Rez Infinite and the 'tidal wave' of VR that's coming
Tetsuya Mizuguchi has always been a forward-looking developer, and we learned from his Rez postmortem at this year's GDC just what a hard-working one he is, too -- how deeply he (and his team, at Sega) searched for how the rules behind the experience he wanted to create worked.
The masterwork that resulted from his hard graft is Rez, which released in 2001 on the PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast, and which has endured all this time. In fact, it's set to come back in the form of Rez Infinite, a full-HD, virtual-reality remake for the PlayStation VR headset due later this year.
Gamasutra found Mizuguchi demoing his game at Sony's PlayStation VR event at GDC, and queried him about this nascent medium's future and Rez's very nature.
This is the game that got you to come back to making games. Can you tell me why?
First of all, I don't think I ever said that I actually retired from games! But it was a good time for me to recharge my batteries, in a way. I left Q Entertainment, the studio I was involved in and co-founded. For a very long time, I was there.
I went of to explore and seek and get my hands on different experiences, for example, teaching at Keio Media Design. That was a transitional period for me. All throughout that time, I was doing my homework to get me where this project is today. So it was really a matter of timing, and the amount of seeding the project a little bit, at the same time.
It's too early for me to retire!
From Mizuguchi's classic postmortem of Rez: The inspiration for the game's title
VR is here. Do you think it's going to be a success? How big of a success will it be?
VR obviously is not a brand-new thing that happened just yesterday. Even my own experience, back when I was at Sega, I can recall in '92, '93, we were involved and exploring VR projects at that time.
Fast-forward 20-something years, if you look at the market of VR, there's always been these small waves that come, but then they go, and then they come, and go. But these are very small waves. This time, it's almost like a tidal wave -- it's a very big wave. And because of the technology that's available out there, today, I don't think this tidal wave is going to go away, as they did before when they were smaller.
So whether it's the advancement in technology allowing for better resolution, the sensor technology, everything all around that supports the VR tech is already here. So it's almost like the tidal wave has pushed the doors open, and it's really opened the doors for us.
You see Facebook making a big investment in Oculus, saying that this is the next platform for computing. Do you agree with statements that are that large?
I think even though that is a bold statement, there is some potential slash truth to that. Let's say 10 to 15 years from now, kids, in the future, they might look at what we're using today -- our PCs, our tablets, our MacBook Airs and our notebook PCs, they might look at that and say, "What the hell is this? Why am I typing on individual keyboard keys? Why is the space so tight and small?" Maybe, at that time, in the future, it's something that might be accepted as a standard medium, or platform. I can see that happening.
The original design of Rez is that it took place in a computer system. Were you thinking of these kinds of scenarios when making the story originally?
Thematically, I didn't. And I don't think that this is a theme, or a concept, or a kernel of an idea that's ever really going to change. It's going to be told in some shape or form, whether it's 10, 20 or 50 years, or a whole century from now -- that you need to get rid of these viruses. Something that is invading, that you have to get rid of.
There are a lot of metaphors that I also used, and interpreted and expressed in a game way, one being that it's the theme -- the underlying theme for the story of Rez is the conception of a sperm fighting its way through, the one and only survivng sperm trying to meet its egg. That's the theme that the team was thinking about, and how we can translate it into a game expression form. When you think about it that way, as long as there are humans alive, that's something that can be interpreted in so many different ways. This is just one form of that.
And also, it's related with the Singularity as a theme. So maybe that kind of theme is something we'll face soon. I really think so.
Has making a VR game now met your expectations of what making a VR game would be like?
First of all, yes. It's met the VR that I was envisioning. But beyond that I think there are so many other possibilities now, it's like today's VR has given us a blank canvas, so to speak. It's more than just, obviously, games. It's all other kinds of content.
The funny thing is that when you look at the term "virtual reality," there's reality in our real-world reality, but it's really about how much of the unreal reality you can bring into the virtual reality world. In that sense, the creativity and creative content that can be created in that unreality space, whether we go to fantasy or just non-reality, that seems endless in terms of possibilities and potential.
When you first released this game, you introduced a lot of people to the concept of synesthesia. With VR you can, in a way, force synesthesia. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about that.
With the original, even before starting work on the original Rez, when I was at Sega -- and even before that, when I was in school, VR was something that was always lingering in my head. In the early days at Sega, I was involved in VR projects, but there was always this layer of frustration that we couldn't just break down the wall and freely say, "this is VR, it's arrived!"
Fast-forward to now, with Rez Infinite being fully in VR. Like you said, it's not really "forcing," but because I am able to free myself of the frustration I've always had, a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It's only natural that I can showcase and demonstrate what that really means. It's allowing me to do that, through this Rez that I had always envisioned what it would be like in VR. That's probably another reason why -- I didn't retire per se -- but that's the motivation that probably brought me back, bringing Rez Infinite this time into VR.
Rez Infinite's new level, "Area X"
You often hear from designers of VR games that the kinds of interactions we are used to don't work in VR, and we're going to have to use new ideas. Rez is a new version of an older game. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this?
I have to agree with that sentiment. I just happen to probably have more of a VR-ness angle before some of the games -- not just this one, but other games I've worked on too. But you can't just simply "adapt" or "port" an existing game if it's not really designed for VR.
Do you foresee new forms of interaction that you want to achieve with VR in the future?
There are, yes, and part of us challenging to make this brand-new area that we're calling "Area X" right now for Rez Infinite, is us trying to make that come alive. It's very experiential for us, because it's hard to think that a preexisting game logic formula will work. A lot of it is trial and error. But I am ultimately hoping that something that we put into Area X is going to give us an idea of what the new form of expression is.