Heading into EGX 2016, Psytec Games’ Windlands was undoubtedly one of my most hotly anticipated VR titles of the convention, although I was also a little trepidatious about trying it out. A studio dedicated to creating virtual reality titles, Psytec provided me with one of my most memorable experiences of last year’s expo when their virtual reality dungeon crawler Crystal Rift scared the living daylights out of me with apparently hilarious results.
To my relief, Windlands is about a far cry from the horror-filled underworld of Crystal Rift as one could ask for. Touted as a ‘first-person grappling hook VR exploration game’, the PS VR launch title allows players to soar through the ruins of a ancient civilisation and discover all of the secrets it has to offer.
Windlands features lush, colourful worlds that seem to take inspiration from some of your favourite classic 3D platformers along with the likes of Minecraft. More importantly, it also boasts accessible, intuitive controls, which I was able to master even in my short time with the game. In the jungle level showcased in the demo, players had to latch their grappling hook onto trees by looking at them using the headset, and then fire their ropes out from their wrists – Spider-Man-style – before swinging across to build momentum and traverse the world.
Despite its simplicity, the game provided me with plenty of thrills and adrenaline-rushing moments – not least when I made the mistake of looking down into the nothingness below as I swung across perilously from the top of a cliff. Despite such excitement, Windlands also provides you with the opportunity to take things at your own pace; no enemies or threats are present other than your own misfortune.
After my 30-minute playthrough, I had the opportunity to sit down with Nick Pittom, the co-founder of Psytec Games, to find out more about Windlands and the studio’s other projects.
Chris Mawson: Last year, we were here checking out Crystal Rift VR, so Windlands is quite a departure from your last game. I just wondered if you could give us a bit of an introduction to the game?
Nick Pittom: We had made Crystal Rift and were really proud with how it went, and considering what we were going to do next. Around the same time, we got in touch with a small team who had created Windlands in a game jam, and they’d started progressing the game and taking it on. But they needed a little bit of help to take the game to completion, so we offered our services and we took them on; we all became one big happy development family and worked on the game together. It was released on the Vive and the Oculus Rift earlier in the year, and now we’re heading to PlayStation VR.
CM: How would you best describe the game? To me, it feels like a bit of an explorative platformer?
NP: Yeah, maybe! It’s one of those things that we struggle with as well, coming up with a genre definition. Certainly with the grappling hooks, it’s possibly like Spider-Man; I guess that’s how you could describe the motion of firing the grappling hooks out and flying across the world. There’s a little bit of a puzzle element to the way in which you traverse the landscape as well – there’s a little bit of a challenge there – and I think that’s where most of the ‘game’ appeal comes from for a lot of people.
CM: Windlands is very accessible; the gameplay is quite simplistic in a way. Is that a deliberate move given that virtual reality is now becoming available to the mass market; would you consider it an entry-point for people to get into VR?
NP: I wouldn’t say that it’s the first thing that people want to play! It’s a little bit intense, I think, for some people, to be swinging around immediately. A lot of the first things people are going to try, I think, are the more static experiences; they’re going to stand there and experience things. After a while, I think they’re going to want to try something that gives them a bit more freedom and a bit more of a world to explore, so it should definitely be an entry into a more of an exciting VR world, for sure.
As far as the gameplay goes, it’s very much focused on the exploratory thing. We found that, as we were testing it and as people were playing it, it’s actually the bit that people enjoy the most. And rather than pad it out with lots of other things for the sake of it, we focused on this experience and to make that as big and as good a game for that core experience as it could be.
CM: Is it a game that you think would lend itself well to Move and Oculus Touch controller support? Is that in there at the moment?
NP: Yeah, you can already go on with the Vive controllers. Oculus Touch support is there; just as soon as the handsets go out, people will be able to play it on Touch. That’s actually the best way to play the game; it’s got those analogue sticks which are very responsive and very accurate, where you can point in the direction you want to go, and everything like that. The Vive, equally, you can point where you want to go. The Move controllers we really like, but they don’t have the equivalent sort of movement. There are buttons, though, so if the demand is there we will look at it, but by necessity it will be a limited experience, because there are less controls to work with.
CM: In terms of the scale of the game, what sort of experience should people be expecting? How much time will they be able to put in and get out of Windlands?
NP: It’s very much an exploratory kind of game. You’ve got the tutorial and the hub world, which then links into the three very big open areas. There’s a jungle – which you saw yourself – and then there’s a city, and a sky world where there’s floating islands everywhere. To go through and collect all the crystals and tablets – there’s about 20 tablets, spread out through each world – I guess it depends on your skill level. Some people might be able to get tens of hours from the game.
After you collect a certain number of crystals, other speed and platforming challenges open up as well; there’s one that’s very much aimed at the wall-jumping and parkour element. Because they’re optional challenges, you can play them as often as you want to beat your own or global high score. So there’s a decent amount of content.
I guess if you wanted to, you could speed run through the game much quicker, but that’s not really the aim or the point of the game.
CM: In terms of post-launch support, do you see constantly adding new content as we saw with Crystal Rift?
NP: We’re not looking at that currently. Now the PS VR is complete we consider Windlands to be content complete. Maybe down the line, we might look to add extra content, but I think as it stands it’s the game we envisioned it to be, so we won’t be looking at micro-transactions or anything!
CM: What else is on the horizon for Psytec? In two years, we’ve seen two games; it’s a very good track record for you so far. Are you already planning ahead?
NP: We’ve got a couple of games currently in development. We can’t talk about them right now; we’re NDA’d a bit on those. But I will say that both of those games have a multiplayer focus. I think that with VR, we’ve increasingly seen how great it is to be there with other people and that kind of thing. They’re both completely different games as well.
CM: What’s the feedback been like over the weekend for Windlands?
NP: Yeah, it’s been really good. I think everyone who has come off of it has been really pleased with it and enjoyed it. We’ve had some people say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m definitely going to get a PlayStation now, because of this,’ and that’s great to hear. At this stage, with the game having been out on the other platforms for quite a while, we’ve had some time to get feedback and improve the game. We’ve been doing that constantly, and we’ve added extra comfort options; difficulty levels, so if you go easy you can hook on to anything rather than just the trees – and I think that’s been fun for some people – and then there’s a hard mode if you want to have more of a challenge. All of this stuff has been added as we go along, I think by now we’re like, ‘This is good. There is no more feedback which is going to make it better,’ which is great.
Windlands is available now on Steam, boasting Oculus Rift and HTC Vive support, and is currently priced at £11.69. It should also release for PlayStation VR alongside the unit’s launch on October 13.