As a company that specialises in VR games, Vertigo Games is well positioned in riding out the VR technological wave that’s currently sweeping the industry. And having already developed the VR zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine, Vertigo Games has utilised its pre-existing experience by developing After The Fall. A game that’s been built from the ground up for VR, and which features co-operative first person shooter gameplay – where up to 4 players battle to survive in a world that’s been overrun by zombies.
Available on PC VR (Oculus Rift, HTC VIVE, Valve Index), PlayStation VR, and Oculus Quest 2, After The Fall has been described by various people as being the “Left 4 Dead of VR”. And whilst it’s nice to be associated with what is ultimately a genre leader, it’s also worth noting that since Left 4 Dead‘s release in 2008, and despite its age, there’s been very few games that have close to matching its inherent quality.
Knowing that After The Fall was developed for VR, a technology that’s still in its infancy, I spoke to TamTu Bui, Community Manager for Vertigo Games, about the challenges in bringing the Left 4 Dead style gameplay to a technological medium where the play mechanics are still largely being worked on. At the same time, I also got to ask him as to whether a sequel will be forthcoming any time soon. And whilst doing this, I got to try out my second ever VR title (which was nice). Enjoy!
How long has After The Fall been in development for?
We started development in 2017, where we started working on the prototype of what we wanted to make after our first zombie shooter, Arizona Sunshine. After The Fall is a spiritual successor to Arizona Sunshine, where we improved on the gunplay. We noticed that in Arizona Sunshine, players really enjoyed the co-op aspect. So for After the Fall, we went even further on that. And instead of just two players co-op, we went for four player co-op. Because there was also this void in VR where players wanted a game that was similar to Left 4 Dead in VR, and that wasn’t there yet. So we felt, “let’s try and fill that void”. And that’s how we came up with After The Fall. So three years later, in December 2021, we finally released After The Fall.
Just out of curiosity, but can you play After The Fall without VR headsets?
No, you can’t. So at Vertigo, we make VR games exclusively. Because it’s a platform that we are very supportive of, we really believe in the platform, and we definitely believe that VR is part of the future of entertainment. And it needs good games. So we want to make some really high quality games for VR, and make sure that it’s one of the staple games in your library for your friends to get.
Arizona Sunshine was a zombie game, and After The Fall is also a zombie game. After The Fall is like Left 4 Dead, and one of the problems with those type of games, is that the AI is oftentimes pretty lacking. Not only from your support players who aren’t human controlled, but also the enemies who can seem to be somewhat dumb. Obviously, I know that zombies are dumb. Also, what steps did you take to ensure that people wouldn’t get bored and say, “just another zombie level”, after something like the second level of After The Fall?
Yeah, I totally understand that. So After The Fall is designed for a squad of 4 players for each of our levels But you can play this solo and be joined by 3 AI, you can play this with 3 people and have 2 AI, 3 people and 1 AI. We do have them scaled up in capabilities, so the AI generally do output more damage than the player but that’s on the lower difficulty levels to really help support the player at first. But we do want the players to level up themselves and become better at the game themselves – aside from the end game progression system that we have for the weapons. Naturally, players will become more like squad leaders, and go through the content themselves, so the game will be more dependent on players for success. As for the enemies, we have distinctive enemies that have certain behaviours, and we have modifiers that make it a little bit more difficult to deal with them on a higher difficulty. So the slower zombies won’t be there in the higher difficulties for example. You will only have zombies running at you, and the higher up in difficulty you go, the zombies might even have ice armour. So as a squad, you have to think about your loadout and how to deal with things like ice armour and your position on the map. So there’s an intrinsic progression, and also an extrinsic progression in After The Fall. I think that dynamic will keep players interested in After The Fall.
Multiplayer co-op shooters… even though they’re not VR games, still riff on the template that’s been popularised by Left 4 Dead. We’ve just had the Back 4 Blood zombie shooter game that was done by the same studio who originally did Left 4 Dead. And there’s also that Aliens: Fireteam: Elite game…
Yes, I played that one. Not just for research, but I also enjoy those type of co-op games.
The thing is, nobody’s been able to nail down the Left 4 Dead formula successfully. Not even the original developers of Left 4 Dead… And even after all these years, nobody has been able to surpass that bar. So with these two relatively big budget games that have recently been released, and which riff on what is already a 15 old formula… When you’ve just had these two “big budget failures”, if you can call them that, does that not somehow make you more apprehensive about wanting to enter into a subgenre where a lot of these Left 4 Dead type games haven’t succeeded? I mean, what difficulties did you have… Knowing fully well that there are developers who are already trading in a subgenre that has tried and tested battle mechanics, where one’s a first person shooter, and the other’s a third person shooter… Where these play mechanics that have already been battle-tested to the ninth degree, and yet the developers have still come up short. So from that perspective, how did Vertigo Games go about entering the co-op Left 4 Dead style shooter subgenre, where both the VR technology hasn’t been properly battle tested, but where the battle mechanics also haven’t been fully perfected yet?
