We spoke with Schell Games Senior Game Designer and Until You Fall Project Director Dave Bennett to hear more about their developer process.
In Until You Fall, we really wanted to create a melee combat game in VR that could be fast, frenetic, and make you feel powerful, all while remaining approachable and keeping you engaged for many play sessions. The choreographed combat system we developed helped us reach the first two goals, so it became our focus to find ways to achieve the third. Luckily, we were able to lean on experience from our other titles (I Expect You To Die, for example) and projects to develop a game that let’s players feel fully immersed and engaged.
Our first and largest challenge was making sure we could make a high-intensity action game without making people uncomfortable. We took our time prototyping and playtesting movement schemes and techniques to help combat discomfort before eventually settling on our combination of vignetting and spatial anchoring.
Beyond that, the hardest technical challenges came when trying to bring the game from PC to Quest without compromising on the core gameplay and overall feel of the experience. It basically involved our art and tech teams concocting creative (and sometimes crazy) ways to rebuild and render elements of the game as efficiently as possible. Funny enough, this type of work is most successful when nobody notices it.
We were really excited to broaden the audience of the game—not everyone can afford a powerful PC and headset, so the fact that we have lots of new-to-VR folks checking out both Quest and our game for the first time is just fantastic.
Also, the wireless nature of the headset really allows for full freedom of movement. It lets you be immersed in the experience without having to worry about tripping over a cable mid-battle.
The unbridled joy and excitement that players experience when testing and then swinging their weapons for the first time—we put a lot of work into the feel and weight of the weapons, and seeing players discover it on their own each time is incredibly rewarding.
On top of that, seeing players grow in skill and confidence as they play is just… well, awesome. Watching someone go from “this enemy is impossible to fight” to eventually dispatching hordes of that very same enemy is super satisfying.
As I mentioned above, we wanted to make a game that had fast, frenetic combat made purely for VR. With that goal in mind, we started pre-production in 2018 and then moved into full production in 2019.
By late 2019, we moved into Early Access and launched the game on the Oculus Rift store to gather feedback and continue iterating on the experience. We had a good deal of playtest data and ideas of where to take the experience, but we really wanted to gather input from the community before going too deep in the wrong direction.
We’ve pushed four major updates throughout our time in Early Access, and at the beginning of 2020, we started focusing on bringing the game to new platforms.
An eyeblink later, it’s October! We just finished launching the game on the Quest a few weeks ago.
On October 27, we’ll be leaving Early Access, bringing a lot of the improvements and optimizations we made for the Quest version back to PC.
We wanted to make an experience that made you feel powerful. Until You Fall isn’t a game where you’re supposed to be a fledgling squire becoming a heroic knight—you’re already a heroic knight and will become a literal Sword God.
Using this philosophy as a guide, we tried to make sure every interaction supported our player fantasy. Interactions that didn’t help make you feel powerful or, worse, made you feel foolish were removed or reimagined entirely.
This near-singular focus on feeling awesome resulted in us having our summonable weapons, crush-to-use interactions, and turning our dash (teleport movement) into a full on shoulder-check for use in combat.
As for the look of the game, a lot of the aesthetic was actually inspired by the soundtrack. Once we decided to have our combat driven by a synthwave soundtrack, the overall style of the game followed, dragging us further and further into our weird, neon forest.
Both the sound design and the soundtrack of the game were done in-house. The soundtrack itself was primarily composed by Daniel Cohen, and we were lucky to have Chris Dudley create the track that plays over our credits sequence.
Finding the music genre that best fit our game took us in a variety of weird, different directions. Because we wanted music that made you feel powerful and supported the core action of the gameplay (hitting enemies with swords), we looked to genres we felt could achieve those goals. Examples include orchestral fantasy, rockin’ guitars, third wave ska (yes, I’m serious—the team will never let me live that one down), and so on.
Eventually, though, we settled on our own style of synthwave (affectionately referred to as “Sword-wave” by the team), because it not only achieved all the goals listed above, but it also gave us a chance to really lean into a unique style not normally seen with fantasy sword fighting.
As for the sound design, we tried to achieve the same goals: make you feel powerful, make it clear what’s going on, and encourage you to push forward into combat. Now that we knew what type of music was backing the experience, we were able to decide how to best make the sound effects fit in with the overall aesthetic while remaining effective.
Decide on a player fantasy or emotion that you want to achieve in your experience and use it as a guide. Then decide what the core interaction of your game is going to be. It’s super tempting to try and make your game do everything, especially with the powerful sense of presence and affordance found in VR, but it can oftentimes muddy the waters and detract from what’s really important in your experience.
A great way to determine these limits, fittingly, is to play a wide variety of VR games to see how each one handles different interactions. What works? What doesn’t? What makes you uncomfortable? What makes you feel awesome?
Oh, and if you’re making anything in VR, I definitely recommend getting as many eyes on it as possible—having regular playtests with a wide variety of folks (both VR newbies and veterans alike) is really the only way to know if what you’re building actually works.
Just because we’re leaving Early Access doesn’t mean we still don’t want to hear your ideas and feedback. Be sure to drop by our Discord channel (discord.gg/untilyoufall) and keep letting us know.
Also, I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone who has been playing the game in Early Access and folks who have been checking out the game on Quest and letting us know what you think. Your feedback, excitement, and positivity keeps us going.
We’re absolutely stoked to hear what people think of the improvements we’ve made for our official PC launch.