GDC 18 Hands On – Downward Spiral: Horus Station (PSVR) Preview
Downward Spiral: Horus Station was announced back in February for the PSVR and the PC and will have players navigating through a lost vessel that has been abandoned by its crew. As they do, they’ll have to solve the mystery of the space station while also avoiding unknown dangers found within. Players will have to use weapons like bolt throwers, rail guns, and arc welders to take out threats, solve puzzles, and find out why the Horus Station has been left to drift in space. I was recently invited to meet with the CTO of 3rd Eye Studios, Veli-Pekka Kokkonen, at GDC 18 in an off-site location to try out the game in both VR and non-VR form for the PS4 Pro and to talk about his VR education.
Before diving into the game you are given the option of playing as an explorer, with nothing around to hurt you, or with enemy AI in standard mode. I went with the standard mode because I enjoy shooting stuff in general, and especially so in a zero gravity environment. Once the headset is on, and you are inside the empty space station, the fun can begin.
Lost in a Weightless Space Station
Upon entering the space station through an air lock, the lack of gravity became clearly evident as the only way I could move was by grabbing onto a hand rail and pulling myself forward. Grabbing rails, walls, ceilings, and pretty much anything within reach allowed me to move from point A to point B without too much trouble. Eventually I found a grappling gun that shot out a rope and a suction cup that would then reel you in, allowing you to reach a specific area much easier. Surprisingly, the transition between motions had no effect on me physically as far as motion sickness or discomfort, and there are some VR games I just can’t play.
The space station became a bit of a maze as I had to find different items to unlock doors and progress through it. I eventually found my first weapon, so I knew there had to be some gunplay coming up. I disturbed a couple of flying robots from their slumber, and they attempted to kill me. My little semi-automatic pistol was an okay weapon, but it lacked a laser sight, so I had to guess on the aiming. Full disclosure: I died before figuring out the aiming the first time. Dying wasn’t too bad as automatic checkpoints are created often, and the game is designed so that breaks can be had without losing too much gameplay if the game is completely shut off.
Friends in Space
I played the game for 30 minutes without even realizing it. For a VR game, and for me, that’s a pretty good sign that the game is well done. The game should have 4-6 hours of gameplay, depending on your style of play, and can be played in online co-op mode whether both players have VR or not. Technically, neither player needs a PSVR to play the game as it can be played either way, keeping in mind that move controllers are needed for the VR mode but don’t work with the non-vr version.. Personally, I wouldn’t mind using the move controllers with or without VR, but it’s easy to understand that tracking would be impossible without the VR headset.
When playing co-op, the players will be able to physically interact with each other, as well as objects floating around the station. Does your buddy need a wrench? Grab that one floating by you and toss it to them. You can also help them move around with a friendly shove. I didn’t get the chance to play co-op so we will have to visit this again once the game is released to get a better idea of how it all works. It sounds fun and interesting, though, so it’s something to look forward to. I did find a basketball floating around so maybe we can shoot some hoops with a friend.
The VR Education of Veli-Pekka Kokkonen
After my gaming session, I sat with Veli and discussed the development of the game and what avenues he pursued to better understand the VR world in general. He dove deep into the ideas behind it and wanted to understand what gave some players motion sickness, and then figure out how to design this game to limit that. It was that information that led the team to not giving the player their grappling gun to begin with. By having the player physically grab onto things and using that as a movement point, it limits the disconnect from reality in the brain that can cause queasiness, tricking the brain to believe it really is moving when it’s not.
Very little of the story for the game was revealed. The game uses a visual story telling narrative as players will have to piece together the plot through observation and interpretation, investigating items found throughout the station. I didn’t learn much, if anything, about what happened to the space station in my short time there, but I did find myself pretty immersed within it. The game doesn’t yet have a solid release date, but it should be available soon.