The Persistence Enhanced Q&A – Firesprite on How Ray Tracing Improves Gameplay in This Survival Horror Game
The Persistence Enhanced is coming out on June 4th for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series S|X. The news came today as part of a press release from developer Firesprite Games and publisher Perp Games.
The update will be free to all existing owners of the roguelike survival horror game, whether they have The Persistence on Steam, PlayStation, or Xbox platforms. Ahead of the upcoming launch, we had to pleasure to chat again with Stuart Tilley and Graeme Ankers, whom we interviewed last year when they were first converting their previously VR-only game to work with regular 'flatscreen' displays.
The Persistence Enhanced update will be rather substantial, featuring ray traced shadows, reflections, and Global Illumination on both PC and next-generation consoles alongside a series of fixes and tweaks (such as remappable bindings, which is something the community asked for). Furthermore, according to the developers, the addition of ray tracing actually enhances the core gameplay of the survival horror title.
Our discussion also touched on how the studio is coping up with remote working, their contract with Cloud Imperium Games to develop Star Citizen's Theaters of War mode, and more. Enjoy!
How's it going over there at Firesprite? Are you still working remotely?
Graeme Ankers: Yeah. I think it's been a massive transition for us as Firesprite, we were very much a full-time, on-site studio. Remote working was on our roadmap probably for later this year. When the country first went into lockdown, the IT and the Ops teams did an incredible job basically taking everybody, giving us all the conditions to work fully remotely, and we were tracking what was happening in the world at that time. Those teams did an amazing job, they transitioned everybody out of the studio in a matter of three weeks, and we have stayed fully remote, aside from IT and a few essential operations, ever since. It really did work, we didn't miss any significant milestones. We're still working today, more than a year now, I can't believe it's more than a year, as a fully remote studio. All told, when you count everybody up, there's over 240 of us with full-time employees, partner studios, and services. We've carried on growing and developing all the way through, and I have to give a lot of credit to our clients as well, who were at the same time transitioning themselves to working from home. It's an incredible effort, really, and I think we're very lucky and privileged to be in the industry we're in and managing to carry on working in this way. I think it's definitely been hard.
When people work from home, you've got to account for people's wellbeing and making sure that everyone's always in full contact with each other. We've got a pretty good structure and diary in place every week and a series of touchpoints with everybody, all our teams, just to make sure everyone's doing okay. We're very proud of the way Firesprite really transitioned into this environment. The silver lining is the opportunities we have to potentially mix it up a bit in the future, with both on-site working and off-site working and opening up remote positions for the first time. That's been the silver lining out of that situation, the creation of some real opportunities and a new way of working for the future.
Perhaps it will be a bonus in the future.
Graeme Ankers: I really think so. We're yet to really explore those because everybody's still off-site at this time. It's figuring out ways now with how do we mix that work in the future? There are exciting challenges and opportunities in the future for us. So, I guess that's what I would call the silver lining outcome of this.
Something else that many developers experienced during these long lockdowns is also an increase in game sales and overall interest in their titles. Did you also see that with The Persistence?
Graeme Ankers: Yeah, I think across the board, we did with The Persistence but also in terms of all the activity we have at Firesprite because we work on multiple projects. As a studio, we've seen a big increase in people playing our games, people wanting more content. And I think that's been an incredible thing to see. Another positive of our industry is we're providing universes where we can bring people together, and that aspect has been really important during lockdowns as a social touchpoint. We see it with our children playing, actually getting to interact with their friends. I think that's been a huge benefit to people and it has driven a lot of demand. Just experiencing games together during this lockdown period has been huge for us as a studio and probably across our sector. We've definitely seen an increase there. That helps us also thinking about developments in the future and how sort of social online gaming now really is a part of people's culture. It's fantastic that we can work in a space that provides that.
You mentioned working on multiple projects and actually, last month we learned of your contribution to Star Citizen's Theaters of War game mode. Can you talk about that for a bit? Is this something that you plan to keep doing for some time?
Graeme Ankers: Yeah, I'll speak to that a little bit. I think we've been really lucky to be working alongside Cloud Imperium Games and Star Citizen. Originally it was in support of Star Marine and the Arena Commander game modes and then we sort of expanded almost organically that collaboration to include a realization of a new vision for the competitive multiplayer combined arms Theaters of War game mode.
Stuart Tilley: It's the highlights of what Star Citizen as a whole can give you pulling it all together into one high adrenaline piece of PvP action.
