No tethers, no limits

A very long post about a year of rebuilding SUPERHOT VR for the Oculus Quest

Exciting times at SUPERHOT!

Early next week we’ll be upgrading a few hundred press and review people from an early 5-minute demo to the full, finished version of SUPERHOT VR for Quest. No corners cut from high end platforms, no compromises on gameplay, all the freedom and portability of the Quest we’re convinced that this is the best platform for SUPERHOT VR yet, and we’re excited to finally be able to share it with others.

All of you amazing pre-order people should start getting your Quests not long after that. We’ve spent more than a year with this project. We can’t wait to see your reactions and hear about all the ways that you’ll abuse the Quest’s lack of tethers to do awesome tricks and break the game in amazing ways.

Szymon is busy shooting an unexplainably weird and complicated live action trailer, so I’m filling in to catch everyone up. I’ll talk about how we got here, what we changed, and generally fill out some context in the lead up to the official Quest launch.

The System will set you free

The System will set you free

I’ll start with some SUPERHOT VR and Quest history and leak some behind the scenes trivia. If you’re just here to see what changed then go ahead and skim down to the bottom.

SUPERHOT VR on Quest has been in production for over a year

That’s longer than the original SUPERHOT VR for PCs

We were invited to see the early devkits a fair bit over a year go –- back in the days of yore when Quest was still codenamed Santa Cruz. A couple of us were shepherded into a secret Oculus room and shown a very very early internal demo.

We were immediately blown away. Quest was obviously a new quality in VR.

We have worked with VR from the days of clunky Oculus DK1s with Razer Hydras sellotaped to the headstrap. In all of those years, we have not seen anything even close to Quest’s promise and potential. 

Razer Hydra
apply directly to the forehead

That first Quest demo the lack of distracting tethers, full 360 tracking, free roaming in a large space, all on a standalone device that takes 10 seconds to set up it was a landmark experience for us. It was similar to what it felt like to try out 6DOF head- and hand-tracking VR for the first time.

High-end 6DOF VR made it clear that you can make amazing, immersive VR experiences things that will never work on regular screens, things that make you feel like you’re somebody else, like you have superpowers.

Quest made it clear that you can push this immersion to the next level now. You drop the need for any physical anchors that keep you rooted in your regular reality  you’re no longer constrained by cameras and limited tracking space, you no longer have a heavy cable that keeps pulling on the back of your head, you can bring a Quest with you in a canvas back and you can drop your grandparents into VR in 20 seconds flat.

We wouldn’t get our own devkits for a few more months after trying the prototype, but we immediately started sorting out things we would do better if we got SUPERHOT VR to run on the Quest.

We were taking a game that only runs on high-end PCs burning 200 Watts of GTX 970s and i7s. We were planning to convert it to run smoothly on a 4 Watt mobile chipset.

SUPERHOT VR on Quest, if we managed to make it, would be able to have larger walkable spaces, it would use the 360 tetherless tracking, it would have guest modes for friends. It would free us to drop so many constraints that we were forced to design into the original tethered SUPERHOT VR. We were excited.

We rounded up some of the smartest VR developers we knew and kicked off a conversion project that would eventually take over a year of development to get right.

Several weeks later, the team ripped out 95% of the visual effects, rewrote a few of the core gameplay systems and managed to get some levels to a playable state. Those levels were already amazing.

Quest unlocked a whole swath of new potential features and design options for us. Larger playspaces were particularly exciting to explore. Running around in huge 20x20ft virtual environments seemed to open up so many new opportunities.

Don’t try this at home.
Quest works best inside.

A bunch of larger, more walkable levels got prototyped. We started working with Oculus to show a sneak peek to the world at their annual Oculus Connect conference.

After a couple of months of improving performance and fiddling with the larger levels, the team playtested the new levels against a benchmark of our original SUPERHOT VR sequences.

Turned out walking around was way less exciting than just naturally using larger playspaces to be even more of a badass in the tight, action-packed combat scenes of the original game.

The larger areas were scrapped two weeks before OC5. The team changed course and started reworking the original levels for the Quest.

By this point it was also still a very visually stripped down version of the high-end SUPERHOT VR. There was the bare minimum of lighting, textures, and camera effects. We were anxious about people seeing how much we removed to get to this stage and having a bad first impression.

The gameplay was already amazing though. We decided to put a lid on work-in-progress screenshots and videos from the device. We kept it as an impressions only demo. It was glorious.

