Chapter 2: Mechanics
Greetings fellow travellers,
We continue our adventure through Journey For Elysium‘s development. In this new chapter, we’ll dive into the game’s primary mechanics. You will discover its key features, how they work and how we built them.
Find out everything about Journey For Elysium’s mechanics in video form via the new Dev Diary, available here.
Want to catch up? Read our first chapter about Journey For Elysium’s origins here.
Identify core mechanics
In Journey For Elysium, players take on the role of an unnamed traveller trapped in the Underworld between life and death. He needs to find his way to Elysium, where he can finally obtain redemption and rest in peace. To do so, he will have to apply his wit and skills: rowing, archery or climbing and a bit of puzzle solving. All the mechanics we implemented in the game with great care while making sure every single one felt right and enriched the experience.
When the game started as a prototype two years ago, we had a lot of ideas in terms of gameplay. Next to the ones already mentioned we also wanted to incorporate combat with sword and shield, crafting and a skilltree among other complex mechanics. We quickly realized it wouldn’t be wise to include all of our ideas and concepts. After a few iterations, we decided to trim the excess features and to focus on the core of the game: the traveling, the exploration and the story.
Row, row, row your boat
VR has the power to trick your brain. It's one of the first things you’ll discover when putting on goggles as a VR virgin. There’s an undeniable sense of awe and wonder the first time you feel like you’re moving even though you’re actually standing still. To quote Morpheus from the movie The Matrix, when Neo fell from a great height and bleeds: “Your mind makes it real”. However, the experience isn’t always pleasurable (as seen in that exact scene). Wonder can quickly turn into unease and, if you choose to persist, even nausea. Convincing people to engage in an activity that can make them physically ill might be a tad tricky.
In addition, some people get sick on boats in real life. So when we told people we were going to make a VR game where you spend most of your time on a boat, a lot of them were rightly skeptical. Why on earth would you want to simulate that in a medium that’s also known to make people sick? Despite these concerns, we went ahead anyway, but we remained aware to be very careful.
One of the first things we wound up cutting were realistic buoyancy physics. Having the boat bobbing up and down felt awful: players of all experience levels felt uncomfortable whenever the boat moved on its own. On more than one occasion, some of us left the office feeling like we had spent the day on a carnival ride designed by the devil.
We also noted that when we disabled most of the simulated aspects, our rowing mechanic (using tracked hand controllers) did allow most people to move smoothly through the world with no ill effects. Even people new to VR and those who reported they were prone to motion-sickness. We had accidentally discovered that if we required players to physically move their bodies during virtual movement, the effects of simulator sickness were greatly diminished.
(Early rowing prototype)
Rowing a boat, even a virtual one with a weightless oar, can be kind of exhausting. This is one of the things we discovered while developing a VR game during a particularly warm spring season (for Belgian standards). Sharing a sweaty VR headset is not the most appealing experience, we can tell.
We figured that our gameworld couldn’t be just one giant river, not unless we were planning to rebrand Journey For Elysium as a cardio fitness game. To mitigate this we decided to also have other movement-based gameplay, like climbing and archery. Games like The Climb and Valve’s The Lab had already demonstrated these could be fun and intuitive for new players to learn.
Hit the target
In order to make Journey For Elysium a richer experience, we started thinking of more types of physical movement, other than the rowing. To move their boat, players have to use their arms. Following the same idea, we started working on the archery feature. We worked on several prototypes to create the immersive feeling while handling the bow. We improved it step by step by testing it frequently, adding vibrations as you pull the string and trails for the arrows.
It dawned on us we could do more with the archery and that’s how we came up with a teleportation mechanic. We played with the idea of shooting an arrow and warping the player to that location. It would help players move faster from point A to point B. In VR, players need to sometimes jump or climb to get over gaps. Sadly, jumping in real life doesn’t translate well into VR. You can be subject to nausea if you jump too much and it might even pose a risk to your VR equipment. Worst of all: it’s impossible to get a running start to cross a larger gap.
We needed to find a way to explain the mechanic in the story. We started thinking of limiting its use to a parallel world inside the Underworld. This area, only accessible at specific points in the game, would look completely different from the main environments. You’d have to figure out how to warp from one location to the next, using your now amplified bow.
We can’t reveal more for now without spoiling the story of the game. You’ll have to find out for yourself how it will be implemented in the final game.
(Early teleportation bow prototype)
Run for your afterlife
Making your way across the Styx is a bumpy ride and you’ll sometimes need to disembark to solve puzzles.
We built two modes of walking around to accomodate for players that easily get sick in VR:
- Immersive Mode, intended for VR veterans, will allow you to move like in a regular non-VR game, by simply pressing the analog stick forward.
- Comfort mode, for people prone to motion sickness, allows you to teleport to a location near you. Moving in the game while your body is standing still is the main cause of nausea and we wanted to reduce the dissonance between the virtual and real actions.
All that glitters is Gold
So we’ve figured out what to do with your feet, but what about your hands? We worked on several items you can grab, carry, toss… Like coins. These golden accents highlight the art of the game by creating a contrast to the black and white settings and will also play an important part in the game.
The hero will need them in order to unlock memories and discover his past. We hid many coins along the adventure for you to collect. Tossing them into a memory orb will reveal your past but we’ll keep that story for a future article.