Creating multiplayer experiences that are satisfying and fun for everyone involved is no easy task – especially with the asymmetrical nature of VR. The creative team over at DimnHouse – makers of the new Viveport release Takelings House Party – sought to make an experience that plays into not only the strengths of VR, but of this asymmetrical nature of VR couch play to make a game that will keep you laughing and shouting at those around you for countless hours. We sat down to find out how they sussed out the formula for the perfect VR party.
Interview by Nathan Allen Ortega, Viveport Staff
Tell us a bit about yourself and the team at DimnHouse
Hi, my name is Kevin Weir, I’m the lead game designer here at Dimnhouse. I work with our art lead Clint Davidson, and our project manager Faith Myhra. We’ve been early adopters and big fans of VR. Before starting Dimnhouse, both Clint and I worked as motion graphics artists, and Faith as an organizer in the environmental justice movement in LA.
What inspired you to create the wacky party experience Takelings House Party?
We were driving back from a camping trip in Yosemite sorta group daydreaming about what might be some fun game ideas for VR. None of us at the time had any experience in games development but we were all huge fans of VR. We’d played games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and Ruckus Ridge to death, and we knew we had to make it a party game.
I’d mentioned the idea of being able to pick up a tiny character while slowly carrying them over to some sort of death machine and they’re yelling, “NO NO, PUT ME DOWN!” as their allies attempt to free them, while the VR player laughs maniacally. We all got excited about this idea, and once I got home I opened Unity and started prototyping it up.
Takelings House Party features asymmetrical gameplay – pitting one human player strapped into a headset against multiple couch players who cause mischief and mayhem as the titular Takelings. Was this the premise from the start or did it come about through experimenting with design ideas?
It’s definitely grown quite a bit from the original premise. Really we just wanted a game where the VR player can pick up a player smaller than them and shove them into a toaster. It was meant to be demeaning to the couch player and inspire shouting, begging, taunting. I’m really happy to say that we were able to deliver that experience, people get REALLY loud while playing Takelings.
But it has grown a lot, we now have other game modes and have expanded out a party mode. Even the original Kitchen game itself has grown, with added power up items, and other… cartoonishly brutal ways to murder your friends.
This all came about from playtesting and trying to be reactive with our design. Seeing what people enjoyed, what got everyone jumping out of their chairs in excitement or outrage and dialing in and expanding on those aspects of the game.
Can you speak to how difficult it was to implement asymmetrical party gameplay between VR and couch/controller players? I imagine the concept provides unique design challenges to make the experience equally fun and intuitive for everyone.
It has always been important for us that the game is equally as fun for the Takelings as it is for the VR player. This is a particular challenge in asymmetric games, it’s easy to get fixated on the experience of the solo player and forget about the individual experience of someone on the “mob” side of things.
There was also an interesting effect in balancing against a VR player. We didn’t want to inhibit the VR player in any way. When interacting with the world in VR, what you expect to happen should be what happens, and any artificial slowing down of your player would be very uncomfortable in VR. That free motion, however, means there’s not really a limit to how quick the pace of the game can be. So a lot of tuning went towards empowering and mobilizing the Takelings more and more, and building into that frantic pace set by the VR player. And, the more we sped up the game, the more frantic energy revved up our players and the more fun the game became!
But I think the biggest challenge for us, especially as a small team of 3, was playtesting. With a game that allows up to 9 players, we’ve had to host TONS of beta testing parties. What’s it like to play with 3 players? Or 5? Or all 9? Balancing the game while keeping the variety of possible experiences in mind required a lot of playtesting with our very awesome and patient friends and family.
Were there any weapons/environments/game modes etc that you wanted to work into the game but had to leave on the cutting room floor?
Oh sure, the biggest one for me is online play. I was, unfortunately, unable to get that into the game. There were some technical challenges, one of which is that our game is pretty physics heavy.
There are many game modes we’d love to add to Takelings. Our goal, if all goes well, is to release content packs that feature the other members of Hal’s family facing off against the Takelings in different themed game modes adding more variety and rooms to the game. We’re really excited about the next character.
What do you think are essential elements necessary to making an engaging multiplayer party game that keeps players coming back?
For a party game, I think it’s important to be very easy to pick up and play and also engaging and inclusive to casual players and people who don’t generally play games. It should be a social experience, something that you share with many different people. It should be unique depending on the group playing, you should be saying, “We need to get so-and-so to play this with us.” We try to encourage these social experience with our game design as much as we can. Our big mantra with Takelings is, “How can we get people yelling at each other” (in good humor of course).
And it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a higher skill ceiling, so players can feel like they are improving as they play. I think this is where asymmetric party games can really flourish. Normally in competitive games, a high skilled player wouldn’t be fun to play against as a new player, but in an asymmetric game that player would be teamed up against, or underpowered in the “mob” group. Takelings, sort of by accident, actually has a relatively high skill ceiling. Some of our friends are SCARY good at exterminating Takelings.
Takelings House Party has been shown at several events – such as VRLA, Caltopia and the 2018 AMD Gaming Garage. How has player feedback helped shape the direction of the game? Have you been surprised by any particular responses from players?
The positive response from families was a bit surprising. It probably sounds funny, but I wasn’t really building Takelings as a family friendly game on purpose. Kids were drawn to the game in mobs, and after watching for a round or two, their parents would join right in, seeing how easy it was to pick up. We had a quite a bit of complements from parents who were grateful to have a few minutes to… shove their kids in a waffle iron. I think we sold a couple parents on VR that day.
Their perspectives on the game were pretty funny too. One little girl pointed at Hal and said, “I want to be the monster next.” While one of the parents commented, “So they’re all controlling the little pests huh?” We don’t really think of either Hal or the Takelings as good or evil, but it’s fun to see everyone picking a side anyways.
What were your main creative influences on the tone/design of Takelings House Party?
There’s a good amount of the classic mouse hunting genre in this game. Tom and Jerry, The Borrowers, Mouse Hunt. But we also felt inspired by old propaganda films. “These Takelings are a stain on the American way of life!” “Protect your family from these pests”. These are the sort of things our character Hal is hearing over the TV. This tongue-in-cheek propaganda style was utilized really well in games like Portal 2 and the Fallout series.
How many people helped make Takelings House Party and how long was the development process?
I started working on it part time as a hobby after work for about 6 months, and in July 2017 I switched to start working on it full time. Last fall my teammates Clint Davidson (our Art Lead) and Faith Myhra (our project manager, plus some) joined me. We were also very fortunate to have the talented Adam Bravo compose the theme music and Kevin Chaja as a Business Development Advisor. And of course our dozens of amazing playtest volunteers.
Takelings brings out a lot of passion in players – as illustrated by the hilarious trailer featuring some very adult language haha. What has been the wildest thing you’ve heard players shout during gameplay? (don’t worry, we’ll censor it for any young eyes who might be reading)
Oh my god it’s incredible what people are shouting. A favorite was from ViveSummit 2019 CIZZORZ panicaly said, “He’s waffling me!”
A young boy at the AMD Gaming Garage yelled to his dad, “She’s toasting him! That’s hecka evil!”
Also, “No, you’re killing him wrong!” at VRLA
It got to a point where we started writing down what people said, they are just too good to forget.
What are your thoughts on the future of VR and AR and where do you hope to see the technology develop going forward – especially in the realm of multiplayer experiences?
Oh I’m very hopeful for the future of VR. I mean, just the term virtual reality has been in our lexicon for quite a while. I think it was always coming, and as the technology improves more and more people will adopt it, and a lot of people already have. It might be a ways off but I’m really looking forward to the possible transition to light field displays allowing you to draw natural focus with the eye.
On the multiplayer side, we’re really starting to see a unifying experience across devices. Like in Takelings, being able to use your smartphone as a controller. I’m really excited to see where we go in this space of multiplatform play with smartphones, almost everyone has a smartphone.
What’s next for DimnHouse?
Finishing the final release of Takelings House Party with a total of 5 games and AI Takelings. We’d love to continue to support the game for a while with additional content packs featuring the other members of Hal’s family and their own themed levels.
Really we just love VR, and to have the opportunity to create more unique and engaging experiences for this fantastic new medium is the dream.
Sounds awesome! We can’t wait to see what you have coming next. Thank you for your time!
Takelings House Party is now available on Viveport for VIVE and Oculus Rift headsets.