A few weeks ago I was invited to Chapman University’s west studio, home of augmented and virtual reality startup Well Told Entertainment, to play their first virtual reality gaming experience: Escape Bloody Mary. You play as a kid who’s dared by his friends to perform the ritual that summons the infamous monster. Unfortunately, your actions actually bring Bloody Mary into our world so now you have to figure out a way to banish her back lest she claim you. Overall I had a bloody fantastic experience. The game was dark and intense, keeping me on my toes constantly. Afterward I interviewed one of the game’s developers Matthew Rebong about the process of creating Escape Bloody Mary.
What was your inspiration for incorporating the Bloody Mary legend into VR?
The game was first conceived at a game jam hosted by “Monster VR” and “Titmouse Studios.” It was a horror themed game jams and one of our developers, Vincent Wing, was heart set on incorporating mirrors into the game.
What were was some of the take-away from the legend that you thought were perfect for the game?
Through our research some of the lore that lent really well to our interpretation of the legend were the rumors of Queen Mary’s miscarriages. In our game we wanted to capture the concept and feeling of a demon longing for her lost child.
What are some of the gameplay touches you incorporated into Escape Bloody Mary to give the players a unique experience?
We love to do escape rooms in real life, and creating them in VR is so much fun for our team. While the restrictions of normal physics apply to brick and mortar rooms, ours can throw most of that out the window to create powerful moments for the user. ‘Dangerous Escape Rooms’ are what we like to call these experiences. Without spoiling too much, once you go through with the ritual of summoning Bloody Mary it’s a frantic dash to escape and save your soul!
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome when developing Escape Bloody Mary and how did you overcome them?
The most difficult aspect of development seemed to come at the end. We had the entire game playable but it wasn’t quite “scary.” We had to massage the timing on every event and trigger so that our atmosphere was preserved throughout, and maintain the dread that being in the room with Bloody Mary so inspires.
I noticed Escape Bloody Mary doesn’t rely on the over-common jump scares. Instead what kind of aspects of horror did you draw from to ramp up the scares?
Our goal for the game was to focus on suspense over the run of the mill jump scare. From our market research we found that many people were incorporating jump scares in VR and the issue we found was that they were short lived and cheap scares. We wanted to create a game which kept a user under pressure throughout the experience.
Any horror movies you took inspiration from?
Not in particularly. Early on we were looking at behind the scenes footage of Guillermo Del Toro’s “Crimson Peak,” to get inspiration behind the animation for Bloody Mary.
How much of a difference do you think audio/visual makes with a game like Escape Bloody Mary, and how do you use it to create the atmosphere?
Audio in virtual reality is crucial. While designing Escape Bloody Mary, we wanted to use audio to help direct the player’s attention to things around the room as hints.
All VR games put a lot of focus on immersion, to give the player a sense of being in the setting as the character or guiding the character. What was it like trying to figure out that level of immersion for the player?
The greatest thing about Virtual Reality is the amount of care that needs to be put into User Experience Design. Many of the rules haven’t been written for this medium and thus we need to figure them out ourselves. For this particular game, we had to take a lot of things into consideration from the size of the assets in the room to the height of the player to make them feel like a kid.
Being that Escape Bloody Mary is a horror escape room, what were some of the reactions and tactics previous players did to try and win the game?
People have been so creative in trying to solve the puzzles in our game. To our delight, there have been a number of ‘let’s play’ videos that have popped up on YouTube from players around the world. We’ve loved watching them attempt everything in the room.
Escape Bloody Mary has a very unique atmospheric beyond a normal VR horror game by using in-game lore from books, unique sound queues like candles blowing out and rain, and creepy visuals like seeing Bloody Mary herself through the mirror but not in the room itself. If given the opportunity to develop, how well do you think VR can be incorporated into other realms of media outside of game?
VR has many practical uses outside of games. Though we aren’t at liberty to disclose any details, we can say that we’re already developing virtual reality content with partners outside of the games realm.
The main fear of Escape Bloody Mary is seeing the monster and knowing there’s very little you can do to stop it. If you were to recommend any tips for horror makers, what would you say are the most important aspects of creating an effective scare, not just for games?
We’re no horror experts, however, what we will say is that suspense and timing is key to anything horror themed. Build suspense by teasing the audience with a speculation and then catch them off guard with the pay off.
There are tons of people who think VR is a fad similar to the Wii. Do you think more people should give attention to VR, in order to let it become something more?
I don’t blame them. I was skeptical as well. However the first time putting on a virtual reality headset is something special. The feeling is more real than one might think. All that being said, VR hardware still has a long way to go before perfection.
Have you ever tried doing the Bloody Mary ritual?
Oh yes. We all have our own stories.