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How Endeavor One used an expert swordsman and dogs to create VR game ‘Arashi: Castles of Sin’

How Endeavor One used an expert swordsman and dogs to
(Endeavor One Images)

Seattle-based VR company Endeavor One plans to release its first game, Arashi: Castles of Sin, as an exclusive for PlayStation VR later this summer.

Endeavor One has been lively in virtual, mixed, and augmented reality spaces for the last 7 years. Its past initiatives include collaborations like Halo: Recruit for Windows Mixed Reality and Dome of the Dead, a 2019 4-player cooperative shooter for Vulcan’s HoloDome.

According to Endeavor One co-founder Tom Doyle, Arashi is Endeavor One’s first “capital-G game,” made by a 30-person team in Unity 3D, with support from Unity’s Seattle office, over the course of the last 2 years. The team includes a number of veterans from the Halo and Destiny franchises, as well as several people who’ve worked on Microsoft AR and HoloLens.

Initially announced in early June via the official PlayStation blog, Arashi is a Kurosawa-influenced stealth/action game set in Japan at the turn of the 16th century, relatively early in the Sengoku era. As Kenshiro, the last surviving son of the noble house of Arashi, you’re back from exile to reclaim 6 castles from the Six Oni of Iga, a clan of bandits that’s taken over much of Japan.

It’s you, your family’s katana, and your pet wolf against a small army, so you’ve got to do whatever’s necessary in order to even the odds.

Kenshiro is an assassin by trade, so all options are on the desk. That can include stealth, infiltration, subtly neutralizing targets, a full pacifist run where you achieve Kenshiro’s goals without killing anyone, or simply wading into the enemy with an arsenal of period-appropriate weapons.

“We want to make these weapons, these things that you interact with, super significant,” Doyle said in an interview with GeekWire. “That’s what our team’s background is: building best-in-class IPs. We like cool, huge stories, and just as much as the characters and the locations, we want your tools to be iconic as well. What we needed to do is make that sword and how you use it as superior as possible.”

Doyle describes Arashi’s design as a “combat sandbox,” made to be performed through in 7 to 9 hours, which is on the lengthy side for a modern VR game. You’re meant to move through the game like a ninja, using the tactics you prefer in order to liberate all 6 castles from the Six Oni.

“We spared no detail here,” Doyle said. “We employed Master Russell McCartney, a world record holder in Japanese swordplay, and he provided the motion capture for the combatants that you’ll be sparring against in the game. You won’t simply be combating against some sword-wielding bad guy; you’re actually facing 1 of the greatest swordsmen alive. We really strove for authenticity.”

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That includes your sidekick in Arashi, Kenshiro’s wolf Haru, who fights by your side throughout the game. (Korean wolves were relatively commonplace in 16th-century Japan, but were driven to extinction during the Meiji era a couple of hundred years later.) In order to make a realistically modeled virtual wolf, Endeavor One ended up going up to Canada to get some canine motion capture.

“It was a 2-part field trip,” Doyle said. “We worked with a partner in Canada, Beyond Capture, who has this stable of actors, and these actors have 4 legs and are furry. They are fantastically skilled, pretty, disciplined animals, and we got the opportunity to work with them to make sure our experience with Haru is as authentic as humanly possible.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “you cannot motion-capture a wolf, because they’re wild animals. We used dogs, German shepherds, that are incredibly identical in terms of physique. We did, just for the animation and art teams’ advantage, go to the wolf sanctuary, Predators of the Heart, that’s up by Anacortes. We got to go hang out with dozens of these pretty animals.”

Doyle has been an artist in the video game industry since 2002. He spent just under twelve years at Bungie, where he worked as a lead artist on Destiny, all its expansions, and Destiny 2 before leaving the company in 2016.

“The thing that’s ultimately so thrilling about VR is that there’s nonetheless no playbook,” Doyle said. “Experiences are constantly being made and constantly improving. That is 1 of the things that we tried to do with our game, is get to the heart of what makes an superior moment-to-moment experience and not really being waylaid by the expectations of what a ‘flat’ [2D, non-VR] game provides.”

At time of writing, Arashi has no specific release date besides “this summer.” It is planned to receive a physical release, however, through the London-based writer Perp.

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