Un-Destined was my first VR experience, and it set the VR bar very high. The game is a combination of escape room and VR gameplay, requiring a team of players to cooperate both in and outside of the VR headset to solve puzzles and escape an elaborately designed escape room. Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Ty, Terry, and Benson from Zinno Studios, the Taiwan based team behind the game, to learn a little more about Un-Destined and the process behind its creation.
TSG: For those that may not be familiar, how would you describe Un-Destined as a game?
Ty: The same way if I were a famous chef trying to describe a dish: it’s actually an experience more than anything. We just packaged it using puzzles and controllers so that it’ll be easier for unsuspecting guests to digest, I think it’s fair to say we’ve achieved making it as engaging and exciting as possible but our ultimate aim has always been to light a spark under people, to make them pause while they are at home showering (if they are) and think to themselves: I know that was a fun game and all, but what did I actually play? And if I go through it again, would I maybe look at things differently?
TSG: What inspired you to combine the idea of an escape room with VR gameplay?
Terry: Well I’ve always liked escape rooms, I’ve been involved in various escape room type projects ever since the beginning of such games in Taiwan. The fact that my last project (which utilized primarily AR) also got nominated by Indicade the year prior reaffirmed my thinking that an escape room can mesh with VR; and that VR like AR can just be two different tools used in the expression of the same thing. It’s just our job to find the correct balance between the two, we want the mainstream escape-roomers not having to feel overwhelmed by too much or too little VR content.
TSG: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced trying to combine a VR experience with real-world puzzle solving?
Benson: Since it is our first attempt to combine VR with real-world puzzles, we needed to find out what kind of puzzle design is FUN to our players. We spent over 6 months testing our ideas. At first, we overemphasized on the VR gameplay, we threw too much puzzle elements into the virtual world and they turned out to be a lot of burdens for the VR player. So we kept reducing the amount of puzzle in the VR world and moving most of the previous puzzles to the real world until the tester and we thought the gameplay was balanced and interesting.
TSG: Your story seems to have a focus on the flaws of the Taiwan education system. What led you to make a game about these flaws, and what are you hoping your players learn through the course of playing Un-Destined?
Ty: For starters, I was only available to be messed with in my head right about the 8th grade when my family promptly “fled” to U.S. I believe Terry and Benson weren’t quite as lucky as they are now products of this system. To give Taiwan props, we aren’t like dead last in terms of “ how-badly-your-governement-mess-with-young-generation” meter, there are places that are far worse, but we are just using Taiwan as an example to talk about a trend that’s been going on for quite awhile now all over the Asia landscape. We could say our experience is gearing toward the Korean public, but then maybe later down the road, their education bureau would come calling, and we kind of wouldn’t want that. Nonetheless, to give a straight answer to your question, we hope for changes. There are way too many things wrong to go into details of, and it’s not easy to simply just “fix” a system. If the changes are slow, or if they never come, we hope that our players can still find changes within themselves; ok now we recognize these are the problems, these are the issues, what can I do to teach the next generation better? What can I do to change my pessimistic perception of everything?
TSG: What is your favorite aspect of the game? What do you think makes the game unique, and stand out from other games?
Terry: I think my favorite part has to be the entire storytelling, it’s really a rare opportunity to have to be able to make a game or an experience actually mean something, and I think ours meant a lot to all of us who have lived through the education system, some didn’t make it, some made it and are quite successful in their areas but still hate what they’ve endured. The story just resonates with people in so many ways.
TSG: How does making an escape room experience like Un-Destined differ from making a video game?
Benson: This question is actually what I keep asking myself while making escape room games. The main difference I think is that in the real world the players can really touch things rather than just a mouse or a keyboard. Even though the escape room game didn’t provide enough freedom to the players, it must let players accomplish something physical which they would usually not experience in video games. However, most escape room games usually have puzzles consisting of pictures, numbers, and words. By solving those puzzles the player will get a 4-digit password for a combination lock or a keypad. These puzzles are OK, but the problem is that this type of puzzles can also be seen and solved on a lot of puzzle books or websites. The physical environment has nearly nothing to do with the puzzles.
That’s why we try very hard to make the whole room become part of the game. We don’t just put some cool puzzles into some well-decorated rooms. The puzzles themselves must be solved by using the installation in this room. During the gameplay, the players will feel they are interacting with the whole scene, not just the puzzles. And that is what makes an escape room game so fascinating and unique.
TSG: Are you planning on making more games that integrate VR gameplay with real-world puzzle solving?
Ty: If we can find other noteworthy issues in the real world that we can address through our work…oh, wait there are way too many! Nothing is in the book yet but one thing for sure, we are going to do a whole lot of translation to make sure different people from different parts of the world can all come and take on the experience!
TSG: What are you hoping your players take away from playing Un-Destined?
Terry: We don’t want to force a lot of what we’d consider the truths of the universe or something down our players’ throats, so we left certain parts of the game as open-ended as we could so our players’ can fill in the blank themselves. But if there’s one thing, we do hope that they can leave knowing that sometimes we do have a choice, we do have power to choose a different perspective even when it seems like we are dealt a really bad hand to start with.
For further inquiries with the Zinno Studios team, find them at these addresses:
Ty (project executive; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Terry (project manager; email@example.com )
Benson (lead programmer; firstname.lastname@example.org )