This week’s Famitsu has a small segment devoted to its impressions of Summer Lesson, the Bandai Namco-developed Project Morpheus tech demo currently in development by Tekken lead Katsuhiro Harada.
As the demo given to Famitsu only lasted five minutes, new details beyond what was already shown at Sony’s pre-Tokyo Game Show press conference on September 1 are sparse, but the magazine does mention that the game doesn’t require a controller of any kind, and can be played completely hands-free in its current state.
The magazine also reiterated that communication with characters on-screen, which include male ones in addition to the female one that we’ve seen so far, can be conducted in a yes-or-no manner by shaking one’s head, and that they actively keep track of the players’ antics, although no specific examples are offered. Additionally, the school girl that’s come to be most associated with the demo is said to have an internal code name, but the developers haven’t otherwise given her an official one yet. She’s voiced by Natsumi Tagoto.
Famitsu has a small interview with Katsuhiro Harada, who’s in charge of the project, discussing the demo’s development history and his general experiences working in virtual reality.
In creating Summer Lesson, the most important thing Harada wants to see realized is a sense of immersion—players feeling that they actually have a presence within the world being depicted within the demo. Accomplishing that, as it turned out, required a lot of trial and error, particularly in terms of visual design and designing graphics technology that takes into consideration things like the slight image distortion that devices like Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift inherently have in their displays.
“There was one point where we tried to make use of Tekken characters in the game,” Harada explains. “But unless players can form a connection with them and feel intimate in a way, they won’t feel that immersion that’s key to the whole experience. Even in going with a female character, it’s difficult to model a person that’ll come across as cute to a variety of different people. What’s more, and this makes more sense once you’ve actually worn a VR display on your head, the visuals get warped a little like it’s going through a fish-eye lens, so there are a lot of challenges with making it all look really good.”
He continued, “That being said, the fact that we were developing this as a tech demo is what precisely spurred us to push ourselves and see what we could come up with in the face of that. Doing that took a lot of experimentation. Modelling, of course, was a big deal, but so were things like the lighting and skin textures. It took everything we had come to learn about game development to pull off, but at the same time, making this has also required that we change some of our sensibilities or else it’s really easy to risk having the whole thing fall apart. That was one of the big lessons we’ve taken away from making this.”
But it’s not just the character making that matters, Harada said.
“The scaling of the surrounding room also matters a lot, too, and we want it to feel like you if you could stretch out your hand in that room, you’d be able to touch it. That really helps sell the experience as being genuinely immersive. That’s why the communication aspects are in the game, too; they’re a necessary facet for ensuring players actually feel like they’re a part of the scene. Some people are seemingly under the impression that you’re just a transparent fixture in the demo and you spend your time just staring at the girl, but I assure you, that’s not what it’s really about.”
For now, though, Summer Lesson remains a theoretical experiment, one that was designed to let the Tekken team figure out perspective and scaling-related issues in designing for virtual reality. When pressed about future plans for it, including whether it might becoming an actual product people can purchase down the line, Harada remained cagey, simply remarking that the team is deliberating a number of different directions to take it going forward. Although, he expressed having interest in fleshing the experience out further.
“You communicate with these AIs and raise them, resulting in their reactions to you changing day by day,” Harada concluded. “The characters aren’t just limited to girls. There are guys, too. And hell, if we really wanted to push it, we could even throw in a bear or something. Keep your eyes peeled on what’s to come.”