Yeah. So I think we’re in a pretty unique position in that we develop exclusively for VR. So the player base for VR is generally different. It’s independent from the player base from say, non-VR games. So like I mentioned before, we tried to fill a void, like a genre void, that was missing in VR. And with After The Fall, after we launched the game, everyone started calling it the “Left 4 Dead of VR”. Now, in that sense, we don’t need to hit the level of status that the original Left 4 Dead has in non-VR. And what we attempted in VR is also a really solid entry in that genre. So we have a saying at the studio, it’s “either you do it first, or you do it best”. It’s obviously the best case scenario to do both. But with us, potentially as one of the first studios to do a Left 4 Dead four player co-op in VR, we got that done. And it’s up to us now to make it as good as possible. And over the past year, and since it came out, we’ve received a lot of feedback from players who’ve played it and who’ve also drawn very many parallels between it and Left 4 Dead. And they’ve come up with a lot of ideas, and we’ve take them into account, and we’ve looked at what’s feasible whilst taking into consideration how far the VR technology is at right now. And so far, it’s been a great success for us to hear that players are having a really great time with After The Fall. So if Valve decides to come out of left field and make the next Left 4 Dead “VR”, like they did with Half Life: Alyx, then more power to them. They have the budget and resources to really make a super polished VR title. Our focus was mostly to create a solid multiplayer experience, and that’s why we chose to ensure that we had crossplay enabled. So After The Fall is available on PC, Quest, Pico, PlaySation VR, and all those players can play together, regardless of platform. So we’re not worried about a player base being very low on one platform because those players can still be matched up with players from other platforms. And that creates one whole community of After The Fall players, and I think that’s a really good position for us to be in – especially in VR.
Going back to Left 4 Dead… Left 4 Dead came out in 2008, and Left 4 Dead II came out only a year later. Given the feedback that you’ve received for After The Fall, do you think that you would be looking to re-release the game as a “Gold Edition”, or even make a After The Fall II sequel? Do you think that will be happening anytime soon?
If you look at the industry trends of live service games, and how games are developed with DLC in mind, we initially just wanted to make our first game in this genre for VR, and see how far we can support it. Now VR is in a position where the hardware is developing so fast. The VR headsets are getting better and better. But the standalone headsets, such as the Quest and the Pico, are also getting better and better. And over the next few years, we’ll have many more opportunities to decide as to whether we going to continue developing content for After The Fall on current platforms, or whether we should develop the next title that will essentially sunset the older hardware. Now, these are things that our team is always taking into consideration. We don’t have a clear sight of the future right now, but with the PSVR2 being closer to the PC version of VR, we can certainly look forward to more AAA quality VR titles in future. So we just want to focus on the “now”, and make sure that After The Fall is still the best game there is. And if a After The Fall II opportunity comes around, then I’m sure we’ll definitely jump into it, and really analyse the situation, and see as to what the best way is to not only push the franchise forward, but also push VR gaming forward as well. Like in general, with all VR development, if one developer has a really successful title, then everyone else in VR wins, because that’s a win for VR. And then that will just pull more people into this particular niche of gaming. So, since we’re very focused on VR exclusive game development, we’d love to see it grow.
How big is the development team?
At Vertigo Games, we currently have around 150 people working on multiple projects,
How many people worked on After The Fall?
So up until launch, we’ve worked with around 80 people on After The Fall, with a handful of external teams to support us. And for the follow up content, we scaled down a little bit, because we have some future projects in the pipeline that those teams are working on right now. So it scales up and down, depending on where the resources are needed.
Why do you think development teams have gotten so massive? Like it’s such an industry trend at the moment where on the one hand, you have games that are made by 1 person, 5 people, 3 people… And then it just goes from 3 people to something like 80 people, 150 people, 1000 people. How would you describe Vertigo Games? Would you call yourselves like an indie developer, or would you call yourselves a AA developer, or even a AAA developer?
We obviously we have AAA ambitions. Vertigo Games is also part of Plaion. We are the VR subsidiary of Plaion. So we use our experience in the VR industry to to help them get a position into the whole game industry, were Plaion also becomes known for VR titles through us. We still work relatively independently from them in our ongoing business, but we do work closely with them in leveraging their experience, like setting up booths at events like Gamescom, because they have marketing teams all over the world. So if we need to run a campaign in Asia, then we could collaborate with Plaion’s Asia team and have a really cool After The Fall event there. We’re actually very blessed to have a partner like them who works with us. And I think in that sense, we can actually reach that potential status of AA or AAA. Ultimately, it’s about the games that we make, and we want to make them as polished as possible, where the gameplay is as smooth as possible, and that the support post-launch is optimal. Some bugs take a lot of resources to fix, some quality of life updates require a bigger team to to be put on them for for a while. It’s really important for us to consider all of that, and having a larger team available for that really helps. That’s what makes Vertigo Games such a power player in the game industry right now.
Okay, any last words?
Yeah, I was very happy to see you have your first VR experience in such a long time with After The Fall. You did really well, and you played with another person from media. I always love seeing other people play After The Fall. And I was just really happy to see how well you picked up on it, and how naturally you progressed through it. It’s just a sign that VR isn’t dead. It’s not just tech demos anymore. You played it, and you seemed to really enjoy it as a game. And that’s what validates our decision to go VR exclusive, and really invest our efforts into this beautiful immersive technology.
I liked the fact that I was able to look up skyscrapers, and also look down skyscrapers. Yeah, I suffer from “vertigo”. No pun intended.
(Laughs) Of course.
Thank you so much.