SUPERHOTs signature gameplay and the wow-factor of a first-time Quest experience made people blind to any visual changes. All of the reactions to the demo were super positive and excited. Some people even felt that the general visual quality was better than on the Rift because of the Quests superior display resolution, even though we had lessened the visual quality to make it work on time

“Superhot VR On Oculus Quest Feels Like The Way It Was Always Meant To Be Played”

With the freedom to move whenever, wherever without the constraints of a cable holding you back the entire battlefield became an open playground. You could duck, strafe and jump without fear of bringing your entire system crashing to the ground, making this upcoming version the best yet when it comes to the headset in 2019”

I enjoyed the freedom of playing Superhot VR on the Quest, as if it were meant to be played that way.”

Case in point: I also played SuperHot on the Quest, and it ran just fine, indistinguishable from the game running on a PC, at least for me as a mere Superhot dabbler. I’d say it was actually better on the Quest: I was able to freely walk around and dodge incoming bullets, and catch guns out of the air using the Touch controllers just as effectively as I could on a PC.”

This exceeded the highest possible expectations we could have had for the Quest and for our short gameplay demo. People’s reactions were way better than what we had hoped for. We confirmed to ourselves that the full Quest conversion must happen in time for platform launch.

From that point on, work on SUPERHOT VR for Quest ramped up in earnest

It wouldn’t be easy. We wanted to elevate the visuals to high-end platform levels, we wanted to change important parts of core gameplay systems, we wanted to keep everything working at top performance on a mobile chipset.

The team spent months tearing out underperforming systems some of them grandfathered from the original non-VR SUPERHOT from 4 years ago and rewriting them from scratch with painstakingly careful attention to every single CPU and GPU cycle wasted. It was the most work-intensive porting project we’ve ever done.

It didn’t always work on the first try.

But in the end, with near superhuman effort and a lot of world-class gamedev chops, the team has prevailed. They rewrote all of the materials, made new textures, camera effects and lighting, built an entirely new enemy animation and shattering system from scratch, manually optimized all of the 3D models and level geometry across the entire game, rewrote all of the low-level memory management and loading systems, fixed two hundred other bugs and issues, and still had the boundless energy to include Quest-specific gameplay features before launch. The team literally rewrote the way that bullets and enemies work, in a game which is mostly about shooting bullets at enemies.

The vast majority of the visuals have been brought back to high-end levels. All of the gameplay is buttery smooth and satisfying.

The team has truly proven themselves to be kings among men. They took a best-selling, landmark VR title, rebuilt it without compromise for a mobile chipset, and made parts of it better than the original.

So what’s changed and what’s improved?

SUPERHOT VR on the Quest is the full, unabridged, unadulterated SUPERHOT experience. It brings the entire SUPERHOT VR story, all of its gameplay, all of the challenge modes and endless arenas.

You’ll fight your way through all of SUPERHOT VR’s signature tight, action sequences. Quest gives you new ways to solve them too.

New gameplay flow

Pyramids within levels are gone. You’re thrown relentlessly into fight after fight after fight. You flow through the action and the world revolves around you.

You no longer need the pyramids between level phases to reorient yourself. Quest’s lack of tether means you can never trip on cables and we don’t need to worry about the direction you’re facing. The system can now push you through phase after phase, rotating the world around you so that you always face the action.

And if you’re an old-school fan of SUPERHOT VR, we hid a secret legacy-mode floppy in the hacker room trash can just for you.

Free roaming support

You can move without tethers through hails of slow motion bullets. You are now free.

There are no more cables to constrict you and limit your motions. You can walk up to your enemies, take their guns away, use their falling bodies to shield yourself from bullets. You can dodge roll and roundhouse shoot your enemies. Nothing is holding you back.

Guest mode

You can just pack up and take your Quest with you to a friends house, a tennis court, or your office.

The simple act of putting a Quest in a canvas bag and taking it with you has been mind-blowing to everyone on the team. Sharing VR with friends and family is a big and important aspect of owning a Quest. The game now has a convenient guest mode floppy disk to feed your friends to the System easier.

What’s next?

The team is going to continue working on the game after Quest launches. We have a long list of small improvements and features that we’d like to add to the game. We’re sure we can dial the visuals up even further, and we want to bring some refinements from our Arcade Edition to make for richer guest and party experiences. We also plan on retrofitting some of the Quest project’s performance boosts back into the PC and PSVR branches. We’ll look at adding the pyramidless flow and rotation systems into other tetherless platforms now and in the future.

There’s a long list of things we want to explore and improve, but most importantly we want to see you play the game, see and hear what you loved and hated about it and how you broke it to your will. Speedrun strats should still work! We will work with you to improve SUPERHOT VR on Quest even more.

No tethers. No limits. No compromise.

Let the System set you free.

We’re really looking forward to the 21st.

We love you, stay awesome,
Tom from the SUPERHOT Team