Graeme Ankers: It's great as that links together ground combat and space combat and provides different phases of that and both the social and online way. The intensity of Theaters of War is to almost distill the best 30 minutes of gameplay in the Star Citizen universe and try and get that easy to access social session play that really focuses on high impact and visceral combat within that gaming universe. It was a tremendously great experience for us at Firesprite, very helpful for iterating and improving the overall core gameplay of the Star Citizen universe as well, because it is so focused. I think in terms of that collaboration, it's great that we've been really working alongside that team and building that relationship. We hope as we do with all of our clients that this will expand and continue to work in the future. Again, speaking to some of the points we just talked about, getting that experience in online play, social play, in a really exciting setting as well, with multiple vehicles and modes, that's been hugely beneficial for Firesprite. We have other projects in the pipeline as well that speak directly to those kinds of experiences.
So you might be looking into taking this experience, and maybe do an online game of your own at some point.
Graeme Ankers: Yeah, I think online and social is definitely something that we would look at as a studio. Our own IP The Persistence has a really cool asymmetric social component that Stu and the team drove, which was really great. It was a first in the sense of linking players to the main player of the game on the pad or in virtual reality, it's a way that friends could interact and help or hinder each other by using their mobile phones and tablets. Normally, you don't bring a social element across to that survival horror experience. Stu and the team brought something really special over there in that social sense. As Firesprite, as a studio, we're always looking to bring something new. Answering your question there, I think there's so much potential for innovation now in that social and online space, that I think it's a big area for us as a studio to explore and experience going forward.
Stuart Tilley: I think, same with the other features in our games, if we were to go into doing that sort of thing, then we would ensure to come into that genre offering something completely new. Whatever our major innovation is that we would put to it, it definitely wouldn't be a run-of-the-mill sort of thing, as we did with our companion stuff on The Persistence. One of our key drivers at the studio is to create world firsts. We wouldn't just do a standard by the numbers game, there would definitely be something special about whatever it is that we do. It would have to be something that players haven't done before, whether it's in social aspects, or level design, or maybe a technical aspect. When we go there, we'll go there with something really unique that is going to be well worth people to kind of keep their eyes open for.
Yeah, that makes sense. Right now you're finishing up The Persistence Enhanced, though.
Stuart Tilley: Yep, we're nearly there with all of the cool visual updates that the game is going to have. We're really pushing and maximizing what we can do with ray tracing technology, both on consoles and PC. On next-gen consoles, we're going to have Performance Mode which runs at dynamic 4K and 60 frames per second, and our Quality Mode, which runs at dynamic 4K and 30 frames per second with ray traced effects. The ray tracing (which is not available on Xbox Series S) really is quite something, it's not just that it looks great, it actually ties into the gameplay of a game like The Persistence really well. For example, the way the reflections or the shadows might work differently.
You can imagine opening the door into a room and where there was a reflection of a bright light on the wall to your character's right side as you go in, with the screen space reflection, that wouldn't always be the case. With a raytraced solution, then you get to see it more often. You start to detect bits of movement in the environment that without ray tracing you don't quite get all the time. And it's the same with the ray traced shadows we have. Again, it really helps you, gives you just a few extra hints as to where enemies are and where they're moving and what body shape they are, to know whether they're ready to turn to attack or whether they're walking away from you. So it's not just that The Persistence Enhanced looks super sexy compared to the original game, but the technological advances have allowed incremental improvements to the quality of the core gameplay as well. What's also great is the instant loading after dying and when moving between decks, there's no sense of stopping anymore, it feels so much more believable in the world where the game doesn't stop you between events. You jump in and come straight out the other way. The Persistence Enhanced just flows and holds together so much tighter on next-gen and PC.
I assume that's particularly important as The Persistence Enhanced is a rogue-lite game.
Stuart Tilley: Yeah, that's right. That's really important, especially for the flatscreen play, making sure there are no natural breaks in the play so you can be 'God damn it, one more go!' and it's straight there, off you go again. We've really tightened it up and I think a little nod as well is owed to the DualSense controller on PS5. The adaptive triggers and haptic feedback on the controller are really quite something. I'm sure you've used it on a bunch of stuff but with regards to the weapons and the melee combat in The Persistence Enhanced, if you play on PS5 it definitely feels a lot more immersive in your hands. You feel the pull of the trigger, you feel the cold steel against that guy's skull when you hit him with the lance. There's a lot of really good quality updates across the board that have gone into The Persistence Enhanced, as we are taking advantage of everything that the latest generation of hardware can give us. Also, this is a free update for those that already own the game as well.
Graeme Ankers: Yeah, that's correct. It's free for those who already own the game. As a studio with our own IP, we really wanted to do the right thing for our players. I think it just is a significant update, the levels of immersion that we're getting enabled by the new technology platforms, the way that feels it's almost like the density of the air, the smoothness of the gameplay. When you combine the visuals, it's a perfect sort of home really for the IP because it plays into that level of isolation, makes you wonder what's in that next room, looking at that shadow that's dancing across the floor, the lighting, the reflections on the surfaces. Even down to the audio and the combat that we've done some slight tweaks to as well. Overall, I think it's a really, really great experience, both for new players as well as the existing ones that have upgraded.
And we've also done a lot of work on that in terms of listening to the community feedback on customizable controls. That's something that we absolutely want to address in this version for Steam in the PC audience, as well as getting the feel right on the keyboard and mouse input.
You mentioned audio, which is always a critical aspect of any horror game. Since the new consoles also have improved audio capabilities, such as PS5's 3D audio or Xbox's Project Acoustics, did you take advantage of this tech, too?
Stuart Tilley: As the game was originally made for VR, we already had a 3D audio solution that we were running for the game, so we didn't really need to use the Tempest stuff that comes with PlayStation 5. That means all of our audio would already process the positions and various things like occlusions if the audio was coming from next door, for example. We had already invested quite a lot in this for the original game. We tuned a couple of things, but we didn't feel the need to like throw the baby out with the bathwater on that one. It already felt super immersive whether you're playing with headphones, or in VR. It wasn't something that we specifically put too much effort into this time. A lot of our focus for The Persistence Enhanced was on the graphical and quality life improvements rather than necessarily the audio.
I'm wondering if The Persistence Enhanced can also be played in VR, or is it just flatscreen?
Stuart Tilley: The overall quality of life improvements and enhancements on PC will be reflected in VR as well, yes.
But on PlayStation VR you will need to use the old version of The Persistence to play, right?
Stuart Tilley: Correct.
Alright. Are you excited about the new PlayStation VR that's been announced for next year?
Graeme Ankers: Yeah, I think it's incredibly exciting, actually, and great to see what they announced. Firesprite isn't just a VR studio at all, as you can see with the Theaters of War, we work across multiple platforms. But going back to our mission statement, what we do at Firesprite is innovate, whether that's reinventing a genre, or bringing something new to add to genres, but new hardware platforms are also exciting and from what we saw in the announcement, it's great that a new VR platform is coming to the market. There's potential for new opportunities that, as developers, we could utilize to showcase something new. I think there's a tremendous opportunity to increase those levels of immersion for experiences on the VR platform that they announced. So yeah, it's something we really, really are excited about.
Is there anything else that you can or want to add?
Graeme Ankers: I think I would just like to say it's great to have the community that we've got, the support that we've got on the game, and I think, you know, it's, you know, really from us to, you know, give something back, I guess, in terms of a significant free update. I really hope all the players really enjoy it as much as we have done making you know, so yeah, just really embracing that kind of spirit with them. I think it's been a brilliant and amazing journey for the game itself. The game started its life as a PlayStation VR title and has now touched many, many more people across many platforms. That's really encouraging and with The Persistence Enhanced, we're embracing our existing community and new players with an experience that we're really proud of. I think it really showcases what the new platforms can do.
Stuart Tilley: It's been a bit of a labor of love as well, obviously, as we're so much emotionally invested in this game. As Graeme said, obviously we wanted to give a little back and make this a free update for everyone. It's not just the ray tracing stuff we've put into the game, there's a list of quality of life improvements across all the platforms. We've been reworking UX and UI for the different weapons to make them more readable, updated particle effects, various different HUD elements have been improved for clarity. We've really tried to put as much, squeeze as much as possible into this free update as we possibly could. I'm just really hopeful that people enjoy playing the game again, with all this new sexy stuff in there. It's certainly more than just a patch or an update, a seriously large amount of work has gone into this, for us to give to the people who already supported us.
Given the amount of work that you've put into The Persistence between the original VR-only game, then porting it to flatscreen, and now this enhanced version, is it fair to say that fans may see more of it in the future?
Graeme Ankers: I think it's fair to say, yeah. We love The Persistence and we don't see an end to that journey. I think there's an exciting world to explore, we're super passionate about it. I think we would all love to continue that journey with our community. So yes, I think we can say that.
Thank you for your time.