Immersion Games' CEO Bartosz Rosłoński told us about the concept of the studio's upcoming tactical fighting game Divine Duel, spoke about the game's core mechanics, and talked about the peculiarities of making VR titles.
My name is Bartosz Rosłoński, and I’m the CEO of Immersion Games and a Board Member of Immersion. My first contact with VR was back in 2014 when Oculus was still a stand-alone brand that hadn’t even dreamt of being bought by Facebook. I have fond memories of Oculus DK1, basically my introduction to virtual reality, despite the device being a cumbersome piece of technology. However, an early start allowed me to witness the evolution of VR as it happened and gather plenty of experience with various business projects along the way.
Being a small and utterly unknown company from Poland didn’t block us from working for big and established clients – mainly from the US. It also allowed us to be at the forefront of VR usage in business. Since 2014 I have been working on apps and projects for the FBI, Bayer, Coca-Cola, HBO, Google, and many others.
There are plenty of projects I’m proud of. We were a part of the first VR exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. We made a VR project out for one of the most significant cases in FBI history – the infamous Unabomber. I’m also proud of our AR apps – Apollo’s Moon Shot AR and Mission to Mars AR in particular. Both were created in cooperation with Smithsonian Channel and NASA; these apps consisted of various exciting experiences tied to the historic landing on the Moon and the last year’s mission to get Perseverance to Mars. Both apps were considered for some of the industry’s most coveted awards – Apple Design Awards, Emmy, Webby, and more.
My transition to the videogames industry happened in a very organic way. If you think about it, we were already making games – just smaller ones, and with aligned business goals, but gaming experiences nonetheless. What made the transition possible was the release of Meta Quest and Meta Quest 2. To me, that was the first sign of a developing consumer market. We made two games with those devices in mind: Disc Ninja and Extreme Escape, and this year we intend to release the third one – Divine Duel.
After we shipped Disc Ninja, a somewhat relaxed, almost-meditative experience, we wanted something more energetic, adrenaline-pumping, and, if possible, with elements of fitness.
VR has always fascinated me regarding what we can take from the real world, enhance, and shape into a fun experience for the users. Divine Duel accomplishes one task, in particular, I prioritized basically from the start of the development – we want the players to move a lot and give them reasons to be active. And by combining that with fun gameplay and pleasing aesthetics, we are enabling people to exercise without focusing on the physical strain of the process.
From their perspective, they are doing what they love – they play a fun game and do some light workouts on the way. You could say that each victory is earned with sweat, and I think that’s what makes it unique and what makes the joy of winning last longer and more memorable.
As for the game’s world, we went with a combination of themes from sci-fi and fantasy. We couldn’t decide whether to go with one or the other for a long time, so… we went with both! You only see a slice of it – a mystical land of Evergarden, located in Deep Space and hidden behind a black hole. But it’s more than enough.
There are different characters and premises focused on their rivalry, which is an excellent base for the game to work. Of course, with time, we intend to evolve it. Our goal story-wise is to present it in a way that the players will be able to feel like they’re a part of it, like they’re experiencing a real struggle happening somewhere in the far reaches of the cosmos, instead of just saying what happens through excessive exposition.
The Game's Concept
I think the main idea of Divine Duel is beautiful in its simplicity. Divine Duel is a VR fighting game – we put two players in a small battle arena and provide them with fun tools to fight one another. This might not sound particularly enticing as it is not a new concept for video games or entertainment, but simplicity is often where VR shines. Instead of dodging projectiles by pressing buttons on your gamepad or a keyboard, you simply move around the arena. Shooting and throwing are similar – you perform these actions with your own hands.
The player needs to decide – often on the fly – where to aim and how much force should be used to hit a moving rival. This way, they no longer feel like playing a game; they become a part of it – they don’t defend an imaginary base on the screen; they fend off projectiles and angry beasts stampeding toward their virtual selves. And the game rewards it by creating fun, unique moments where a split-second decision can yield unexpected results, and a powerful attack can overpower another one, turning the tides of battle in an instant.
But that’s not all. For replayability purposes, we made approximately 40 weapons included in the base game. Each has a separate cost to balance things out, and it is impossible to exceed the point limit – so you can’t just include all the most powerful items and call it a day. There’s a balancing act in which you decide what to combine and how to get the best out of your loadout. How many defensive items should you take? Would It be better to stack powerful weapons with long cooldowns or to go with something simple you can use more often?
