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Interview: RamenVR CEO Andy Tsen Talks Zenith: Infinite Realms And How They Hope It Reignites Interest In Their VR MMO

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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RamenVR’s flagship title, Zenith: The Last City, finds itself at a crossroads. On one hand, it’s dedicated to building its MMO that represents one fo the view examples of the genre on mainstream VR platforms. On the other hand, Zenith has struggled to capture an audience that would allow the developer to operate the MMO in the green.

This fact is why the company decided to spin off a free-to-play, session-based title set in the Zenith universe aimed at getting players into the game and, eventually, checking out the MMO.

Zenith launched back in 2022, and while we thought it was okay, it lacked content and real compelling features when it first launched. However, the combat and the use of the VR technology really impressed us when it was initially released. RamenVR set out to create a compelling VR world where players interact meaningfully, but it really has struggled to find its footing over the years.

Fast forward to last February, and a new free-to-play game mode launched called Zenith: Infinite Realms. The new mode felt designed to capture players eager for shorter gameplay sessions, as well as bring those in who might not have otherwise played Zenith before.

However, the move hasn’t been without its detractors. Players eager for the Zenith MMO to continue saw the spin-off as a lack of support for what people - especially those who backed the project in its crowdfunding days - wanted. Steam reviews bombed in the wake of the Zenith: Nexus, with players concerned that this means the MMO is being left by the wayside, especially as The Last City was relegated to DLC status.

However, according to RamenVR CEO Andy Tsen in an interview with MMORPG.com back at GDC 2024, the studio has been operating Zenith at a loss for a while now, though he stresses that RamenVR itself is financially fine. Responding to the criticism that has surrounded the community since the launch of Infinite Realms, Tsen emphasized that he’s “empathetic” for those who are upset with the direction the Zenith franchise seems to be going.

“I’m super empathetic towards how the community is feeling. We have a lot of people who care about the MMO aspects of Zenith. And I want to say we have spent millions of dollars and five years doing our damnedest to make this thing work the way we want to, right? We launched it over two years ago, we spent three years in production - so I want to empathize with the people that are maybe a bit unhappy with this release of the free to play mode, while at the same time say I’m optimistic about the future we’re working on. Because it’s actually the goal of Infinite Realms to bring in a contingent of users that wouldn’t have otherwise tried Zenith.”

I can’t say that I blame either side in this dilemma. Longtime MMO backers of the project have a justified concern that the game they poured money into to see built and supported could be going away if focus shifts to the new free-to-play mode. On the other hand, Andy and his team have a justified concern that if they can’t get Zenith into profitability, then RamenVR needs to move on.

And, as Andy puts it, the team is committed to making Zenith - especially the MMO - stand the test of time. 

“Part of that strategy is ensuring that we can get enough users into Zenith Nexus as a whole to continue supporting [The Last City], which is something I think that gets lost a lot in that we want to do our best to make sure that the game stays financially viable. So that was one of the reasons why we decided to do Nexus to begin with because we were facing essentially a decision of whether or not to keep the servers running.”

Zenith: Infinite Realms

Tsen mentions that the MMO hasn’t been profitable for the better part of a year now, with RamenVR operating Zenith at a loss - though he assures me that the studio itself has plenty of financial runway despite investing “millions” into the MMO’s development, so RamenVR isn’t in jeopardy just yet. But it feels at a crossroads of sorts while the team tries to figure out ways to make Zenith: The Last City more compelling to prospective users.

Jumping into Zenith Nexus and checking out Infinite Realms for the first time with the RamenVR team back at GDC, I can see where the allure might be for players looking for a quick, fun experience in VR but maybe don’t have the time do devote to the demands of an MMO. Taking the core of the Zenith: The Last City experience, from full gesture tracking for combat and interactions with the world, the anime-inspired visuals, and movement features such as the MMO’s Gliding mechanic, Infinite Realms offers a pretty solid foundation to build upon.

Taking out the individual classes from The Last City, players are equipped with a bow and arrow as well as Tempest Blades, which are fired from your hands - developer Kristiani Alcantara likened it to “finger guns” when walking me through the mechanics and that is probably the best description she could have used - to cut through swathes of enemies, all with the goal of reaching the big boss at the end of the run.

However, probably the most transformative experience is the inclusion of a grappling hook mechanic, which felt like a combination of Link’s Hookshot to pull me up to hard-to-reach places while also providing the feeling of webslinging as if I were an anime Spider-Man. 

It’s also this mechanic that made me thank God for the incredibly robust comfort settings Zenith offers, as I tend to get motion sick quickly when playing VR titles with too much in-headset motion that isn’t mirrored by what my body is actually doing.

Rail grinding and slashing our way through a few waves of enemies, the Fractured Worlds are the testing ground of all of these combat abilities. A new skill tree is also present to help augment the experience as well, allowing players to customize how they want their individual character to behave on a run over time. This progression system is crucial to keeping things fresh, alongside the weekly procedural progression of the floating islands themselves.

I had more fun than I initially thought I would, especially as I wasn't particularly fond of combat in the MMO experience myself. Simplifying gestures such as the "finger guns" and just whipping out a bow and arrow to sling shots across one of Infinite Realms' floating islands felt pretty good. Combat still felt somewhat floaty and, at times, not as impactful as I hoped it would be compared to other VR fighters such as Asgard's Wrath 2 or even Swordsman VR, but it was fun nonetheless. And despite my motion sickness, I would find myself slinging around the hub nexus, just living out my own webslinger fantasies in between runs.

These new traversal systems especially highlight another aspect of Infinite Realms that could, in theory, help out The Last City as well. Being able to experiment with new systems and concepts, such as the grappling hook swinging and rail grinding, we could eventually see them make their way to the MMO.

“That’s the cool part about Infinite Realms as well; we’ve been able to explore a lot of concepts that would be really good in The Last City, too,” Andy says when we were talking about the new parkour systems in the free-to-play version. “So if the player base gives us the opportunity, and the market gives us the opportunity, and we’re able to keep this thing going, we would love to be able to move some of those features that people love in Infinite Realms and bring that into The Last City.”

Infinite Realms

Tsen stops short of promising this (at the risk of “overpromising” and underdelivering), but this shows that the team is, by and large, still mostly thinking about the MMO at the center of all this. However, it’s important to note that even a few years on from its release, there are still backer rewards and stretch goals left unfulfilled from the crowdfunding campaign, notable the alternate player race and the level editor that was promised. And, crucially, for many (myself included), the non-VR desktop version is nowhere in sight. 

The lack of the non-VR desktop variant could be a stumbling block, especially for those who have played it in VR, yet find that way of playing the MMO to be lacking - or worse, even with comfort settings they can’t overcome the motion sick issues.

That being said, the fact that RamenVR doesn’t seem to be giving up on Zenith: The Last City is comforting, despite the financial loss the MMO has operated at over the last year. The team still sees it as having compelling value to the player, and there doesn’t seem to be any plans to shake up the MMO-specific business model such as throwing on a subscription fee or even increasing the price.

“I think Zenith: The Last City is already, frankly, a pretty good value for the game you’re getting if you’re spending 29 bucks for it. We’ve never charged subscription costs [and] we’ve always wanted to continue to give free updates - the future of The Last City is that we want to continue fixing bugs and supporting it.

“Like I said, we’ve already invested millions. And we want to do right by the player, which is why we’re trying our dangedest to make this thing work with Zenith Nexus and Infinite Realms. And if that does well, we hope to continue being able to support and expand the world of The Last City as well. We’re MMORPG players at heart - that’s our bread and butter.”


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore