Oculus Spotlight: Rocket Off on an Interstellar Adventure with the Immersive VR Sci-Fi Game Lone Echo
As virtual reality matures, gamers will be treated to increasingly sophisticated experiences that redefine the possibilities of the VR platform. The stunning sci-fi hit Lone Echo definitely has all the qualities necessary to be a platform defining title. It features an immersive story and refined gameplay that’s backed by high-end visuals and technical wizardry. In short, it’s set to rocket our expectations for VR gaming to the moon and beyond.
A large part of Lone Echo’s success lies in the game’s pedigree:Ready at Dawn, the studio that created the game, was started by former senior members of Naughty Dog and Blizzard. Having so much talent on board definitely helped boost the game’s development from the very beginning. But even with such an experienced staff, Lone Echo’s development still presented a major challenge for the team.
“I can honestly say that our VR journey was anything but easy,” Lone Echo’s game director Dana Jan says. Luckily, they were able to rely on their experience and talent to get them through. He points to the design of the game’s main character, the synthetic android Jack, as a prime example.
“We had big aspirations for our VR avatar,” he says. “We wanted things like insanely expressive hands, arms that defied ‘best practices’, and a hybrid animation/physics driven full body that behaved convincingly in zero-g. These were key to really pushing the sense of presence that VR is all about. Our studio hadn’t done this before, but we did have experience from our previous games that helped.”
A Stellar View
Ready at Dawn’s expertise also resulted in a game that looks as good as it feels. Gamers who have high-end GPUs like an NVIDIA GeForce 10-Series GPU will be treated some to incredible visuals courtesy of the powerful custom game engine that powers Lone Echo. The sense of immersion is unrivaled, and the team took full advantage of the setting to create a VR experience that will suck you in with the force of a black hole.
“We built a lot of different game systems that had to work harmoniously in order to achieve this level of player agency and presence,” Jan notes. “They’re going to feel like they’re really there. They’re going to be able to touch everything. They’re going to explore space freely. I really think it’s a special experience unlike anything else.”
Helping increase the sense of “being there” is the game’s compelling story. Even though it’s set on a mining rig that’s stationed in the rings of Saturn, Lone Echo touches on some complex subjects based on increasingly relevant real world issues.
“Lone Echo is set in a plausible near-future that explores the inevitable relationship between humans and artificial intelligence,” Jan explains. “We drew a lot of inspiration from science fiction books, films, NASA, and even the current state of AI that is permeating our everyday lives.”All Hands On Deck
Of course, beautiful graphics and a meaty story will only carry you so far: for a game to truly take off, it needs to have great gameplay as well. Thankfully, this is one area where Lone Echo absolutely shines. The game offers plenty of visceral punch, regardless of whether the player is involved in a quiet moment of reflection or a thrilling action sequence.
Powering the experience is a control scheme that’s light years beyond the established VR norm. The first part of the equation is the game’s setting: being in space meant Ready at Dawn could handle player movement without having to rely on workarounds like teleportation.
“Astronauts on the ISS get around predominantly with the use of their hands and arms,” Jan points out. With that in mind, the team created a system where players could reach out and grab surfaces to both move and interact with the world. It’s an incredibly intuitive system that not only makes narrative sense but unlocks a ton of potential for what players can achieve in the game.
One notable example is the ability to move and flex your individual fingers, which has given birth to an incredibly fun gesture: wagging a finger at your opponents in the game’s high octane multiplayer mode, Echo Arena. In terms of VR controls, it’s the kind of groundbreaking innovation that hints at what the Oculus Rift and Touch are capable of. But that’s just the beginning of what Lone Echo’s intuitive control scheme can do.
“Wagging your finger was a relatively easy mechanic to develop,” Jan says, “especially when you compare it to how our hands allow individual fingers to realistically contact arbitrary environmental geometry when the player grabs surfaces.”A Space Odyssey
Getting a rocket into space requires an immense amount of coordination, planning, and execution. The same goes for creating an innovative VR game as immersive and complex as Lone Echo. But just as NASA is made up of some of the brightest minds in the aerospace industry, Ready at Dawn features some of the best talent in the gaming world, and their collective efforts have resulted in a VR experience that will whisk gamers away on an adventure that’s truly out of this world.
Lone Echo is now available to download on Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch for VR ready gaming PCs. In order to get the best possible VR experience, make sure your gaming rig is VR Ready with a GeForce GTX 10-series GPU, like the recently-released GeForce GTX 1080 Ti.