Feature

Supermassive Talks The Thrills Of Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood

by Brian Shea on Dec 11, 2015 at 08:00 AM

Virtual reality’s ability to immerse players is unparalleled, and Supermassive Games plans on taking full advantage of that with its upcoming thrill ride Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. The VR game, which is set in the Until Dawn universe, delivers a decidedly different experience than the studio’s successful PlayStation 4 game.

When Until Dawn launched on PlayStation 4 in August, it took interactive storytelling and player choice to a new level thanks to its atmospheric environment, strong pacing, and the satisfying Butterfly Effect mechanic. With Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, developer Supermassive Games is keeping the scares, but changing the way you experience them.

Rather than taking the interactive storytelling formula of Until Dawn and putting it into virtual reality, Supermassive has created an on-rails shooter that takes place in the Until Dawn universe. Players board a roller coaster as they encounter all kinds of creatures and horrors. Using two PlayStation Move controllers, players must shoot enemies that pop up. At the end of the run, players get scored on their performance. The experience is intense, but for different reasons than that of the original Until Dawn’s intensity.

While Until Dawn was successful, its reception was not what prompted Supermassive to develop a VR game. “Obviously the success of Until Dawn is a great starting point for Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, but we were well into the development of this as a VR game before we knew exactly how Until Dawn was going to be received,” says Rush of Blood executive producer Simon Harris. “I guess the success has ratified our choices and we hope that players will be excited to play a completely new VR experience in and beyond that world.”

The fact that Rush of Blood was in development already means that Supermassive had an easier transition from standard controls to VR than it did moving the original Until Dawn from PlayStation Move controls to standard controls. “The shift from the initial PlayStation 3 with Move version of Until Dawn to the final PlayStation 4 version was a massive shift in terms of technology, systems and especially content as the game went through a substantial shift in tone,” Harris says. “[Rush of Blood] shares the same core game engine and toolset, so it made it easier to bring across a lot of the content such as the locations, characters, etc. We then started adding the aspects we needed for Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, so it’s fair to say that we have created a massive amount of new Blackwood Pines content, as well as some entirely new locations, to deliver this experience.”

Even though Rush of Blood was already deep in development when Until Dawn released on PS4, Supermassive learned a lot from the title. “Until Dawn taught us some tricks about building tension and fear, and then capitalizing on that with moments of shock and horror,” Harris says. “Some of those visual and audio techniques do transfer across, albeit with some adjustment for VR, but on the whole it’s an all-new approach.” 

Harris also discussed the importance of pacing in particular for creating tension and keeping the player on edge – a roller coaster only amplifies this feeling.  “Our accumulated knowledge tells us that pacing is critical to achieve effective horror, so we use the rollercoaster aspect of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood carefully to deliver that pacing on rails, without the player ever needing to control it,” he says. “We can vary the intensity of the experience through a really fast roller-coaster section, or a section with loads of enemies and shooting, through to a slower ride through a location, really building the tension and using the darkness in the game to ratchet up the player’s heart rate in a different way.”

Though the game is an on-rails arcade shooter, Harris tells us that VR enables Supermassive to deliver scares that could feel even more frightening. “If we’ve got it right, then the immersion of VR will make players feel really and personally threatened at times. That’s a large part of the thrill,” Harris says. “Different people react in different ways to certain elements within the game and certain scares. Something that doesn’t affect one person will have another cringing and leaping, so it’s great to have a spread of different scares which use different mechanics, a jump scare is only one.”

With so many horror elements at play in the Until Dawn universe, Supermassive must be careful with subjecting its players to the intensity of the events in technology as immersive as VR. Focus testing and balancing based on the responses is a big part of that, according to Harris. “We use our mechanics to ensure the correct pacing throughout the game to build up the tension, as this in itself will often make the game more terrifying,” he says. “During our testing we use galvanic response meters to test how players respond to the game as a whole, the build-up, the quiet periods, the suspense, the jump scares and the intense periods of action. This allows us to balance and pace the game better, as well as determining how scary our sequences are.”

Rush of Blood takes cues from the original game, but Harris tells us that fans shouldn’t expect conventions from Until Dawn to appear in full force. “When we made the decision to set our VR game in the world of Until Dawn, we sat down and thought about what it was from that universe that was core and what we had to bring across in order to make Until Dawn: Rush of Blood truly fit in that world. The most obvious aspects were the locations and the characters and of course the horror,” he says. “Beyond that we felt that the concept of having choices was also key. As Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is a completely different experience and is completely action oriented, we don’t have choices around conversations and narrative, but we have implemented choices around the action and these impact your play experience as well as key elements that are core for the arcade shooter genre, so things like scoring and weapons.”

Maybe the most popular mechanic that won’t be making its way to Rush of Blood is the Butterfly Effect, which helped you understand how your narrative and conversational decisions affected your overarching story. “The Butterfly effect was a great mechanic for communicating the choices of the narrative in Until Dawn, but as a mechanic it doesn’t fit with the arcade shooter experience in VR, so whilst we still have choices for the player, we will communicate them in a different way for this game,” Harris says.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood looks to be a strong entry in the PlayStation VR lineup when the headset launches. Supermassive hopes to strike the right balance between atmospheric, adrenaline-pumping horror and on-rails arcade shooting action while capitalizing upon the capabilities of virtual reality. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is slated to launch exclusively on PlayStation VR.