Alone for Oculus Rift Interview – Re-Inventing the Horror Experience

We’ve been covering Alone since its inception as an Oculus Rift tech demo of sorts, but now it has since hit kickstarter in a bid for being made into a full fledged game.

I had the chance to steal Bryan Cohen, one of the masterminds behind the project, for some burning questions I had for their proposition to reinvent the horror genre.

Niche Gamer: For our readers who haven’t been following our coverage of Alone, can you briefly go over the concept of the game?

Bryan CohenBryan Cohen: Alone is a brand new type of horror experience. It requires the use of the Oculus Rift headset, headphones, and a PC enabled controller (we plan on having keyboard support as well!). Once you put on your VR headset, you will find yourself sitting on a couch in a virtual living room. In front of you is a Television on which you will be playing an FPS horror title called The Witching Hour.

As your progress through the story you’ll find that something isn’t right… and the game world of The Witching Hour begins bleeding out into the virtual living room. You will experience visual and auditory thrills as the horror from The Witching Hour becomes all too real and even has you questioning whether or not it’s coming from the game. The best analogy to describe this type of experience is the movie Inception. Except instead of being a dream inside of a dream, it’s a game inside of a game.

NG: Greenwood is based out of Washington state, but are all of the team members local as well?

Bryan: Besides from myself all our team-members are from elsewhere! Our staff live globally – from West to East Coast, all the way to England and Germany. Thanks to filesharing and Skype this is way more feasible than you’d expect.

NG:  How many people have been working on the project since its inception as an Oculus Rift game?

Bryan: It’s just been Dan and I up until now. After our Initial prototype, we decided we wanted to make a feature-length game and have since added six others to our team.

NG:  What inspired you to come up with the idea for Alone?

Bryan: We both really love the horror genre and we had this feeling that the Oculus Rift would heighten any scares and thrills. For a while we had been talked about how awesome it would be to make a game that was inspired by the ‘Creepypasta’ genre, which is a sub-set of the horror genre usually involving meta-aspects and breaking the fourth-wall. Alone was our opportunity.

NG: How robust of an experience will The Witching Hour be? Is it just there to further the immersion?

Bryan: The Witching Hour really is an experience in it’s own right. We are really dedicated to delivering the type of gameplay experience that you have come to expect in any game, regardless if it’s a game-within-a-game. Although it’s original purpose was to be a vessel from which scares are delivered, it’s really turned into this totally awesome First-Person Shooter that we hope to flesh out more someday. One of our stretch goals is to make The Witching Hour into a full game.

NG: What made you change the perspective in the game within a game from third person to first person?

Bryan: A big element of this new version we are developing is not only playing a game-within-a-game, but playing that game-within-a-game co-op. To clarify however, it isn’t actually a multiplayer game, it just tricks you into believing it is. To better facilitate this co-op themed nature, we decided first-person shooter worked way better than an exploratory third-person.

NG:  Are you concerned that a first person experience might change things up too much?

Bryan: Not at all. The story was written with first-person in mind, and the game itself is waaaaay more fun than the slow paced walking of the prototype. We don’t want people to only be scared, we want them to enjoy themselves and have fun!

NG:  How do you guys balance subtlety with nerve-wracking scares? Will there be skeletons jumping out?

Bryan: We prefer subtlety over jump-scares. That’s not to say there won’t ever be a jump-scare here or there, but in general we prefer to let the players imagination fill in a lot of the blanks. It tends to amplify the scares and the general creepiness factor. To more specifically answer your question, a strong look at pacing and early-on outside testing will help ensure the game is balanced.

NG:  Sorry about that last one, but what kind of stuff can we expect to bleed into the virtual world from the game world?

Bryan: Ha, well I can’t tell you – that would be spoiling it! What I can tell you though is you can expect to see a lot more physical and material manifestations in your house than was present in the prototype. Also, we are bringing the game world into virtual world in more innovative and meta ways that we think people will enjoy.

NG:  What kind of weapons or equipment can players use in The Witching Hour?

Bryan: For this iteration, you will only have a shooting weapon and a lantern. If we were to develop The Witching Hour into a full game we would go much more in depth with creating and designing new weapons and items for the player to use that enhance the gameplay experience.

NG:  Will there be a threat of monsters, like the werewolf you guys teased?

Bryan: For the “mission” you will be playing in The Witching Hour, the werewolf will be your main prey. Your team of hunters will be on the mission of removing said horrors from an old estate.

NG:  There’s a small tease for The Witching Hour being a co-op experience, and yet still being a single player game. Could you elaborate on how this works?

Bryan: The best way I can put this without spoiling too much is it will feel exactly how it feels to play a console co-op shooter with your friends from the comfort of your couch. There will be lots of voicework, hah.

NG:  Do you worry the 30 to 45 minute length might turn some people off?

Bryan: Yes it’s definitely been a worry of ours that people won’t recognize the value we are offering. We are a full team of industry professionals delivering a polished and well-crafted next-gen experience unlike anything you’ve played before. The 45 minutes of gameplay will be compelling with zero filler, and it has player choices along the way that can result in multiple endings. In addition to the main-game, we are also offering a stand-alone program called ‘Not-So-Alone’, which is a sandbox mode allowing you to trigger off any of the games special effects at your leisure. On top of that, we are offering a special effects pack which will include multiple effects that didn’t quite fit into Alone but are still way cool. Our hope is that people can identify a solid experience for a low entry cost (only $10!) that is new and innovative.

NG:  Are there any plans on providing a more “expected” game length, like say 6-10 hours?

Bryan: We really want Alone to be an experience that you can play through in one go, and 6-10 hours is way too long for anyone to be playing the Rift at one time, let alone one game session. If The Witching Hour was ever made into a game… maybe?

NG: You guys are promising regular content updates, what can fans expect from them?

Bryan: New types of games-within-a-game, new effects, new experiences, LOTS more content for ‘Not So Alone’. We really think this ‘genre’ is just at the beginning and we are excited at the possibilities.

NG:  Should your Kickstarter be funded, would you plan on making a sequel, or something similar for the Oculus Rift?

Bryan: Absolutely! We love the hardware and the idea of continuing to work with it – at the minimum we would love to make games that have Oculus Rift support. As you mentioned before we are also planning content updates, and if The Witching Hour was ever made into a full-game I would fully expect that to support the Rift as well.

NG: Lastly, do you have any words for your backers, and potential pledges?

Bryan: To our backers, you have all been incredibly wonderful. We’ve received nothing but awesome feedback and we’ve been wicked excited to hear from all of you. Your continued support means a mountain of thanks from us and we again thank you for all your help.

To Potential pledges, I ask you to consider this: One thing we have been hearing from non-pledges is that they would support if they had an Oculus Rift, but they don’t currently possess one. We understand this reasoning completely, but we ask you to think of the bigger picture. The Oculus Rift is going to be released in 2014 and with it will come a boom in Virtual Reality unlike anything we’ve seen for decades. Our hope is to provide an unbelievably valued experience specifically for Rift users right from the get-go. Right now there are plenty of tech-demo’s to play but nothing feature-length built for the hardware. We ask future pledges to consider supporting to help both the future of VR and this wonderful piece of hardware. Only through community support can we hope to see Virtual Reality thrive!

I’m very grateful to have been able to talk to these guys, and if my interview with Bryan got you interested in their kickstarter, you can make your pledge here.

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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. Pronouns: Patriarch, Guido, Olive, Catholic