At EGX 2015, GameSkinny got to interview Jaakko Kemppainen, the Lead Game Designer at Mindfield Games. They are currently working on a new title called Pollen.
Pollen is a first-person exploration game, set on a space station orbiting Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. A fatal accident happened to one of the crew members, so you are sent to the station to replace them. When you get there, you notice some things are not quite right. You take it upon yourself to work out what’s gone wrong by finding clues in books, photos, or audio logs.
Pollen is best played with a VR headset, and Mindfield Games is still working out how best to use the HTC Vive controllers. The focus on VR is so strong that certain things in the game change when in or out of VR.
After Jaakko and I had a brief conversation about the overall idea of Pollen, we got to talking about the role of VR in the game, as well as its interactivity and immersion.
GameSkinny: I guess VR is fundamental to the game then?
Jaakko Kemppainen: Pollen is built around VR, so in VR we think it’s really important make the environments as interactive as possible. All the little items in [Pollen], you can actually pick them up, you can rotate them, you can examine them closer. Then there are all the story items, like books, letters, and photos. They will give you hints and clues about what has happened on the station. Little by little you will reveal the big picture and understand the whole story.
GS: You mention being able to pick up any object. I’m guessing that was quite a large part of the initial design?
JK: Yes, as we found out that in VR if the environments are static they do not feel real, so you lose your immersion there. It has to be built in a way that allows you to pick up all the coffee mugs, pens, and what ever you find. That lead to the the idea that the whole space station is a large sandbox where you can play with things, you can play basketball. Or if you want to, you can start building walls from the books.
GS: So VR is becoming a bigger and bigger thing, but what made you want make your game in VR?
JK: Well [Mindfield Games] was built around the idea of VR first. We think that VR is growing, and will be really wonderful in a couple of years. We wanted to be part of that developement from the very beginning. So we are making VR games, but our games will also be available for normal computers or consoles.
GS: You mention consoles, does this mean that Pollen will be on Sony VR?
JK: Yes, but we are first releasing [Pollen] on the other VR platforms, like OSVR, Oculus, HTC Vive, but also for normal computers on Steam. After this we will be looking to release for PlayStation, and Sony VR.
GS: So no plans for Xbox One owners?
JK: Unless something VR happens with Xbox, then no.
GS: When designing a VR environment, you need to be able to look everywhere. So what was the biggest challenge with designing the environment around that?
JK: I would say VR also requires a lot of detail, because you are able to look at things very closly. So that means the textures are very high quality, and the models are also very detailed. That of course leads to the fact that you also need to have quite a powerful computer.
GS: I see you have also modeled the bottom of the helmet, I’m guessing that’s an immersion thing? Is that a decision you made from the start, or did you try without?
JK: Yes, it’s for immersion, but there’s also a practice reason. It blocks you from seeing your own body, because when you are in VR and if you see your fake body in the game it feels really strange. Because if you are sitting down, but your body in the game is walking you kind of get disconnected from the game. That’s why we decided we are not showing your hands, legs, or anything, and why we have the helmet there.
GS: Would the helmet have any gameplay elements then, like health or oxygen?
JK: No, as [Pollen‘s] not a fighting game. If you jump from a ledge or something, you can take damage but it will heal quite quickly. It just tells you that you have done something really dangerous.
GS: You mention no fighting, does that mean no aliens or no jump scares?
JK: Yes, this is not a horror game, it’s an exploration adventure game. But we do have some elements of mystery, and some quite intense areas which can feel a bit frightening if you are a sensitive person.
GS: So kind of like a space detective?
JK: Yes, somewhat like that, sometimes we say this might be like a Gone Home in space. With a couple of puzzles, and a bit more interactivity with the environments.
GS: You mention Gone Home, was that a big inspiration for Pollen?
GS: Any other games, or films, or books?
JK: I’d say that all the people in our company are quite keen on adventure games, so that’s why we also wanted to have this element there. Along with a couple of puzzles, slightly more gameplay and challenge in the game. I would say we are also science fiction fans, so 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Moon, the original Solaris are maybe the biggest influences on Pollen. And I saw Alien again a couple of weeks ago, and I thought, ok someplace we have in the game look quite similar to Alien. So there are quite a lot of influences from films and science fictions books.
GS: That all sounds fantastic. Could us give an idea of when the game is coming out?
JK: So Pollen is coming out in the first quarter of next year. (That means Janurary through March 2016.)
GS: It was great talking with you.
JK: Yep, bye.
Again a massive thank you to Jaakko Kemppainen from Mindfield Games for the interview.
If you want to stay up to date on all things Pollen you can head over to the official website, follow Mindfield Games on Twitter or Facebook. You can even check out the trailer for Pollen on their YouTube channel.