An adventure/puzzle/mystery game that’ll take you to strange new worlds, SVRVIVE: The Deus Helix is now part of Viveport Subscription. We spoke with Daniel ‘Dee-Kej’ Kihlgren Kallander from SVRVIVE Studios about building a unique escape room experience.
Hello Daniel! First of all, tell us what you do at SVRVIVE Studios.
I’m Game Designer, Programmer and Producer at SVRVIVE Studios (as is often the case at smaller studios, we have many hats!). You can find me on Twitter as @deekej, and our company is @svrviveofficial.
Tell us about SVRVIVE: The Deus Helix. What should people expect?
The Deus Helix is a challenging mystery adventure game in which you take on the role of Null, who on their deathbed gets abducted by an alien organisation that needs your help in finding hidden parts of the DNA of the Universe. Yes, it’s a mouthful, haha. In essence though, the gameplay is sort of a mix between brick-and-mortar escape room games and 90’s puzzle-adventure games such as Myst and Riven.
What are the origins of SVRVIVE: The Deus Helix? Were you intending on making a VR game, or did it evolve out of another project?
It’s been a VR game since the very beginning! It started last spring when our CEO, Faviana, in a short span of time got to try both the Vive and an escape room here in Stockholm, which sparked the idea that became The Deus Helix. From there, she gathered what came to be the other four founders of the company, and in less than a month they together created what became the first demo. After another month of tinkering, company creation, and a (very fast) funding round, a proper demo was released to Steam and development on the full game was started – just three and a half months before eventual release! The short history of both the game and the company is closely intertwined with each other.
You mentioned that The Deus Helix is inspired by Myst and Riven. Were there any specific areas you wanted to emulate, or was it more general?
Both I and our creative director Nils played games like Myst a ton when they came out in the 90’s (Riven is one of the first games I remember playing!), so that came to influence the game for sure. But we didn’t try to emulate any specific part, no, more the atmosphere along with the sense of wonder and exploration that those games awoke in us playing it almost 20 years ago! Another important part was the interconnected puzzles, and a focus on the almost forgotten no-nonsense, no-handholding way to let the player figure out the puzzles themselves.
There are a lot of ‘escape room’ type games in VR now. What makes The Deus Helix different?
Primarily, our heavier focus on narrative and story, and a more substantial game length of several hours – roughly between 4-5 hours for most players. There are a lot of escape room VR games that only feature a single small room at most, which is fine in itself and often very fun games, but we missed anything resembling a long-form game in the genre. Even for VR in general there was a lack of long-form content at the time. With a longer game, we also let the player discover a number of various worlds, each with their own feel and look to them. Whenever we get feedback from players, there’s almost always a favorite world mentioned, but it’s always different!
For you as developers, what does VR bring to the experience that can’t be done in 2D traditional games?
Well, the obvious answer is how you feel transported to another world entirely when you’re in VR, and can engross yourself in this new world. That and the more natural interactions that proper motion controllers provide is a killer combo – it often makes you forget where you are in the real world after just a short while. That connection to the virtual world, which even registers as almost real-life memories for some people when they reflect on an experience they’ve had in VR – they’ve actually been there in the virtual world. That isn’t something you get with traditional games.
The ‘adventure’ genre has had ups and downs since the venerable text adventure. Do you see VR as a brave new frontier for it?
Very much so! With the added immersion the medium brings, the feeling of becoming engrossed that we got in the early days of gaming – be it with text-adventures or other games – now becomes realized. The genre’s focus on letting players take their time and progress through the game in their own pace is something that speaks to a broad audience as well, and is something I think is especially important to have at this point where a lot of people are still new to the medium. At the same time, having fully featured 3D VR worlds where everything can be interacted with is incredibly time-consuming and hard to make, so there’s no surprise there are still just a handful them today.
Without spoilers – what puzzle are you most proud of in The Deus Helix?
There are a lot of things the team did extremely well in the game, but one of my personal favorite moments during development was how the last puzzle of the third world came to be (without spoilers!). We’d already re-designed the world two times over, but there was still something missing to connect the different parts and give a good ending to that particular mission. I was focused on programming another mission at the time, but Pontus (the main programmer for the third mission) grabbed a hold of me and asked for a solution. I thought for a couple of seconds, then drew a few circles, sticks, and numbers on the whiteboard, and said “Uhhhh, something like that, maybe?”. That puzzle did the trick, and ended up in the shipped product; only with one small gamebreaking bug fixed by changing places on some of the numbers involved. It’s rare that a small brain-fart like that goes the entire way through without change, so I’m proud of that, haha!
Do you think you’ll return to this ‘universe’ for a sequel?
Definitely. However, not anytime soon. We do have plans for it, but the next installment needs more love and attention than The Deus Helix ever got – we have expectations and fans waiting now after all! Before that though, we have at least a project or two in the pipeline that we want to get through before we feel ready to tackle a worthy successor!
What’s next for SVRVIVE Studios?
We’ve been focused on getting The Deus Helix on Viveport, with all text fully translated to Chinese (Shout-out to the wonderful Viveport team for their help with the translations!). Very soon we’ll share some news about our upcoming title Kartong: Death by Cardboard, but you’ll have to wait until an upcoming proper announcement for that!
Thanks for speaking with us, Daniel!