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nDreams on PS VR: It’s a Great VR Entry Point at a Compelling Price; PS4 Pro Can Make a Difference

Alessio Palumbo
Posted Oct 13, 2016
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PlayStation VR, as you’re probably aware of, launches today for a price of $/€ 399 and £349. As part of our launch coverage we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing nDreams’ Game Director Jamie Whitworth, who previously worked at Rocksteady Studios as Lead Designer on the entire Batman: Arkham trilogy.

nDreams is a UK studio mostly known for its work on PlayStation Home back in the day, releasing many games and virtual spaces for the platform until Sony decided to shut it down. Since 2013, however, nDreams has been focused on developing Virtual Reality content. They were among the first ones making this bold choice and The Assembly is the result of these efforts. The game launched back in July on Steam with support for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and it is now a launch title for PlayStation VR where PS Plus members can enjoy a 25% discount until October 27th .

We’ll be reviewing it shortly, but in the meantime here’s our interview with nDreams’ Jamie Whitworth on The Assembly, PlayStation VR, PlayStation 4 Pro and more.

The Assembly got a mixed reception from critics and gamers when it launched. What have you learned from the fan reactions? What was the main issue with the game?

The Assembly is one of the biggest projects released for VR so far and had 2 years in the making. From the start, we set out to create a game that was the perfect introduction to VR for anyone and everyone and focused on a gamepad led experience as this was where the community was sitting for much of the development. This year, however, the success of Vive and its touch controllers really divided the PC VR market in two and we know many Vive users felt let down by the lack of Tracked Controls support.

Our main lesson is coming to understand the needs of the various communities across VR, which is especially important now that we’re seeing further hardware and platforms being introduced to the public, such as Daydream, OSVR, PS VR and Move controllers.

Even though nDreams has been founded as a “developer of VR games & experiences”, The Assembly also features a non-VR mode. Why did you decide to add it? Do you feel the game would have been better off if you just focused on the Virtual Reality mode?

As mentioned previously, The Assembly was conceived as a perfect introduction to VR. We focused on tailoring mechanics, locomotion, story and environments VR newcomers, giving them the time and space they needed to get to grips with VR. This included people who may not have been gamers who were intrigued by the possibilities of the medium.

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This led us down the path of a narrative driven experienced that we felt still worked well in 2D. We didn’t want to exclude players intrigued by the world and story who just wanted to play in 2D, even if it isn’t the optimal medium to play The Assembly on. We’re also hopeful that The Assembly is the kind of title that may convince cautious 2D players to give VR a try within a familiar setting. A fair comparison would be making a movie for large, UHD TVs and still wanting a wider audience to enjoy the core story on the screens that they have.

It felt like the perfect title to make for wider audiences getting their first taste of VR in 2016. If we could change one thing, it would have been to release The Assembly earlier. However, we’re on the verge of an era in which all 3 major VR platforms (Vive, Oculus and PS VR) have publicly available Tracked Controllers and looking forward to getting to grips with them (literally) and being a part of the next generation of VR.

What kind of differences can players expect between The Assembly on PC (HTC Vive/Oculus Rift) and PlayStation 4(PlayStation VR) in terms of content and graphics?

Content wise, the games are identical. We’ve had to make some nips and tucks to the PS4 environments in order to keep load times down. However, this is down to tools needing time to mature rather than hardware limitations. The Assembly is built upon UE4 and we just missed out on releasing with UE4.13 as our base, which included some major under-the-hood improvements to load times.

Looking forward, I can see multi-platform engines offer developers parity between multi-platform titles outside of hardware differences, and I would love to see new techniques such as multi-res rendering and spacewarping come to the PS4 to help it keep up with PC VR in a few years’ time.

Sony recently announced the upcoming PlayStation 4 Pro console. Do you think its additional power can make a difference when it comes to PlayStation VR? Are you going to support PS4 Pro for The Assembly with a patch? 

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We’ll support the PS4 Pro for launch. Right now are treating it as hardware between the PC and PS4 SKUs, taking advantage of the extra power to render the world at a higher resolution for a more accurate final image.

The extra power of the PS4 Pro can make a difference, but I suspect that many developers will treat it in a similar fashion to us, offering higher fidelity rather than adding bespoke content.

Some market analysts have shared their belief that PlayStation VR might be the Virtual Reality device capable of breaking through mainstream, mostly due to Sony’s decades-long experience in selling hardware. Do you share this assessment?

Definitely. There’s been very healthy interest in PS VR reported across the web and it’s catching the eye of mainstream print press more and more. I think we’re going to see another seismic shift in the VR landscape by the time the festive period is over. I wouldn’t put it solely down to Sony’s long-term experience though, Sony are offering a great entry point for VR at a compelling price and backing it up with support from some popular franchises.

What do you think of the future of VR, with other competing technologies like 4K and HDR now available on both PlayStation and Xbox consoles?

I think they’re going to initially compete when they’re new and the costs force audiences to choose between one or the other but can foresee them comfortably co-existing in the long term. At least until we’ve got an AR headset that can do both! I prefer to think of VR as a new frontier for digital worlds, rather than the start of a VR exclusive era of entertainment. Similar to how polygons haven’t killed off pixel art and now 2D and 3D gaming co-exist much for the benefit of everyone compared to the mid-late 90s.

What’s next for nDreams? A sequel of The Assembly or perhaps an entirely different project?

We’ve got a new title ‘Danger Goat’ launching with Google’s Daydream platform in November, and right now, that’s all I can talk about.

However, I would like to add that The Assembly’s is a rich and fertile world, full of interesting characters. If we came back we’d have plenty of new ideas to explore, especially with Tracked Controls.

Thank you for your time.

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