Stuff meets VR developer Jörg Tittel
The filmmaker turned game developer talks turning a cult Dreamcast title into a PSVR2 game
Jörg Tittel is one of the most prolific VR game developers right now, with not one but two new VR titles, made in collaboration with pioneering VR studio Wolf & Wood Interactive, coming out in the first half of 2023. The first one is The Last Worker (also coming to non-VR platforms), a dystopian narrative adventure that was also the first game to ever be submitted in competition to the Venice Film Festival.
The other is C-Smash VRS, a reimagining of a futuristic arcade sports game (think squash meet Breakout in cyberspace) that was released on Dreamcast only in Japan that’s coming exclusively to PlayStation VR2. We met up with him to talk about how he got into games via a background in theatre and filmmaking, and what makes VR the most exciting medium.
I used to be a games journalist
I studied theatre at New York University at the turn of the century, which is kind of mad. At the time, I missed one element from my childhood, which was video games, and so I started working as a games journalist. Soon after, the Dreamcast came out, and meeting all the Sega talent at the time was my thing.
I always refused to review games because I wanted to make games one day, and I didn’t want to have the hurt on the other end one day! Even back then, bringing the worlds of theatre, film and games together was something that I was already doing. I felt that it was a natural trajectory for things to be in the future.
VR made me want to make games again
I worked at Activision briefly in 2001. I didn’t enjoy my time there very much. I also wanted to retain my love for games. I was struggling really hard to break into film at the time, and so if everything’s going to be a struggle, I’d rather just keep my love for games pure, and come back to it when I’m ready for it.
It was when Firewatch came along, and I saw a first person narrative experience that I adored and was a big hit, that’s when I wanted to make a narrative VR game.
The Last Worker premiered at the Venice Film Festival
Venice Film Festival has had an immersive strand and VR competition for years, but they don’t do games, it’s 360 video art projects. It was bizarrely friends from HTC, when they saw that we were making The Last Worker, they said we should enter it in Venice.
We weren’t ready, the deadline had already passed, and all I had was some concept art, but they said, “Can you get something ready six weeks from now when the festival is happening?” And we’re like, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’ It was crazy!
It’s taken us two years to make the full game but it was amazing to make the first 15 minutes, which had a narrative arc to it as well, and people loved it. So Venice was a great honour.
C-Smash VRS is based on a Dreamcast game never released outside of Japan
As the Dreamcast was sadly not the success that it should have been, I observed some projects getting cancelled. And at the end of that, two games came out in 2001. One was Rez and the other one was Cosmic Smash.
When I saw that box, a beautifully designed DVD case – it was the only game on Dreamcast to have that – I needed to have it. I imported a copy of it from Japan, and when I played it, I was blown away. Even back in 2001, when I experienced this, I wanted to be in this world, I wanted to play this in VR.
VRS also means ‘versus’ but it’s not meant to be competitive
When I play squash with a friend, we like to have a good chat. This is one of the most intense sports out there, but it never feels like we’re competing, it almost feels like we’re playing together, even when we’re playing for points. Hopefully that’s the spirit the game will have, because there’s so much toxicity in competitive gaming already.
To make a sports game that’s actually about just being good to yourself and good with someone else is a spirit that I don’t see in other sports titles. It’s also a sports game with a philosophy behind it. It’s set at the edge of time and space where everything is finite. In a world where everything is finite, you might as well have a good time.
I’m bored of realism
I think when people strive for realism visually, that quest for the natural to me is boring, because it’s sort of gaslighting us out of our lived experience. I like to be transported somewhere else, we need to dream. I just wanted to make the most natural human thing in VR.
As a kid when I first saw Tron for the first time, I was like, I love this aesthetic. But I want to be in it not against my own will, I want to feel good in this aesthetic. Working with the best graphic designers I could think of, everyone is committed to reducing everything to the essence of what feels good.
I believe in PlayStation VR2
PlayStation to me is a company that also has been a great supporter of indies. With C-Smash, we went to PlayStation with it and they jumped at it, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. I believe in this system. I know people are like, ‘Oh, but this is risky because it’s not a mainstream thing, we don’t know how many of them they will sell.’
Maybe this will sound arrogant, but I want to make a game that everyone on PlayStation VR2 wants to play. So it doesn’t matter how small the numbers are in the first year. If the vast majority of people are at least keen to try out the demo and see where it takes them, then we would have done something right.
The Last Worker releases on PSVR2, Quest, PC, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series X/S on 30th March. A demo for C-Smash VRS is available on PSVR2 from 23 March.