With a cartoonish aesthetic, over-the-top violence, and ludicrous amounts of gore, GORN is a hilariously savage gladiator simulator powered by a physics-driven combat engine. Since launching on the Rift Platform in 2018, it’s racked up a 4.5-star rating, and it was recently named to UploadVR’s list of the top 25 VR games of all time. Now, it’s cutting the cord and available on the Quest Platform.
Click here to watch the trailer on YouTube.
How did you get your start in the tech industry? What was it that drew you to VR?
Ruan Rothmann: I did corporate software for a long time but found it quite unrewarding. With the rise of indie games around 2010, I felt like taking a risk and got lucky in joining South Africa’s best indie studio at Free Lives.
I’ve always been into tech and exploring new options and had to get a DK1 as soon as we could. VR was still very rough around the edges, but even then the excitement of a new frontier was irresistible. Most games have been quite figured out but the new format poses a lot of interesting new design challenges—I actually still think we don’t really know how to make good VR games, and I wanted to be on the cutting edge of figuring that out.
What was the original inspiration behind GORN? How has the game changed during the course of development?
RR: My first time trying room-scale VR, I think it was at GDC 2015, I got to see people trying out games like #SelfieTennis and Budget Cuts, and I realized that most players seemed to spend a lot more time messing with the ragdolls of characters in the game than actually playing the game. We had made some games with physics-based characters before, and I thought marrying the two ideas would make a lot of sense. I think there were one or two melee/sword combat-based games at the time, but none that used a fully physics-driven combat engine. I made a small prototype at that GDC, and it seemed really promising initially.
The game has stayed quite true to this initial idea of being a fun physics playground, for players to explore their dark side a little. Most of development has been centered around getting feedback from players and figuring out what is good design in VR, as well as trying to wrangle the physics engine.
How would you characterize the game’s overall look and feel? What factored into your design decisions?
RR: The game definitely has an odd mix of violence and goofy funniness—ironically, I always felt uncomfortable with the way extreme violence made me feel in VR, and that led to the very cartoony look and feel of the game and physics.
On the design side, we had a couple of simple goals: to try and keep everything as diegetic and simple as possible, and that a player should always be pleasantly surprised that an interaction works as they hoped. The player should always be wondering, “I wonder if I can...” when considering an interaction, and the answer should always be “Yes!”
Luc Wolthers: The visuals were also largely informed by the first wave of headsets and their limited resolution. We wanted a game that was crisp and super readable at multiple resolution scales. This informed the character designs and world design, so the player can read expressions from any position in the world.
What motivated you to bring GORN over to the Oculus Quest Platform?
RR: Quest is such a no brainer—without a doubt, it’s the place to be. The game is so well suited for an untethered experience that I think the Quest version will be the definitive version of the game.
Did you encounter any technical obstacles while optimizing GORN for a mobile chipset? How did you overcome those challenges?
Claudio de Sa: Our team was fortunate, going into this port, that we had laid a lot of groundwork for the previously released PSVR version of the game. We had a pretty good idea of where our bottlenecks were going to be, but were, in general, quite surprised by the capabilities of the Quest hardware.
Most of the obstacles were related to the fairly high resolution of the Quest headset, coupled with its higher framerates. This combined with the high fidelity quality assets in the game to put a lot more strain on the Quest’s hardware. For the Quest version, our team had to recreate almost all the shaders used by the game and hand-optimized nearly every single art asset. We were able to preserve the feel of the game with minor compromise on how it looks.
We think most players won’t even notice the differences!
How do you think VR and AR will continue to change the world of gaming in the future?
RR: Honestly I think we’re still just scratching the surface here—it’s a wholly fresh design space with possibilities that we really haven’t considered yet. Any prediction is likely to look silly in a few years’ time. The growth over just the past year has felt exponential, and we’re at the beginning point of mass adoption now.
What’s the best reaction you’ve seen while demoing GORN on Quest?
RR: The first time I let my mother play the game, I saw a side of her that I did not know existed. I’m not sure that I’m quite ready to talk about that yet, though.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
RR: Although the game isn’t perfect, we’re quite happy with where it is, and while we haven’t ruled anything out, we don’t currently have plans for any major content updates. Depending on how launch on Quest goes we might do a patch to smooth out some rough edges, though the game right now is in a very good state.
The Quest ecosystem is so nice to work in, after the frustrations of dealing with PCVR, that I think it might have reinvigorated the team’s love for VR. It would be really interesting to try to make a spiritual successor using all the lessons we learned during the development of GORN and to see if we can push VR melee combat a bit further, but we’ll have to see about that!
Ready to do battle with a seemingly endless barrage of opponents using weapons ranging from swords, maces, and bows to nunchucks, throwing knives, massive two-handed warhammers, and more? Give GORN a go on the Quest Platform today.