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Left Hand Path - Playing a Magic-Wielding Wizard in VR

By Garrett Fuller on June 23, 2016 | Interviews | Comments

Left Hand Path - Playing a Magic-Wielding Wizard in VR

Virtual Reality will become a huge talking point over the next few months. As more developers work on games in this creative platform we are starting to see some real gems emerge. Hugh Hancock is on here to talk about The Left Hand Path. A VR game where you can play a wizard using all kinds of magic.

MMORPG.com: Left Hand Path is a Virtual Reality Game coming out soon on Steam. Can you give us some history on the game’s development?

HH: It's been a strange ride, I'll tell you that. 

By profession, I'm a film director – I've been working for 20 years in the field of "Machinima", otherwise known as "films made in computer game engines". In the last couple of years I'd actually moved into live-action films, moving away from the games world altogether. 

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However, I've also been involved with VR since the Oculus Development Kit. It was interesting, but it never quite "clicked" with me. 

I actually didn't apply to get a developer kit for the Vive because I wasn't at all sure about the technology. However, I pre-ordered one on a "what the hell" basis, and then carried on working on films. 

The day it arrived, I was a week away from launching a short film. I was super-busy. It sat in the hall until I decided I should set it up and give it a quick go, not least because the Vive's box is kind of huge and it was pretty much blocking my hallway (which was annoying my girlfriend!). 

I set it up. 

I stayed in VR for two hours solid saying "Oh my GOD!" about every 5 minutes. 

I came out, put all my projects on hold aside from the film I'd almost finished, cleared my schedule, and decided that roomscale VR was what I was going to be doing for the next half-decade or so. 

I've basically spent from then until now doing nothing but eating, sleeping and making Left-Hand Path. 

MMORPG.com: Wielding powerful magic in a VR setting is enough to excite all of us. What were some of the most fun elements about designing spells in a virtual space?

HH: Thanks! It's been very rewarding to work on, too. 

One of the breakthrough moments for me was when I idly swirled my spellcasting hand around me – it draws a sparkling trail, a bit like in Tilt Brush – and suddenly realised I had to incorporate physical space into the spellcasting system. That was when the ritual magic system was born: you draw a protective circle around yourself (much like the characters in the TV show "Supernatural", for example) and then cast arcane glyphs toward each of the compass directions. 

It's also been very fun working to make this less like a classic computer game magic system, where you're just picking off a list, and feel more – well, more magical. Magic in this game is definitely a skill: as you learn it, you start to master the various elements that make up the spells, you start to get faster and more accurate at spellcasting, and you start to understand the quirks and the shortcuts of the world of magic. 

My goal has been to make you feel like a wizard throughout. Not just like someone playing a game, but someone with ancient, arcane knowledge summoning vast and barely-controlled power. 

MMORPG.com: How did you determine which types of magic you were going to use? Did you stick to the classic ideas or think of new directions for your players? 

HH: I'm lucky enough to have an extensive knowledge of not just computer game magic, but also "real-world" magical beliefs and systems, so I was able to draw on a really wide range of ideas for Left-Hand Path's magic. 

Some of the elements are classic RPG, like the magical missiles you can throw. Some of them are the kind of thing that only comes alive in VR, like the fire spell or "Ignifer", the spell that lets you throw a rift in the earth toward your foes. You might have cast a spell like that in a game like "Divinity: Original Sin", but trust me, it feels very different when you plunge your staff to the ground Gandalf-style and see flaming rocks crash to the ground in front of you. 

And some of the elements, like the ritual magic and the world of Left-Hand Path, are inspired by what people think wizardry is or was in the real world. The background of the world is heavily inspired by Kaballistic belief, for example, and some of the ideas of historical Hermetic magicians. 

MMORPG.com: How does the player navigate the landscape of the game? The Vive has a great system for movement, but can you explain it to someone who has never done the demo or used one before?

HH: I had one really big advantage when I was designing Left-Hand Path's movement system: you're a wizard. (Harry.) 

So here's how room-scale VR tends to work. You're standing up, walking around, and interacting with things with your hands. It's incredibly immersive. If you want to read a book on a table, you walk over to it and pick it up. If you want to look down a hidden passageway, you kneel down and look down it. And so on. 

Obviously, you've only got a few metres to move around in, so devs have to figure out how to get around that. A lot of games have, after experimenting, settled on a teleport mechanic: you point the controller where you want to move your room space to, and go there. 

