Yesterday, Ubisoft unveiled a brand new trailer for its upcoming VR game, Transference, which was made in collaboration with actor Elijah Wood‘s movie production house, SpectreVision.
I got to learn more about the experience during a panel earlier today featuring Wood, along with game director Benoit Richer, and some of the title’s writers. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, Transference is an interactive movie / game that combines live action movie footage with an interactive computer generated environment.
It’s about a man who uploads his family’s consciousnesses into a kind of simulation in the hope that it’ll allow them to live forever. Of course, things don’t go so smoothly and the family become trapped due to some nasty data corruption, leaving them to explore their collective minds.
I got to play about 10 minutes of the experience before I had a chat with Wood and Richer about their creation. While I didn’t get to see a whole lot, the mere environment and use of sound was enough to set a creepy and tense scene. I was tapped on the shoulder a couple of times by team members during the session and absolutely shit my pants each time.
Wood, who is probably the nicest dude I’ve ever met, is incredibly pumped on the project and was stoked that I got a chance to see it for myself prior to our chat.
“Oh fuck, awesome! What did you think?” he asked. After telling him my thoughts, he was pleased that the first reaction was a positive one. While the game will be available to play on consoles and PC the old fashioned way, the three of us agreed that playing it in VR is the only way to get the full experience.
“It was always intended to be a VR game and it’s at its most immersive when it’s in VR,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
Wood mentioned a few times that he’s always been an avid gamer, so I was keen to hear about which games were most influential to him growing up.
“I mean, growing up we had every game console, going back as far as the ColecoVision and Atari,” he said. “The big kinda gaming period for me as a teenager was like, when I had my first PC and Mac games which were LucasArts games. I was obsessed with them.”
“All the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle‘s amazing, Day of the Tentacle, I just love the sort of adventure game style and the comedy behind it.”
He’s also a fan of survival horror games which makes sense in the context of Transference and the fact his studio exclusively produces horror films. “[The games] that finally brought something a little bit disturbing and creepy to the game sphere,” he said.
Transference came about pretty organically according to the team. Wood was introduced to members of Ubisoft through mutual contacts and after a few discussions, the concept of the VR experience was born. SpectreVision handled the film aspects like casting, and, of course, Ubisoft took care of the gaming elements.
Making movies is one thing, but I was interested in the process of creating an experience for an immersive platform like VR and the difficulties faced by the team along the way.
“It was revelations that surprised us, not so much that there was a problem or challenge that came along, but rather, things that we suddenly realised after being on the path for a little while,” he said.
“For instance, the distribution of information. Narratively, we tried to front load a lot of your experiences within the context of the path that you take in the game with a lot of narrative. We realised that it was too much and that was fascinating.”
What this boiled down to, Wood explained, is that they were able to cut a lot of excess information that was better conveyed through objects and setting. Instead of force feeding the player a bunch of stuff, Transference allows players to figure out the story themselves via investigation and puzzle solving.
“We didn’t want to give traditional objectives,” Richer added. “That’s getting you out of the game.”
Allowing the player to make discoveries on their own accord is an important and powerful vessel for narrative, but equally as important, Richer says, is that you play the game as yourself, not a character.
“We didn’t want to give a role to the player because we didn’t want to affect the way they should think in the world,” he said. “So it’s everyone’s personal instincts.”
To cap off the conversation, I asked – if technology allowed it – who’s consciousness they’d like to explore.
“There’s so many,” Wood said. “Steve Jobs comes to mind. There’s so many brilliant minds throughout history.”
“If you think about some of the geniuses, some of them might be a little too intense. Someone like John Lennon comes to mind as well.”
Richer, said he’d like to explore Donald Trump‘s mind, but then immediately took it back because, well, let’s face it, there’s probably much happening in that man’s brain. “I think it’s fucking crickets up there,” Wood joked.
Transference comes out on both the Oculus Rift and PSVR platforms, as well as Xbox One, PS4, and PC this spring. I can’t bloody wait to put myself through the entire thing.Image: Ubisoft