In this edition of Mr. PSVR’s Interview Corner, we get a closer look at Tentacular. A game where you have tentacles for arms as you try to fit into society on PlayStation VR2.

Simon Cubasch on the left and Luca on the right

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Interview with the CEO of Firepunchd Games, Simon Cubasch

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Welcome to The PlayStation Brahs. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Firepuncd Games?

Growing up, what were some of your favorite gaming moments, and what was that one VR moment that really interested you in Virtual Reality?

“I was a teenager in the 80s and totally blown away by the rise of arcade games, early home consoles such as the Atari VCS2600, and the first home computers. My parents gave me a VIC-20 for Christmas when I was 13. The computer didn’t have anything apart from a Basic interpreter and a handbook teaching you simple programming. But being able to command my first computer and create simple things myself was very formative for me. And so I started making fan games of arcade classics such as Moon Patrol, Combat, etc. Of course, I “found” loads of games to play on my computer later on and I played absolutely everything I could get my hands on. Coincidentally my co-creator Luca had a similar experience with his first computer.

Firepunchd Games has a portfolio of projects with titles such as Cool Cubes, KILLSCREEN, Chicken Jump, and Ridiculous Glitching. Have you thought about adding VR to any of these titles and releasing them for the various headsets?

“My other games are real “pancake”/flat games that wouldn’t benefit from what makes VR experiences so unique. But I made a quick test when working on Chicken Jump using the DK1 Oculus Rift in 2016. the first jump guarantees instant motion sickness. And If you don’t get sick when jumping you will when hit by a vehicle.”

Your newest game, Tentacular looks like a blast. What can you tell us about the game?

“In a nutshell, Tentacular is a game about a giant tentacle monster trying to fit in society. It is a story-driven physical puzzle game. You use your giant tentacles to build things, help the community and find out where you come from. The game features fully physical tentacles – no VR “ghost hands” – and is very playful. It’s a real work of love that took more than 3 years to create. Our goal was to make a game that while easy to pick up has real challenges so it can appeal to VR newcomers and VR veterans alike.”

Playing as a gigantic, kind-hearted tentacled beast looks like you could cause some accidental if you wanted to. What happens if you do cause too much damage occurs?

“In this sense, the game is incredibly forgiving. We let you wreak havoc with little to no consequences. Dropped an important item in the ocean? It will get parachuted back to you. Squashed a quest-giver NPC mid-sentence? After complaining a little they will start speaking right back from where they left off. But there is an interesting twist to being too destructive in Tentacular. Because the only things you can really destroy and bear the consequences are your own creations. So the further you get into a mission that requires you to build a delicate structure the less inclined you are to mess around and ruin your progress. But if that happens – and it will happen every once in a while – it’s quite cathartic to completely destroy your own creation and start over. Experimentation and failure are part of the process and that’s why every level comes with a reset switch which grants you a fresh new start with no penalty whatsoever.”

How does helping the people of LaKalma help you and do you receive any rewards for the good things you do?

“The people of LaKalma are not your biggest fans at the start of the game. As a clumsy young tentacle monster, you messed quite a bit with the island and its inhabitants even though this wasn’t necessarily mean-spirited mayhem you caused. In the course of the game people change their attitude towards you but since we don’t want to spoil too much let’s just say it stays complicated. There are many characters on LaKalma with their own agendas and quirks and their tasks vary quite a bit. But helping the islander not only advances the story, it also unlocks new playgrounds and items for these playgrounds. And after you’ve made some progress you have the parts to build some pretty crazy contraptions.”

What can you tell us about the puzzles in the game?

“”Tentacular has very different kinds of puzzles. Some are more guided, require you to go through steps, and focus on serving the purpose of interactively advancing the story. Others just provide you with a goal (e.g. place a heavy ship high up in the air) and let you figure out how to achieve this goal. This second type is the construction puzzles. In Tentacular you can build structures using inventions we call M.A.G.N.E.T.S. These gadgets allow you to stick objects together but in a very wobbly way. You’ll get better M.A.G.N.E.T.S. in the course of the game but you need to master the wobbly ones first. It was really interesting to see players approach these puzzles in very different ways. Our open approach led to some of the early levels being either really easy or really challenging if you choose a complicated solution. But a huge part of the fun is managing to come up with a structural solution and also being able to actually build it with floppy tentacles. It’s very satisfying to complete these levels when you’ve struggled to keep things from falling apart. Once you get into the flow you can build ANYTHING!”   

There is also a sandbox mode. What can you tell us about it and some of the things you can do?

