Developer: Catch & Release
Formats: PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Release Date: January 30th 2017
Check out our interview with James and Matthew, the sole employees at Catch & Release, who are working on the upcoming virtual reality puzzle-shooter Cold Iron.
How would you describe Cold Iron to someone who had never heard of it?
Matthew: It’s like disarming a bomb with a gun. You have to identify your opponent’s weakness and then be fast enough to exploit it in the blink of an eye. If you’ve ever played Punch-Out!!, think about that moment when Bald Bull is rushing toward you and a perfectly-timed punch will send him to the mat. Now imagine that it’s in VR, so your mistakes are announced by fire from a gun pointed at you. It’s all about keeping a cool head in VR’s hottest pressure cooker.
You’ve referred to Cold Iron as the ‘world’s first virtual reality puzzle shooter’. It’s quite refreshing to see someone trying something a little different with the genre, especially since there are already plenty of shooters available in virtual reality, but I have no idea what a ‘puzzle shooter’ really is. How exactly does Cold Iron blend shooting and puzzling mechanics together?
James: Dueling is all about high stakes. If a player goes into a duel thinking about the controller in her hand, the illusion is ruined and the stakes are gone. The gun is something every player understands intuitively, so we chose to make shooting the way you interact with the world because it allows you to look past the controller. The gun becomes an extension of you.
Matthew: The puzzles are what you interact with using the gun. The puzzles are how you overcome each opponent because it’s never as simple as depleting a health bar or blasting until there’s nothing left standing. There’s a duelist who tricks you into shooting a mirror image of himself. There’s a duelist who blinds you. The name of the game is quickness, and that means having a quick mind, too.
I’ve always been a fan of ‘boss rush’ titles, so seeing that Cold Iron’s gameplay is going to be based around showdowns with different Duelists really appeals to me. How many Duelists can players expect to take on in the game and how do they vary from one another?
James: Putting a number on it would spoil an element of the story, but anyone who manages to overcome every duelist should be physically exhausted, mentally exhausted, and proud of himself.
Matthew: The best insight I can give into the design process for duelists is that your tools–the gun in your hand and the brain in your head–stay the same, but everything else is subject to change.
There seems to be an emphasis on starting a new journey in order to complete challenges and uncover secrets too. How much will a player’s second playthrough of Cold Iron differ from the first? Is there a lot more on offer outside of the story to keep them coming back for more?
James: Without spoiling too much, the story isn’t over even after you reach the end of your journey. There’s a lot more to do after your first playthrough, like completing challenges to earn bronze, silver, and gold statues. In particular, true gunslingers will have a lot of fun with the post-game content.
Judging by the screenshots, Cold Iron isn’t just going to be a trudge across the Wild West taking on cowboys and bandits, but seems to have fantasy and futuristic elements in place too. Do these elements tie into the universe in some special way, or is it simply a case of you guys wanting to create something that feels really unique?
Matthew: From the very beginning, we wanted to make a game about dueling against impossible odds like a tank or a sorcerer, and we realized what an incredible story challenge that would be. We worked backwards from there to create a narrative experience that feels intimate and personal but still cosmic and magical.
James: The story that combines these wildly different elements is brought to life by a talented voice actor named Dylan McKinnon. Dylan’s character narrates your entire journey, from your humble beginnings to the thrilling conclusion.
You’ve mentioned that Cold Iron has gone through plenty of re-imaginings during its development and that some of your design choices have been influenced by advice you’ve received from industry veterans. In what way has the game evolved since its inception? Was there any piece of advice that you took on that particularly struck a chord with you during the game’s development?
James: We’re nobodies. We went to our first E3 last year with a different game that vaguely resembled Cold Iron. I briefly met one of my game design heroes, Tim Schafer, and he didn’t like or understand the old name. We went to the few meetings we had scheduled and struggled to explain what the game was and how all these different parts fit together. It was such a terrifying experience that we went back to our hotel room and filled a notebook with new ideas for the game and its story.
Matthew: Some of the best advice we received was from Tak Fujii. He said that VR is “mendokusai”–a pain in the ass. Players accustomed to convenience have to go through the trouble of adjusting headset straps and using an unfamiliar controller, so as game developers we have to do everything in our power to make it worth it. For us, that meant refining our controls in a way that lets players forget about the hardware and focus on the fun.
One of the goals of your company is to ‘revive the complete, wholesome gaming experiences of our youth’. What gaming experiences from your younger years would you say inspired you to create Cold Iron?
James (30 years old): Samurai Kirby from Kirby Superstar, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, and Sunset Riders.
Matthew (24 years old): Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid, and Portal.
Are there any older games in particular that you’ve played through that you’d love to see re-imagined in virtual reality? I’m hoping for a House of the Dead or Point Blank re-release myself…
James: Pokémon Snap!
Your last game was the mobile title Star Billions (which gamers can check out here), so developing for virtual reality devices is quite the change. How has the shift in platforms worked out for you? Is it something you’d like to do more of after the release of Cold Iron?
Matthew: Star Billions was released late for a mobile game. It’s a great game, but at the time we released it there wasn’t the same sense of excitement and discovery like there is in VR right now. It’s thrilling to be a part of the future of entertainment, and as long as that excitement exists, we’ll keep making VR games.
Finally, can you tell us a neat fact about Cold Iron that no-one outside of the development team knows?
James: The southern, gravelly-voiced narrator you hear throughout the game and the teaser trailer is voiced by 21-year-old Australian Dylan McKinnon. It’s a well-kept secret until he ends every e-mail reply with “Cheers, mate.”