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Interview: Eyemobi’s Phantasmal Brings the Roguelike to VR

Phantasmal: City of Darkness is a roguelike survival horror game, where players must navigate through a procedurally generated world while evading grotesque critters like their life depends on it. What’s more is that it has VR support, and I was able to test it at PAX Aus 2015. Whilst the game’s demo, using the Oculus Rift, was the least graphically impressive VR title I experienced at the expo, I could not deny that the development team at Eyemobi have successfully created a heart-pumping and bloody creepy game.

I had a quick chat with the team lead, Joe Chang, about the game – moments before I met my doom.

Hayden Waugh: Firstly, nice to meet you Joe and thanks for having a chat with me. Give us a bit of backstory to Phantasmal, please.

Joe Chang: Phantasmal is a survival horror roguelike, so what that means is that every time you play the game it’s completely different. The setting currently is the Kowloon Walled City in the ’90s. For those of you who haven’t heard of what the Kowloon Walled City is, it was basically a refugee city. It was a fortress left over from WWII but once it was finished basically refugees and triads and all sorts of unsavoury characters just streamed into it and built it up over time into this crazy little community – but it worked.

HW: Can you tell us some of the challenges that came with making a procedurally-generated game?

JC: Aww, where do I start? *laughs*

I guess the main challenges are that, because the generation is so random, testing is a nightmare! But we leveraged a lot of third party assets; a lot of them were alright, but it still required a lot of testing. With any kind of software it can always be a real pain in the butt – sometimes that can be an issue as well for us.


HW: Why choose to integrate VR into the experience?

JC: Well, personally, I’m a massive fan of VR and I’m a sci-fi nerd as well.

When I first tried the DK1 ages ago, it really captured my imagination and I understood the potential of it, so I’ve always wanted to have something to do with that. With this game, we had no aspirations to do it with VR to begin with but, at one point, we thought, “Why not give it a shot?”

Last year when we came to PAX, when we had a DK2 by that point, we let people play it and they seemed to really respond to it, even though it was a really early version.

I just think that a horror environment where you can be immersed: why wouldn’t you want to make something like that?

HW: How have you chosen to integrate horror into the game?

JC: Well, there are some jump scares in the game but I’m a huge fan of the guys who made Amnesia; I think Thomas Grip [team lead for Frictional Games] is a real pioneer with horror games. So, one of the things he talks about on his blogs is that the anticipation is much more effective than the actual thing – we try and borrow some of those principles.

Normally, in Phantasmal, you’ll hear creatures first or see fleeting glimpses of them running around just slightly out of your vision.

HW: So how has the feedback been, in general, with a game like this?

JC: Pretty good. I think most people think it’s pretty fun but, of course, horror is kind of a niche. But, in saying that, there have been small groups of people who have been blown away and absolutely love it. But the vast majority usually go, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”


HW: As this is one of the first VR horror experiences, will you be including new pairs of underpants in special editions?

JC: Actually, for our Kickstarter, we talked about it and thought maybe we should include adult-sized nappies as a bit of a gimmick; just for a laugh. Yeah, we’ve learnt heaps out of it but if we do Kickstarter again we might make it a bit more humorous.

HW: Is it going to be a VR-exclusive title?

JC: Well, at the moment, it’s mouse and keyboard, so you don’t need VR. This setup is just for the Xbox One but, in saying that, we’ve had a lot of people saying saying from day one of the Kickstarter, “Can you make this compatible with a DK2?”

I think that with this particular build, we’ll probably put it on a separate dev branch on Steam and, if people want to play it: why not? But we aren’t going to support it until we finish the PC version.

HW: So when’s it available and on what platforms?

JC: So, it’s currently available on Steam Early Access for PC only and we’re looking to go full release by March next year. And, if all goes well, we’re hoping to get it done on Xbox over the next couple of months – hope that’s not too much of a mission.

HW: Alright, thank you Joe!

Phantasmal is currently available on Steam Early Access for $14.99. You can keep up with its latest developments by following Joe on Twitter, @Joe_Eyemobi.

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