanics: hitting a ball, shooting a bow, blocking a ball with a paddle. In classic games, the player actuates the main mechanic by pressing a button, which is an abstraction. The motion controllers and room scale offered us a way to make fun more straightforward and organic. Incidentally, this is why Bowshot has a bow and not a gun: a gun is an abstract mechanic because you pull a trigger to cause an interaction.
What’s your favorite game of the three in Arcade Saga? (Of course, we have to ask, what’s your high score?)
David Sapienza: My favorite game hasn’t been released yet.
J Epps: Bowshot is my favorite. My gamer tag is thejammy and I have a LOT of high scores!
What engine was Arcade Saga developed in?
J Epps: Arcade Saga was developed in Unity, which is a great engine. It allowed us to get up and working quickly. The engine is robust and allowed us to put our energy into the game and not the engine. It also allowed us great flexibility, as the three games in Arcade Saga are vastly different.
Did you have any ideas early in the development process that didn’t make the final game?
David Sapienza: We actually had nine prototypes that were being developed and then we narrowed down to the three that we have today. Although a lot of the prototypes were fun, we wanted to make sure everything we released was fun the first time, and the 101st time. I think the three games we have now exceed that goal.
J Epps: The first version of Smash had a more open environment where you threw different pitches to try and score on your opponent. It was a decent concept and we spent a while trying to make it fun enough but in the end we felt like it was better to put the game in a tight corridor.
You’re heading up 2 Bears Studio, an internal HTC studio. How big is the studio and how long did development of Arcade Saga take?
David Sapienza: Our studio is actually split between San Francisco and Taipei and the size has transformed a bit since we started, so it’s hard to answer but 30 is somewhat accurate. As for how long, we’ve been working on these games for around 9 months and are continuing to support the project.
What was the hardest thing to get ‘right’ during development?
David Sapienza: VR is a whole new medium that is attracting new types of consumers. Finding that balance between traditional gamers and new VR adopters was challenging but still fun.
… and what was the easiest thing to get right?
David Sapienza: The natural motion of the mechanics. People ‘just got it’ and understood exactly what they needed to do.
If money and time was unlimited (never going to happen…), what game genre would you like to see in VR?
David Sapienza: I’d love to see a historical battlefield reimagined from Genghis Khan to the U.S. revolution. I’m a military history nerd and proud of it!
J Epps: I would like to see what the ‘traditional’ gaming fantasies that we’re used to feel like in VR. Gunslinger, Samurai, Soldier, Assassin, Sniper, Surfer… they’re all fantasies that will feel different in VR and I would love if 2 Bears could take a stab at all of them.
Of all the games you previously worked on, is there a game you wish you could go back and realize in VR?
David Sapienza: A few years back I worked on a game that allowed players to make their own game called Project Spark. I was a really fun and approachable way to create a game, but I think adding the VR would be mind blowing.
J Epps: I have worked on many beat’ em up games - Lord of Rings, Demonstone, Ryse, etc - and I can’t wait to make a VR game in this genre.
Or, see below for a chance to win your own copy in our comment competition!
David and J will be live in AltspaceVR today at 4PM PST - click here to get details and RSVP!