Developer interview: YUKI

We all fondly remember ARVORE’s groundbreaking Pixel Ripped VR games, but now they’re back with YUKI, a brand new VR title that blends bullet hell and roguelike mechanics. We got in touch with KAKO, a production designer and creative director at ARVORE, to learn more. KAKO (www.kakofonia.com) is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In the past 25 years, KAKO’s work has been recognized in numerous annuals and art books and he has received several awards including a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the Grand Prix at El Sol and the Gold Medal at El Ojo de Iberoamerica Advertising Festival. He was also recently selected to be part of the book 100 Illustrators, written by Steven Heller and Julius Wiedemann, as one of today’s most successful and influential artists in the Illustration business. He joined Arvore Immersive Experiences in 2018, working on some of their groundbreaking VR experiences.

We all remember ARVORE from their Pixel Ripped games – what have been some of the key takeaways from the development of those games?

This was a very interesting period at ARVORE where we experimented a lot as a company. For example, when we began working on both Pixel Ripped 95 and The Line we were still growing in numbers. Many of our talents were being hired and joining the teams. So as we started working together on these games we also were all getting to know one another. This period helped us understand our pacing as a group, focusing on the pursuit of a healthier process of work, and by the time YUKI began we were already on our tracks. We were still figuring out a thing or two, but I can personally say that YUKI had such a smooth delivery, with no unhealthy crunches and a perfect untroubled QA phase.

yuki kako

From a creative management point of view, and this is a very personal takeaway, the arrival of new talents is a very important and delicate time. You have to look out for the potential of your teammates, be very thoughtful of the skills you can help improve and be very sensitive to their own creative voices, figuring out a way to make them shine by themselves but also to perform as a choir. Coming from an art background I was not only focused on each of our artists’ skills but also on the fact that many of us, myself included, were new to VR technology. As a group there was this push towards the understanding of how we could translate our art into this new media, both conceptually and technically. It is not an easy task because VR is still showing us we have a lot to learn, but going through that as a group is one of the most gratifying experiences I had in my career. And I guarantee you will see that reflected on YUKI.

When and how did you decide to step away from the Pixel Ripped series and create something entirely new with YUKI?

One of the things that made me start working with VR was when Ricardo Laganaro, creative director of The Line, said to me “There are no Spielbergs in VR yet”. The context was that after many years working as an artist I was looking for something different, looking for a place where I could renew myself and explore new ways of expressing what I wanted. Those words changed my life completely. Back in 2019, when we went to the Venice Festival, I was amazed by everything I saw. There were so many possibilities, so many stories to tell in so many different ways.

At Arvore we have talents from many backgrounds and we really want to explore as much as VR can offer, from games to narrative experiences. There is a vast VR world to explore and anything that resonates with our hearts we will follow.

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How did you come up with the core concept for YUKI?

With the simple question of “What would a bullet hell in VR be like?”. We started prototyping a very straightforward build, just to get an idea of what we could expect. From that we dove a bit deeper, moving towards what we believed could be an innovation of the genre but always in touch with the original source of inspiration. To achieve what we wanted we looked for something we could use that any other original bullet hell game could provide, and we found that by exploring the VR environment and the player’s spatial awareness, taking the genre a step further by making them explore body movement and a new sense of perspective. VR is a totally different kind of environment and we worked a lot to allow people to react properly to it from this new angle while keeping the connection with the heart of the genre.

YUKI features an immersive new control scheme – how does it work and how did it come about?

I believe this has everything to do with the core fantasy of the game. On YUKI you impersonate a kid playing with her favorite toy, an action figure from her favorite anime. We all did that when we were kids, we held a spaceship, or a plane or any other toy in our hands and started running around imagining it flying through the air.

The use of your hand as the “main character” gave us room to explore the area around the players, coming up with different ways to make them move around and dodge with a lower impact to the body, but still making players reach in all directions. You don’t have to worry about your head or body being hit, just keep your toy safe and go save the universe!

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Truth is we’ve been studying the importance of how much it costs the players to use their bodies in VR because we know there is a real commitment to it when required. Players react instinctively in a VR environment and there are games that sometimes push you too hard. I’m a 46 years old VR gamer, I know my limits! To achieve our goal we focused on how to balance movements with a constant variation of obstacles, enemy formations and bullet patterns so every kind of player can enjoy the experience for a longer time and with a low impact. We do want you to move, we want you to dodge and duck, but we also want you to not hurt yourself.

The bullet-hell and the roguelike genres are rarely tackled together in VR – how are you adapting these gameplay styles for the medium?

That was a bold move, I must say that. From time to time I look back and ask what the hell we were thinking. But as I said, if it resonates we will follow.

When I first imagined what YUKI could be back in 2019, I wanted to have a game with a high replay value, a product that I could expand in every possible aspect of it. We knew after working on YUKI for a while that the bullet hell genre would take us so far regarding these objectives. We felt that we needed to allow the player to engage more with it, not physically but also mentally. We wanted more ways for them to strategize, to prepare themselves before each run, to explore other ways of playing.

The roguelike genre was a way to bring that to the game. We knew both are very difficult genres by nature, so we toned it down a bit, more to a roguelite, with a partial permadeath and a more generous power progression, balancing it with the constant skill progression that comes from the bullet hell aspect and the “muscle memory” retained from body movement. This mix allowed YUKI to be a “pick-up and play” game that builds up to a very challenging experience. And regarding expansions, we are currently working on the Endless Mode that will be released soon as a free content update.

What do you see as some of the most exciting developments in VR for the next few years (and why)?

We spent the last year and a half working from home, adapting ourselves to a new way of creative interactions. It’s working, it’s a different experience and it has its pros and cons. The worst part is that for a time we lost the spontaneity of being side by side in the office. So we are exploring ways to work collaboratively trying every app that allows us to get closer and create in real time together, either if it is VR or not, so any VR app that puts us in the “same room” will always be welcomed.

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