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If the Oculus Rift isn’t successful, it’ll fail because strapping a giant black box onto one’s face isn’t particularly relaxing. Even backed by Facebook’s deep pockets, the reality is that the hardware of the Oculus Rift is just too inconvenient. Most game developers hope that their experiences are immersive enough to help you forget this, but Honor Code Games, makers of the upcoming VR horror game Narcosis, don’t want you to forget about the Oculus Rift at all. In fact, knowing you have it on is part of what makes this game so terrifying.

Narcosis takes place in and around an underwater, abandoned research station. To survive, you’ll don a bulky suit that you need to constantly refill with oxygen to survive. When you gear up to play by putting on the Oculus Rift, it feels exactly like you’re suiting up to solve underwater mysteries. In essence, the hardware itself complements and intensifies the game playing experience. When you look around, you feel the weight of the Oculus just as you would your suit if you were actually underwater. You’ll look down to see your remaining air, inspect your surroundings for the ever-necessary air canisters and lumber through corridors and caverns, swinging your head from left to right hoping to find a path forward.

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Honor Code games isn’t revealing too much on what they promise is an in-depth, thorough story, but I was able to sit down with Creative Director Quentin De Beukelaer and Head Writer David Chen after a play test to hear how they made the most of Oculus’ bulky profile.

Carter Gibson: What made you want to create an underwater, horror game? Why that genre and setting?

Quentin De Beukelaer: It doesn’t happen all at once. It was a combination. All of the elements of our game now were not present from the the start. I think it started with trying to explore new settings. We were looking for something different from knights and demons, zombies, skeletons, dragons – you know all of the usual settings you have. [We were attracted to] the deep sea, you know, with all the unknown that it includes. We’ve spent more time in space than we have the abyss of the ocean and this makes it super interesting.

The virtual reality part of it came a bit later. It was a random event when an engineer on the team tried to mod an Oculus and have fun with it. He put the game on it.

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CG: When I played the family and friends play test a few weeks ago, the first thing that I noticed was the atmosphere. This game has a lot of it. Was creating a game with thick atmosphere your goal from the start? Or did it become more a priority when you began development for VR?

QB: Yeah, I think so. Quite early in the idea of the game we wanted to do something in the crossroad of survival horror and this kind of first person experience like Gone Home. So we had these two genres that were very appealing, where you have game play and frightening elements, but is, at the same time, very immersive and narrative-driven. This game is not performance-driven. You don’t need to be precise. We wanted something streamlined. Just go for it.

David Chen: We were inspired by Silent Hill which taught people that horror could go hand-in-hand with these real-life settings, but it didn’t need schlock.

CG: What do you want someone like me, who has never played a horror game in VR, to feel when I play?

QB: Well. What did you feel?

CG: I felt uneasy. I felt creeped out. At one point I felt panicked as my oxygen ran empty. At another point I felt claustrophobic. And all of that felt very intentional. You put me underwater, in a suit, in a cave.

QB & DC: [laughs]

CG: Is that exactly how you wanted me to feel?

QB: Well that is our answer.

DC: The thing to note is that you were playing a slice of the game. You know, obviously it’s supposed to be survival horror – but at the same time, the worst thing of all would be if this was a one note experience. We want to find ways to counterbalance that. I don’t want to get into specifics, but we want to convey emotions – though not necessarily levity – that aren’t what you’d expect from a screenshot.

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CG: I really want to talk to guys about how natural it felt to have the Oculus Rift on my face. I’m in this big suit that I imagine is quite heavy. Wearing the Oculus Rift helped me feel like I was in that suit. When I looked behind myself, I saw the back of my helmet. It was really immersive.

QB: That’s a good circumstance! When we first started developing the camera for the game, the Oculus Rift wasn’t even a thing. We were working for a normal screen, but then we found a way to mix them together. And it was a perfect fit.

DC: It’s somewhere between coincidence and something cooler. When we first picked up on Oculus, we knew that it was something that was going to become very important in our development. It’s something we knew we were going to stand behind.

Honor Code Games is planning to release Narcosis on Steam in March, 2016.

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