Normally I find that's a bit immersion-breaking unless it's built into the world, as "Budget Cuts", one of the launch demos, does really well. 

But since you're a wizard in Left-Hand Path, it makes perfect sense – you're literally teleporting yourself around. And indeed, that means I can use a lot of Dark Souls-like combat mechanics – the short-range teleport is this game's equivalent of the roll, without requiring you to actually combat-roll with a Vive on! An eight-foot-tall armoured soulless... thing runs toward you – you watch carefully, wait for it to swing, blink behind it and swing round to blast it with magic whilst it's still figuring out what happened. 

I've also added in a conventional locomotion option: sliding around the world. Some people find that's really immersive, and I wanted to cater for all tastes. 

MMORPG.com: We are big fans of the Vive’s two controller system. How was it working with that interface to create the staff and spells that characters use?

HH: It's absolutely brilliant. I've been a big fan of motion control since the Wii – I'm a martial artist and I tend to think very physically, so it really makes a lot of sense to me. 

And the physicality of the Vive is absolutely amazing. You can really get a workout in it! 

That's something I've really tried to emphasise in Left-Hand Path. In Left-Hand Path you have a staff in your right hand, from which your spells emanate, and your left hand is, well, a hand. You'll physically move around a lot, whether directing spells from your staff, drawing glyphs in the air with your left hand (which is how you cast spells), drawing a circle around yourself, ducking under an axe the size of your entire body, dodging incoming projectiles, peering into hidden rooms... 

It's a new world in gaming. It's utterly fantastic. 

MMORPG.com: Can you talk about the Lore of the game? What types of monsters inhabit the world and how can players interact with them?

HH: Quite a lot of the game is figuring out the mystery of where you are and what you're doing there, but I can tell you some of it. 

In the world – or worlds – of Left-Hand Path, there is a legend of a place called the Well Of All Reward. Most magicians believe it's just a metaphor, or a dream-state, but some crazy people think you can actually get there by performing terrible rituals. 

Legends say that the Well of All Reward offers all rewards that can be dreamed of, in Heaven or on Earth. But those legends also say that the reward is not certain and the price is rarely worth it. 

The Well is supposed to be a magical landscape of multiple worlds: some of them include Nehemoth, the Silent Place where the Lillim, children of Lillith, wait below; Sathariel, the Hidden Land where foul mists obscure the Soulless (and more dangerous creatures besides) roaming with axe and sword; and Samael, the final trial.

You awake in a silent castle, which is apparently drifting in the void. But it soon becomes apparent that you are in the mythical Well. And the question then becomes who you are, what you did to get here, and how you can now survive...

Not everything in the world is hostile, and you'll meet other characters, with their own agendas and stories. In fact, learning the stories of what has happened in the Well is key to the game. 

But some things really are hostile, and whether they're the hungry corpses of sacrifice victims or the twisted Soulless attacking en masse, you'll have to learn to defeat them. Which isn't going to be easy. 

Oh, and of course Soulslike games are famous for their boss fights. I'm not going to spoiler those at all, but let's just say I've been taking my responsibility to offer boss fights unlike anything else in the Vive seriously...

MMORPG.com: The launch is coming soon, tell us about your plans surrounding the time leading up to launch and what ideas you have for the game in the future.

HH: Pre-launch was a bit of a blur of testing, testing again, testing again, and getting some features in at the last minute whilst I was at it. The game now features a left-hand comfort mode for left-handed players, and I managed to add sliding locomotion as I mentioned above. I've also added a nice bevvy of Steam Achievements for achievement hunters – some of which are brutally hard! 

Once launch settles down, I've got an aggressive development schedule planned. Early Access games have a bit of a reputation for not updating very often, and I want to avoid that. I'm looking to add a New Game Plus mode – which will be considerably more complex than just "monsters have more health" – to extend everyone's enjoyment. After that, I'll be working to add new areas to the Well, allowing you to get deeper into the story. Next up is Gamchicoth, the Place of Hunger – which should be very fun, and I've got a really unique Frankenstein-like twist planned for that one. Then there's Samael, which will be weird  – I'm already describing this game to actors as "Game of Thrones directed by David Lynch", but Samael will really be something else. And finally then there's the Well itself, which will be an entire separate area with the toughest battles so far where you find out what's really going on, and make your decisions as to how your story in the Well will end...

And I may produce bonus areas too, if the game's successful!