A new virtual-reality title from Holospark, an independent developer headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., is working to expand the audience for VR by creating an approachable, newbie-friendly experience, with help from Seattle’s arts community.
The Haunted Graveyard, now available for purchase on Steam, was created with the growing virtual-reality arcade (“VRcade”) audience in mind. Its developers are careful not to call it a game, but instead, it’s an experience: a short, spooky adventure where you end up stumbling into a cemetery at night, complete with a local population of eccentric ghosts, and must find a way out before midnight or risk being trapped inside forever.
Every ghost you encounter on your trip through the graveyard is played via full-body motion capture by professional actors from Seattle’s theater scene, such as Laura Griffith, Brandon J. Simmons, and Mark Siano. Dynamic programming is layered on top of the characters to make them react in real-time to your movements.
According to its executive producer, John Tynes, The Haunted Graveyard is meant to feel like a virtual-reality Disney ride, complete with a full orchestral score by veteran video game composer Winifred Philips (God of War, Assassin’s Creed III) and a musical number by Seattle musician Joe Reineke.
Holospark has been working in research and development for the last two years to try to make characters who feel like they’re actually speaking with you, as opposed to simply reciting lines while you happen to be standing nearby. “We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on building out this whole approach, with the technology, pipeline, and expertise we need,” Tynes said. “Then we can bring those characters right to you, right in your face, connecting with you and taking you on an emotional journey as you go through our experience.”
Bruce Sharp, The Haunted Graveyard’s creative director, said, “We guarantee you you’ve not seen anything quite like this.”
There are no failure states in The Haunted Graveyard; you can’t die, there are no time limits, and you can’t get stuck. You’re free to explore its world as you like, and to take in the scenery at your own pace. The general idea is that The Haunted Graveyard can serve as a kid- and beginner-friendly introduction to the possibilities of VR, particularly for VRcade patrons who aren’t gamers, or who are brand-new to VR as a medium.
“There are several thousand ‘VRcades’ worldwide, a lot of them in Asia, but plenty in North America and Europe,” Tynes said. “We’re really excited about this because when we talk to operators, they will tell you that people who are new to VR will often have a frustrating time if they don’t get into something that’s the right approach for them. There are plenty of fairly hardcore VR games, and if you’re a mom at a birthday party, or Grandma and Grandpa, or anybody who doesn’t play shooters, then you may have a lousy experience and be turned off of this medium forever. And we think that would be a real shame.”
Holospark was founded in 2015 by a group of developers who had worked together before, first at Flying Lab Software, makers of the only-recently-shuttered MMORPG Pirates of the Burning Sea, and then at Cryptic Studios North, which worked on the Dungeons & Dragons-based online game Neverwinter before its closure in 2015. Tynes in particular has a long, storied history in games, as one of the co-creators of the 1999 urban fantasy RPG Unknown Armies and a prolific contributor to the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game.
Holospark’s other titles include its debut project The Impossible Travel Agency, a short exploratory VR game, and the cooperative first-person shooter Earthfall, which left Steam Early Access in July.