How Paw Print Games is using VR to bring a classic arcade genre back from the dead

Almost a year ago today, VR specialists nDreams announced it was to become a publisher of third-party virtual reality games, the first of which was an untitled project from the Chester-based Paw Print Games.

Now we know exactly what they’ve been working on. Entitled Bloody Zombies, this 2D side-scrolling co-op brawler will see up to four players work together to tackle the zombie hordes of London. It’s coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC, Oculus, HTC Vive and PS VR later this year, and will be playable both with and without VR support.

For those playing on the TV, the setup will be familiar to classic brawlers of yore. Whether you’re playing with friends locally or online, players will have plenty of opportunities to punch, smash and slice through waves of the undead with what Paw Print’s lead designer Steve Knapman (pictured below)calls an "easy-to-pick-up but tricky-to-master" combat system.

In VR, however, players will be presented with a diorama of Bloody Zombies’ familiar London landscapes, ranging from Piccadilly Circus to London Bridge, allowing them to spot hidden treasures and secrets offscreen that non-VR players won’t be able to see.

"We didn’t want to compromise the gameplay in VR just for the sake of ticking a VR box," Knapman told MCV. "We wanted a full-fat game that does VR, and we wanted to find a way where you could naturally enhance that experience for VR.

"Players can look for secrets, they’ve got this freedom of movement to look around the environment. They can potentially see things in advance, giving them the opportunity to be almost like a strategic leader. It’s an interesting dynamic, as one person has that little bit of extra information that encourages them to be vocal and just get into that nice, couch co-op mind-set."

Bloody Zombies wasn’t always destined to be a VR title, however. "It started off as a co-op brawler, and we wanted to make sure it felt good to play. Then, very early on, I was actually doing experiments with VR. We didn’t have everything nailed down, but I wanted it to be a VR game, so as soon as we had those prototypes together, [VR] definitely began to make a lot of sense."

Indeed, the social aspect of the game was a big draw for Paw Print: "Any kind of social experience at the moment tends to focus on a kind of room-scale, first-person experiences," Knapman told us. "But sometimes you just want to play games with your mates, and you don’t have a lot of options there in the VR space, so it’s nice to set a kind of precedent. The multiplayer works between VR and non-VR as well, so you’ve got that big user base playing online."

Knapman is also hoping Bloody Zombies will make an impression on the brawler genre as a whole: "Brawlers has become quite a wide term. You’ve got things like Devil May Cry going in a more modern direction, but when you want that co-op experience, it’s only really the classic brawlers that deliver that. You don’t see a huge amount of them. When we started development, it was very quiet. You don’t have a lot of choice, which is surprising to me.

"At the start of the project, we did a lot of research, listing the 50 best known brawlers ever and Streets of Rage 2 still holds up as one of the best, so if 20 years can go by and that’s still one of the best around, then we have a chance to really bring something to this genre. The hope is that a lot of people who buy the game to play in 2D will eventually be VR adopters." 

At the moment, publisher nDreams is only aiming for a digital release for Bloody Zombies, so a boxed release is looking unlikely. That said, nDreams is still confident that Bloody Zombies’ unique take on VR will help it become popular with fans:

"Traditionally, nDreams have only published digitally, but I like to think we’re well-versed in what works digitally and what doesn’t when it comes to digital publishing," communications manager Dan Sheridan said.

"For us, one of the things we haven’t seen anywhere else on the market is studios trying to bring VR and non-VR disciplines together. I think we’ve got something really special here with the co-op in VR."

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