Skydance Interactive’s Pete Akeman: We’re about to see the ‘second generation’ of VR gameplay

The studios behind Boneworks, Half Life: Alyx, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners all solved the same problem: interactivity in virtual reality. They each championed new physics-based gameplay that’s unlike most other experiences in VR. Now that they’re all out in the wild, the road has been paved for something new.

“Everyone is inventing the basics now, but once they’re out there, they will become standardized, and what will happen is we’ll go from Quake to Half-Life,” Skydance Interactive cofounder Peter Akeman said. “Once the basic vocabulary gets laid down, we’re going to see second generation product with deeper gameplay.”

Akemann was joined by GamesBeat’s Mike Minotti to discuss the challenges and next generation of large-scale VR development at GamesBeat Summit 2020. Throughout the talk Akemann addressed what’s next for VR and the challenges of developing The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.

“Saints & Sinners is a very substantial game. I think it’s the benchmark for first-person combat,” he said, not shying away from how impactful his game was on the industry. He also mentioned Beat Saber and Superhot as great games with much smaller teams. “They hit it with genius; we hit it with a lot of grit.”

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The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a first-person survival-horror game set in the ruins of New Orleans after the zombie apocalypse. It features free movement and physics-based first-person combat with guns and melee weapons, as well as a story set in The Walking Dead Universe. It’s a large-scale project that hit several delays as Skydance Interactive navigated new waters in VR development.

“The advantage of slipping in our schedule was that it gave us more time to reinvent things,” Akemann said. Skydance were eventually able to turn the walking-simulator idea they started with into a longer, action-oriented adventure.

Few large VR games have reached a mainstream audience due to that market’s continued niche status, but brand tie-ins with The Walking Dead helped this dev team take more risks with gameplay and story.

“If the team that had done Archangel had done a zombie game you probably wouldn’t have heard of it,” Akemann said of one of Skydance Interactive’s first VR games. “Everyone turned their heads because of The Walking Dead.”

During the talk Akemann also said that large-scale VR games can have a lengthy lifetime due to the platform’s slow growth rate. Some of the best-selling games on platforms like Oculus are Beat Saber, Superhot VR, Vader Immortal, and Job Simulator. Some of these have been around for years.

“The consumer base is spread out. It’s a trickle of people coming in,” he said, mentioning that there are a lot of studios making great games in the space. “If you can get in there it can last for a long time.”

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