ROB YESCOMBE is the talented writer, producer and director of many games and more recently, a unique story-driven cinematic game called ‘The Invisible Hours‘ which has received excellent reviews from fans and the media.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Rob when he reached out to me as a fan of Sairento VR and a fellow developer of VR games.

When I heard about the release of his new game, I requested for an interview and also asked if he would give away a few keys of his game to the readers here, to which he graciously agreed.

Hi Rob, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. What can you tell the readers about yourself?
Thanks for asking! I’m a writer and narrative director, and I’ve been working in games for about 13 years. In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to work on big brands like STAR WARS, ALIEN, THE DIVISION, but also interesting little indie games like QUBE: DIRECTOR’S CUT and RIME. I dabble a little bit in movies too, but my real passion is VR – I’ve been developing for virtual reality for a little over four years. This year, I wrote FARPOINT, HOW WE SOAR and now THE INVISIBLE HOURS.
Why did you choose to make a VR game?
Honestly, when you’ve been making games as long as I have, things can start to feel a little stale. But there’s just something magical about VR that makes everything exciting again. I’m head over heels in love with it. For The Invisible Hours, I wanted to try an experiment: to recreate the story structure of real life in VR. It’s been a completely unprecedented challenge – which is where I like to be.
Please tell us about your VR game – The Invisible Hours.

It’s an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, but definitely not as you know it. If you’re looking for something truly story-driven, that you can really steep yourself in for a few hours, that’s The Invisible Hours.

It all starts when a group of strangers get a curious invitation from Nikola Tesla – the enigmatic inventor – offering each of them the chance to make amends for their darkest wrongdoings. But when the last guest arrives at Tesla’s isolated mansion, they find him dead – murdered. Among the guests is a disgraced Swedish detective, called Gustaf Gustav, who vows to find the killer amongst the other guests: the blind butler, a convicted murderer, the world’s most famous actress, Tesla’s former assistant, the son of a wealthy railroad magnate, and rival inventor Thomas Edison. But none of these people are what they seem.

It’s important to know up front, it’s not a game, but it’s definitely not a movie or an ‘experience’ either. It’s more like immersive theatre. You get to freely explore an intricate web of interwoven stories within that sprawling mansion – in order to untangle the dark truth at its heart.

The story takes place over one hour – but it actually takes about 5-6 hours to complete, because you have SEVEN interwoven stories all happening at the same time within that hour, all over the mansion. So you need to pause, rewind and fast forward time to explore all those threads if you want to really understand the mystery. For example, if you follow someone upstairs to the attic, you’re missing what all the other suspects are doing during that time. So you have to think carefully about where to be and when. Like we tell you at the start, “Truth is a matter of perspective”.

What would you say differentiates your game from the other VR games out there?

The unique underlying story structure is the key to the entire thing. We’re all used to consuming stories as either linear (like a movie) or branching (like some story games). But in real life, everyone is the hero of their own story – there are no ‘background characters’, because we’re all the main character. All our stories are simultaneous and interwoven; each is dependent on the existence of the others. So that’s the structure we used for The Invisible Hours – multiple simultaneous stories; the structure of real life. And that’s why it’s such a good fit for virtual reality – because VR has the potential to mimic the feeling of real life.

Creatively, we drew influence from Agatha Christie and especially Hitchcock. There’s a flavour of Sherlock Holmes in there too. Movies like Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and Memento were also a big influence – because our story doesn’t follow the usual linear rules. Your understanding of the narrative really changes depending on how you choose to explore it. It’s pretty wild how real it feels, even as an observer.

I can see that Invisible Hours is getting some pretty rave reviews. Without having to read through the reviews, can you tell us collectively what are the good things players are saying about your game?

Honestly, I was worried people might not get what we were trying to do – but in fact, people have really understood it at a level I just wasn’t expecting. It’s been really, really wonderful. We’ve got a 97% positive on Steam, and we actually ended up in The Washington Post! They said The Invisible Hours “gives new hope to those who might have started to sour on VR games”. That was pretty awesome.

A lot of reviews have mentioned that our story format could be the future of storytelling in VR. I certainly wouldn’t want all stories in VR to be the same, but I really do think it’s a completely unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

Here are a few reviews:

“A revolutionary breakthrough… The ending will not disappoint you. When you uncover the true meaning of the story, it will make your hair stand on end, like FIGHT CLUB or THE SIXTH SENSE
…Being pioneers is never easy, but we have rarely seen such a steady first step into uncharted terrain. 9/10″ – realovirtual

“The Invisible Hours is unlike anything else you’ll play or watch in VR this year; a genuinely enthralling murder mystery boldly told in an entirely new way. Its character-driven drama is near faultless not just in the dialogue and plotting but also in the superb staging and pacing that brings the world to life. It’s an experiment that pays off in spades and could well provide a template for VR storytelling to come. 9/10 – Amazing” – UploadVR

“This is the future of movies… This is the future of storytelling… People need to see this. People should be talking and raving about this thing.” – VR Roundtable

Any plans to do a sequel to Invisible Hours or a second VR game?
Personally, I’d love to do a sequel – but moreover, I’d love to tell more stories in this style generally. But we’ll see. There are a lot of factors in making that happen. It would be fun to apply our format to existing movies and games IP – I have a secret desire to do a version of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Any regrets making a VR game as opposed to conventional PC or platform games?

The VR market is growing – but it’s still small, so none of us are going to be buying a Ferrari just yet! But I love VR people. I love early adopters. We’re all standing out on the razor’s edge together – developers and players. Everyone is trying to help everyone else – I mean, here you are, Aldric, CEO of a rival studio, being so kind as to interview me. That doesn’t really happen in bigger creative industries where everyone is scrambling to beat everyone else. I like that we’re all a community in VR, trying to make things better for each other. Honestly, that’s better than a Ferrari.

(Aldric – That’s very kind of you to say Rob. Personally I think that we should collectively grow the ecosystem and the only way to do that is to help one another out. I see the possibility and potential of working with anyone within the VR space as long as we have our hearts in the right places and want to build great products together!)

Any concerns to share with other VR developers?
There is still a division in the types of content that get called ‘VR’. I have nothing against linear content or 360 videos, but I worry that sometimes the creatives who make those products do it without knowing what the hardware is really capable of delivering. They follow a production path they already know – from film or TV – which creates quite limited kinds of experiences. Again, I have nothing against people making those things; I just want them to be making those creative choices after having explored what a 3D engine and games production pipeline can do for them in terms of navigation and interaction. It could be another string to their bow.

GET A FREE COPY OF ‘THE INVISIBLE HOURS’

 

You have graciously agreed to give away a few keys to try out your game. Can you describe the conditions with which the readers can get their keys?
The Invisible Hours is available now on PSVR, Oculus and Vive. I’ll be giving away THREE Steam keys (sorry, I haven’t got any PSVR ones!). The first three people to tweet me @robyescombe and say why they’d like to play it, get one key each.