“In the playground, you get to play with all the items and the contraptions you unlock by playing the game. Being completely open allows you to experiment with your creative side, we had a lot of fun playing there during development. It was also a place where we could test ideas and get inspiration for new levels. You can build quite big structures with the help of some mid-game unlocks. And towards the end of the game, you get new types of M.A.G.N.E.T.S. that really allow you to go wild. I’ve sunken quite some hours into trying to build such things as the largest possible tower, a gigantic catapult, or a rocket-powered paddlewheel ship.

How much fun was it when playing around with the physics and using the tentacles when interacting with objects and how have you implemented the PlayStation VR2’s features, such as haptics and eye tracking, into the game?

“It was incredibly fun but also frustrating at times. It took us a while and several iterations to tame the physics behavior of the tentacle. I’m not going to lie, sometimes they were failing in a spectacular way. Funny bugs to laugh at not so much fixing them 😀
In general, using physics for actual gameplay can be really tricky. In a game where you can stick pretty much everything together and shoot it into space, there is a lot of room for complications on the programming side. But it’s exactly that “what if I try this and…” experimentation we wanted to provide and encourage.”

Are there any leaderboards in the game?

“No. We thought it was a layer of complexity that was unnecessary for Tentacular. There are some time trial achievements but in general, it is not a game meant to be competitive. We could consider implementing something if we realize the interest of the players will focus on that specific aspect.”

I really like the art style that is used in Tentacular as it looks like it would really be vivid in Virtual Reality. What was the one thing that you learned the most when working on Tentacular when it came to the graphics and how surprised were you when seeing the game on PlayStation VR2 with the 4K HDR?

“The hardest thing at the beginning was scale. A level designed on a flat screen will look completely different in VR. We went through a lot of trial and error and we used a handful of tools and tricks in order to get it right. Especially in a game like ours, scale is very important. A second issue was rendering pixel art in a 3D VR. It’s surprisingly tricky to get it to look crisp up close but not look mangled from far away. We had to implement a custom technique and it was one of the last things that we managed to fix.”

What do you find is the most surprising and what do you feel is the most challenging when creating content for VR?

“When we started working on Tentacular we yearned for games that made you feel immersed in the world physically. Back then most VR games featured ghost hands and you could only interact with objects in a very limited way. Interactions with the world consisted mainly of gestures – even grabbing was not more than a button press snapping an object into your hand the only way it was designed if it was at all. Replacing hands with tentacles solves some problems (while admittingly creating new ones). The suckers placed along the underside of the tentacle “grab” objects without changing their orientation and position. Where many games use some sort of highlighting to show which object you can magically pull in, the extension provided by the tentacle allows you to just pick up what you want directly. The tentacle physics allowed us to create the illusion of weight in VR in a new way.  As of today, I’m sometimes still surprised by how heavy & real objects can feel in Tentacular because I need to raise my controller way up to carry something around as the tentacles are bending under the weight of the object.

The biggest challenge for Tentacular as a VR game was to create goals. rules and restrictions which would work for a gigantic monster player who could do anything they want in the environment.

If you opened the door into THE VR DIMENSION but had to be the beast, would you try and help or try and create as much chaos as possible?

“”It’s all about the context I think. Causing chaos can be quite fun – I’m thinking something like trying to get the highest wanted level in GTA. If I would be overpowered and could wreak havoc without any resistance and without being challenged though the fun of destruction would probably wane fast. But to be honest I usually play nice and I probably would also do so as a beast. Or maybe not.”

With the content for VR continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Tentacular?

“I’ve come to realize that other people can explain this much better than I ever could. So here is one of my favorite summaries for why you need to play Tentacular:

It’s tempting to dismiss Tentacular at first sight, but that would be a mistake. What may seem like a simple, shallow VR playpen actually houses a remarkable showcase of tactile interaction and physical complexity, wrapped up in an endlessly playful world with first-rate user interfaces. Yes, it’s silly but it’s also a genuinely different gameplay experience that has you calculating even the slightest inch of micro-movement, reveling in your hard-fought, precariously balanced victories, and lamenting the many, many wince-inducing tower topples and accidental disasters along the way.

This is a full-hearted marvel with the capacity for laughter and amazement, paired with the mechanical intricacy and substance. In short, you’d be a sucker to miss Tentacular.

I really want to thank Simon for taking the time out of his day and for giving us a closer look into Tentacular and for also talking about Virtual Reality.

Tentacular is out now on PlayStation VR2.

To learn more about Firepunchd Games, please visit the site, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.

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