October 19, 2020
Games Lift: Crumbling feels like playing with action figures
At the heart of Virtual Reality sits a promise: Players stop controlling someone else. They themselves become the hero, fighting off monsters and saving the world. Ole Jürgensen has a one-word description ready for VR games that try to make good on that fantasy: „Exhausting.“
Ole is far from being a nay-sayer when it comes to VR. He is a seasoned VR expert himself, as former lead developer of „Tower Tag“, a multiplayer-shooter that won a Deutscher Computerspielpreis – Germany’s biggest gaming award. He has an intimate knowledge of VR’s strengths and limitations. And Crumbling, a game he is developing together with technical artist Leonie Brosz, grew out of his learnings.
The Team behind Crumbling: Ole Jürgensen and Leonie Brosz
Ole describes the journey that he, and many like-minded tech enthusiasts, took into VR. At first, he was awestruck by the new perspective, but then he found himself using the new medium less and less. The problem, he explains, lies in a misunderstanding. A typical game might involve „things flying at my face, jumping around and waving.“ VR can feel at times like a sport, and at times just stressful. And yet, players hardly look or feel like they are moving at all. Video games have given us the expectation that sprinting and jumping through a first-person-shooter would be a normal thing to do. Ole found a solution for all these problems in changing the perspective: In Crumbling, players look down upon the game world. They pick up tiny characters called Crumblings and move them around freely – basically like action figures.
A brave Crumbling fighting a boss enemy
Learning from kids
Ole and Leonie aren’t the only ones shrinking game worlds down in VR. But they have taken a logical next step by allowing character movement via motion controls. The feeling of looking down on diorama-like levels in VR evokes memories of childhood. Picking up your hero and swinging it around like an action figure is an intuitive thing to do. Crumbling is the rare VR game that is action-packed, yet lets you play without leaving you stressed out or exhausted.
Both cute and powerful: Crumbling soldier & shaman
The visual style of the game is reflective of the way it is played: Crumblings are cute, chubby characters without arms or legs. The highly stylized look has a number of benefits. First among them is getting Leonie on board. She immediately grew fond of the blobby guys Ole has been drawing since he was a child. „It’s easy to personalize them with hats and items they are holding,“ he explains. Leonie is an experienced tech artist specializing in XR. When she saw Ole’s creations, „she came up with over 20 variations and sketched them in no time.“ That was her intro into the project.
Leonie has answers
While the project was Ole’s idea originally, Leonie has proven invaluable. Ole gets to quiz her about technicalities regarding rendering or the use of shaders, even when her other full time dev work doesn’t allow for the same commitment. She also contributes to the fuzzy work of making detailed creative decisions: How fast can the crumblings move, exactly? How technical and precise should the combat feel? Action roguelikes in the vein of „Hades“ are a big inspiration to the project. But translating that into VR is a completely different challenge.
Ole has high hopes for his Crumblings. VR may be a niche, he contends, but that can make it easier for good games to stand out – especially if they manage to make it into the Oculus Quest store. Financial success in VR may be rare, but it certainly is possible. His next challenge, however, is the Games Lift milestone pitch. Details around the concept, style, and content of the game have changed. And an important part of the incubator is working on financial planning and a strategy for marketing. Ole and Leonie have made progress in a variety of areas, and they are itching to show it.