• Turtle Rock Studios is launching The Well, a role-playing game for the Samsung Gear VR, at Oculus Connect 4.
  • The game marks a major departure in style and genre for the studio compared to previous titles such as Left 4 Dead and Evolve.
  • Steve Goldstein: “Word-of-mouth on VR is even more powerful than what we’ve seen with traditional games.”
Chloe Skew, producer at Turtle Rock Studios

Turtle Rock Studios made a name for itself with cooperative first-person shooter (FPS) games such as the Left 4 Dead series, where four players survive against zombie hordes, and 2015’s Evolve, where players hunt giant player-controlled monsters on alien worlds. But recently, the studio has been working with Oculus to establish itself in the VR space, starting with Face Your Fears, which features a series of VR frights. On Wednesday, the studio took a step further with the launch of The Well for the Samsung Gear VR, which coincides with Oculus Connect 4.

The Well is a classic role-playing game (RPG) with a unique art style that makes players feel like they’re stepping into a pop-up storybook, which is a big departure from the studio’s previous games. Players can choose between four hero classes, so players may want to go through the four-to-six-hour experience multiple times.

“Coming from Left 4 Dead and Evolved, we were known for realistic first-person shooter art styles,” said Chloe Skew, producer at Turtle Rock Studios, speaking with AListDaily. “With The Well, we have a dark and twisted fantasy storybook look to it. We have turn-based combat, a lot of exploration and different hybrid creatures to encounter and fight.”

Skew was joined by Steve Goldstein, president and general manager at Turtle Rock Studios, and the studio’s co-founder Chris Ashton, who talked about how the company has taken a strong interest in the Gear VR platform. With The Well, players can use either a Gear VR hand controller or a gamepad to interact with the world, and the game automatically saves once the headset is taken off for a smooth return to it later on.

“We targeted that platform for a number of different reasons, but one of the biggest is that it’s the largest player base on VR right now,” Ashton explained. “We’ve had pretty good success with our previous title, Face Your Fears, which is one of the most popular titles on Gear VR. But that’s a horror experience—you’re not actually playing a game—you’re looking around and triggering three-minute scary experiences. Our intent as a studio was to get into VR and take it step-by-step, continuing to do bigger things rather than jumping all in and doing a huge AAA VR title.”

Skew added that one of the benefits of working with VR is that there is a lot of experimentation going on in the space, which frees the studio to branch out to new genres such as RPGs.

With The Well, Turtle Rock purposefully aimed for a shorter experience, combining the best aspects of the VR and mobile platforms. The studio wanted players to have full and satisfying experiences through one- or two-hour gameplay sessions.

“I think that with the Samsung Gear player base, there are a lot of people exploring VR, which is something that sets it apart from PlayStation VR or the HTC Vive, which both have pretty high costs,” said Skew. “We wanted to make something that was approachable, even by people who don’t identify as gamers, and give them that accessible experience that might get them interested in games.”

Chris Ashton, co-founder of Turtle Rock Studios

Turtle Rock made its reputation through cooperative games, but The Well does not have multiplayer capabilities. Instead, players can choose from eight different companions to join them on adventures, but they can only bring two at a time.

“With VR, we’re exploring different avenues,” said Ashton. “We also have the challenge of trying to do multiplayer on the Gear VR platform. We wanted to tell a story and build an interesting world that’s designed for you to jump in without having to wait on others to join. Although we love multiplayer, especially co-op, that wasn’t part of the design goal for The Well.”

Goldstein reiterated how VR gave the studio a chance to expand beyond cooperative first-person shooters. He said, “With The Well, we have an opportunity to create an amazing RPG, and our upcoming games will also be in different genres.”

Skew said that multiplayer might be a consideration when the studio is developing VR games in the future. Turtle Rock will remain focused on developing for the Gear VR, but the success of Face Your Fear led the studio to port the game to the Oculus Rift. So, the same might happen for The Well if players take to it.

Face Your Fears debuted last year at Oculus Connect 3, the same way The Well is being shown at Oculus Connect 4. Goldstein said that Oculus has been a valuable partner when promoting Face Your Fears on social media and giving it featured placement on the Oculus Store. He then compared the promotion of VR games to traditional console and PC titles.

“VR, especially Gear, is a new platform that is—in many ways—untested when it comes to marketing,” he said. “All of it is an experiment, and you can’t use the same playbook that you do with a AAA title. With AAA, you’re talking about tens of millions of dollars being spent over the course of at least a year to build brand awareness. Whereas, one of the most successful things that happened with Face Your Fears was that it grew organically due to people posting videos of them reacting to the experience on YouTube. When it came to The Well, we decided to announce it, get a trailer up and get people excited about it, then release the game a week later to see what happens.”

Goldstein also said discovery for VR games has a lot to do with store placement, likening the market to mobile app stores.

“But I also think that the nature of VR—although a lot of people think it’s isolating—is a very communal experience, especially with Gear,” said Goldstein. “You can play an experience around other people, and those people get to see your reactions. Reactions in VR are a lot more visceral than when you’re playing a [traditional] game. There’s expression and excitement going on with gasps and occasionally screams. So, people around them see that it’s very exciting and will want to try that out. We found that word-of-mouth on VR is even more powerful than what we’ve seen with traditional games.”

“The portability of Gear is very advantageous,” Ashton added. “While we love the AAA experiences of the Rift and Vive, it’s not something that I can easily take to show my sister. Gear makes it easy to share stuff with other people.”

Steve Goldstein, president and general manager at Turtle Rock Studios

Turtle Rock continues to support Face Your Fears by regularly adding new content. Every time new content comes out, that user base gets excited for the game again.

“Because it’s so early, it’s going to be challenging to keep people going long-term,” Goldstein explained. “But the best way to do that is to let them know that new experiences are available and encourage them to spread the word by talking and posting about them, showing how they engage. That type of content is fun for other people to watch.”

That being said, there is no plan to create ongoing content for The Well.

Face Your Fears is comprised of bite-sized, lightly interactive experiences,” said Skew. “The Well was created as a four-to-six-hour game with some replayability. So, they’re very different approaches. We didn’t build The Well with a plan of ongoing content.”

Goldstein said, “The Well is much more akin to a traditional RPG. It’s a robust and exciting universe that can be revisited. Like other RPGs, if it performs well, then there might be a possibility for a sequel.”

The studio has been engaging with its fan base through social media and on forums dedicated to VR. Goldstein said that much of its community is aware that the studio is entering the VR space and they’re excited about how it’s taking on a new platform and genre.

“The exciting thing about VR and the opportunities we’re being given is that we’re not necessarily placed into one particular genre,” said Goldstein. “When it comes to the reputation we built from Left 4 Dead and Evolve, if we were to make a AAA game, publishers would expect it to be an FPS—most likely a co-op multiplayer FPS. With VR, we want to establish ourselves as a creator of premier quality entertainment for the VR space, whether it’s an RPG, single-player or multiplayer, we want to establish ourselves as a great purveyor of VR content.”

Although Goldstein didn’t refer to the Oculus Go, which was announced on Wednesday at Oculus Connect 4, he spoke about how new VR hardware would have to become more accessible.

“More accessible is going to mean untethered and portable,” said Goldstein. “So, I think that you’re going to see a mass market adoption of VR hardware when users are able to throw it on, turn it on and just have it work in the same way as a console. Actually, I argue that we can do better than consoles. Working to be as accessible as it is to own and operate a cell phone is the direction VR needs to go, and I think it will get to that point in the near future.”

The emphasis on accessibility is why Turtle Rock is focusing on Gear VR development.

“We want to be where the mass market is going to be in the VR space,” said Goldstein.