On top of that, there are four different characters in the game, each with two of their special attacks. These range from hurling a giant meteor and summoning a fearsome dragon to building a giant ballista that you get to operate. The bottom line is that there is plenty to choose from. We believe that the deep strategic layer is a great way to appeal to the players – especially those who like to tinker with their arsenal.
Immersion Games consist of people from different backgrounds and gaming preferences, so while conceptualizing the game modes, plenty of other ideas were thrown around. One of them – the Draft mode – has stayed for good. This is akin to how some of the card games are played so that instead of bringing your deck (in our case, your chosen loadout), players were selecting cards from the given limited pool. Here we did the same, but instead of cards, there are weapons. The kicker, which I like the most, is that each unpicked weapon goes to the rival.
In my opinion, it creates exciting decisions where someone might choose something they’re less proficient with to avoid playing against it. This is a more advanced mode for those who are more familiar with the game content, and I feel like it adds even more to the table regarding replayability. You don’t know what items will be available for each match, and once you do, you need to make quick decisions. It also is a way to even the playing field since no one is allowed to take their preferred combo to the match and instead has to rely on their in-game knowledge, versatility, and adaptability.
Developing a VR Game
I’d say that even with an established best way to do anything, the development of a game, any game – not only VR, is still a daunting challenge. Gamers are a very self-aware group of customers who are hard to please. Many come with their expectations and experiences, and that makes it even harder to win them over. But it is worth trying. If you accomplish that, they will play your game and enhance it with their unique perspective, feedback, and commitment.
That being said, we have established a specific workflow after years in both VR and AR. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to have experience in an industry that’s so young. So many years spent on making content for devices with low computing power is paying off.
We know how to make the game look beautiful without straining the goggles, even when there are plenty of things happening in the game simultaneously. We have an idea of what works best and what development pitfalls are best avoided. We know how to make a game scale better and easier to balance. We created a system that allows tweaking the settings on the fly. This couldn’t be possible without an early start, and I’m thankful for that.
Players' Movements in the Game
I’m glad that we have no issues whatsoever with motion sickness. Part of that is due to the player seeing their body and hands, providing the brain with a much-needed reference not to freak out. We also don’t move the player under any circumstance. They do that of their own volition, pace, and preference, making it so much easier to get used to.
The other part is achieved through the evolution of VR devices. And while there still might be singular cases where the game makes someone unwell, we’re light years ahead of what used to happen often, not that long ago. I encourage everyone who feels that VR is not for them to give it another chance.
Pandemic's Influence on Immersion Games
The pandemic was a game changer in many ways, but not always for the worse. For example, it was during the pandemic when the digital sales of video games finally exceeded the physical ones, or the interest in VR skyrocketed. People locked in their homes searched for new ways to entertain themselves, and plenty decided to try VR or video games.
Digital distribution has made it all possible. No need to go outside and stand in line; with just a couple of clicks, you’re a proud owner of a new title. As a company, we’ve preferred this business model from the start – no need for logistics and no issues with delivering the physical products. So from the perspective of providing a ready product directly to the clients, nothing has changed. Expect everything else has changed as the pandemic made almost all aspects of living and working much harder.
Fortunately, we’ve worked with one another for quite some time. We have our established workflow, and we made it somewhat manageable for us despite the pandemic. We might have had more covid-related challenges in our private lives than at work.
Of course, there were hiccups and unexpected obstacles to overcome, but we accomplished that by being organized. What also helped is that we’ve been favoring the remote model of working even before the pandemic started. At the end of the day, what matters is how much were we able to accomplish, and I don’t mind if someone made it sitting in their pajamas.
Immersion Games' Roadmap
2022 is almost all about Divine Duel for us. We are pretty happy with what we got at this point, and the focus right now is to ensure that all the weapons are not only practical but, first and foremost, entertaining to use. We intend to do a Beta test of the game shortly and gather more input from the players. See what works best for them and what not, and where to emphasize the development and polish. In the meantime, we also made a reveal trailer and are working on another one – this time with much more focus on the gameplay.
The release of a full game is expected later this year on Meta Quest 2 and PCVR via Steam. The best part is that we already have many ideas for expanding it even further – new characters, arenas, weapons, power-ups, and more. Divine Duel is genuinely a joy to work on, and we hope the community will love the game as much as we do.