In this week's Developer Showcase Q&A we sit down with Theresa Duringer and talk about how the game came together, learn more about Temple Gates Games is, and find out what's upcoming for Ascension VR. Enjoy!
Before we jump in and start talking about Ascension VR, can you tell us a little bit about Temple Gates Games? Who you are, what you’ve worked on previously, anything else we should know?
Temple Gates Games is five friends who originally got together for game jams. We're Tod Semple, Patrick Benjamin, Bean Rosaschi, Jeff Gates, and Theresa Duringer. Eventually we started selling our games, and it stopped being just a jam and started being a real company. Before Ascension VR, we made Discovery VR, a 360 video app where you can jump into the garage with the Mythbusters crew or dive into the deeps with Shark Week content. Before that we made Bazaar, the flying carpet game created originally for the Oculus VR jam.
Ascension was originally a physical card game developed and released by Stone Blade Entertainment. Can you walk us through how this game came to be in VR? Did Stone Blade approach you, or did you pitch to them?
Our team is a little obsessed with boardgames. We play them at lunch. We play them at dinner. We host Magic drafts and game nights and playtests with our prototyping friends. In fact, just last month, Patrick proposed to his girlfriend through the Quirkle boardgame.
Traveling to Germany for Essen, or Indianapolis for GenCon is how we vacation. Last year I got to meet Nick, Gary, and some other folks from the Ascension team at their Gen Con booth. Like a giant dork, I showed them my Ascension fan art and jewelry. They were super nice, invited me to compete in Worlds after I won my tournaments, but the best surprise was when a care package arrived from them after the con with spare cards and honor tokens for me to make more jewelry out of. So they were basically the coolest ever.
Fast forward to the holiday break, I was working on Bazaar during a flight to visit family in Florida. I noticed something special. I was able to calm down in VR on a flight in a way I haven't been able to in years. My first thought – there's something here. My next thought what would be the ultimate game to play on a flight to really capture my attention and distract me from my fear? I think I emailed the Stone Blade devs that night with a pitch to make Ascension VR. The point was to make an amazing boardgame in VR, and my bonus motive was to make something that would let me relax on a flight. After that, I ended up running into the lead designer of Ascension, Justin Gary, at SXSW. He was there to deliver a talk on CCG. I was showing Bazaar. I think when he saw not just what we were making, but how excited people were to step into another world, he got on board, and the rest is history.
Expanding on this a bit, the card game is a person to person social game, is there anything you found particularly challenging or interesting when developing the game for Virtual Reality?
VR dev can be tricky. Cards have text, and text is notoriously difficult to read in VR. It's getting better, but there are still limitations on minimum font size, displaying text outside the center of view, etc. Also, boardgames are typically played on a table, and that's where our design started.
Unfortunately, having one common presentation of the game in the center of all players makes for an experience that's legible to no one. In VR you can cherry pick your physics, so we ditched gravity, and developed a system of vertical zones. Some are common to all players' view, such as each player's deck and discard pile. Some are uniquely draw for every player to optimize legibility, but give the illusion of being common, such as the center row, and some are simply unique to each player, such as the hand. The trick is in animating cards between these distinct zones – each serving different goals – seamlessly so players don't notice the illusion.
Ascension VR is available on Rift and Gear VR, can you play multiplayer between headsets?
Yes. We’re one of the first VR crossplatform multiplayer games. Players with Gear VR and Rift can all join the same games. We did this to boost the multiplayer opponent pool so you can always find folks to play with and you don't have to worry about buying the same headset as your friend. To do this, we had to create custom content suited to the processing power of each supported HMD.
I love the environment you play in, it’s nice and relaxing, I really feel connected to the space. Are there any plans to customize the play area at all beyond this setting?
Ascension VR is set in a Lifebound forest. We would love to roll out new play environments.
During the beta, some players requested environments based on each faction, which seems like a great idea. My friend, Paul, even had a great idea to change the environment when an event comes to play. This is something from expansion content, and like expansion content, we hope to roll these things out down the line.
I noticed that there was more to come, some patches on the way to add in some functionality, are you going to continue to support the game with fixes and updates?
Yes! Stone Blade's Ascension has several of wonderful expansions, and we cannot wait to implement these. I've already started coding the logic for many of the cards since I can't wait to play with them, too. On top of expansion content, we have a ton of features designed based on feedback from our beta players. We're massaging our create game flow, improving the end game fanfare, and a bunch of other things to make the experience even more dazzling.
The social experience is really great, there’s been a ton of good feedback from our forums, social media, and Reddit. Curious if you are looking into any feature updates for social?
A lot of people seem perplexed when they hear about Ascension in VR. Why? Can't I already play on mobile? The magic here is that it's social. We find that people get it when they jump into a game and are able to crank up the tabletalk, joke, challenge opponent strategies, and just plain unwind about their day. I used to play boardgames with my sister around the table, but she moved across the country. Now I'm finally able to hang out with her again around a boardgame and hear about her day.
Social features start with the player avatar. Your animations follow the movements of your body in the real world. Your avatar's voice is your own. Spatialized audio makes it sound realistic when you're near, far, looking at, or looking away from friends in game, and lip sync compliments this. And we're scaling up our multiplayer features as the online community grows. One major thing we want to tackle is the representation of other players in game, even if they're not in your current lobby or game. We're hiding that info away in a directory, which is heavy on the abstraction and loses the impact that we might get with a more visual representation of the world's population.
I saw you were organizing Tuesday game days, that’s excellent! Is there a place where folks can go to learn more about the meetups?
Yep, we plan to jump into games Tuesday nights at 8:00pm PDT. You might play a game with us, you might even play with the Stone Blade devs who made the original game. It's a great way to give us feedback, and consider solutions together with us right as we play. We generally post to Reddit, but players can find more info on TempleGatesGames.com or by following @Temple_Gates.
Thanks for taking the time to discuss Ascension VR with us, we’re looking forward to playing with everyone online!