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Crafting comicbook VR heroism with Hatrabbit Entertainment
Everyone dreams of being a superhero: cool costumes, awesome superpowers, colorful worlds to protect against dastardly villains. In Slightly Heroes, players strap on their capes and cowls and duke it out in hilarious one on one superbashes with other heroes in colorful comic book worlds. We spoke with the developers to find out their VR origin story.
For those unfamiliar, tell us a bit about yourself and the team at Hatrabbit Entertainment.
The Founders of Hatrabbit – Andreas, Joakim and Urban – have been working together for nearly 20 years within game development, first meeting at DICE in the early 2000s, before Battlefield was ever created. At DICE they each pursued their passions in both management and in the creative field. Both Andreas and Joakim worked their way in similar roles as Art Directors and Technical Art Directors, driving the visual style and vision for the studio’s portfolio, including the Battlefield franchise. Besides developing lots of games, Urban was one of the first developers on the Frostbite engine and a crucial part of the core team building an engine that is used throughout EA today.
After more than a decade at DICE they were given the opportunity to be some of the first to join Rovio’s new office in Stockholm. Besides being in the management team shaping and driving the vision for that studio, they took on the job to define the next chapter of Angry Birds 2 and helped lead that project from first concept until global launch. Angry Birds 2 is Rovio’s most successful game to date and is still growing! With the experience from two different worlds of game development in the backpack they felt they had what it takes to shape their own studio, and left to found Hatrabbit in 2016.
That year was an exciting year for VR, with the VIVE headset finally in the hands of the consumers and the prospects of VR being endless. Having already developed PC, console and mobile games for many years, VR brought a magic new opportunity ready to be explored!
Where did the idea behind Slightly Heroes come from?
Slightly Heroes was a spiritual successor to Merry Snowballs. Google had reached out to us in regards to an opportunity to collaborate on a multiplayer game for VR. We loved what we created with Merry Snowballs, but felt that the seasonal theme really restricted the year-round appeal of the game. We also wanted to create a game that was more inclusive and more social. We loved the core mechanics of Merry Snowballs, so it was simply finding a new theme, setting, and characters to take the game to the next level. At some point in one’s life, everyone has imagined what superhero they would be, so we felt this would be a great fit for an inclusive action game!
The game feels steeped in a love for classic action and comedy cartoons and superhero media. Did the project start out with those influences in mind or did it evolve over the course of development?
We decided on the superhero theme very early and knew it would draw a lot of inspiration from classic superhero cartoons and comics. We grew up with these worlds, so it felt very natural for us to design the Slightly Heroes characters with those references in mind. At Hatrabbit we want to make games for the entire family, so it was important for us to píck a visual style that wasn’t violent and could be enjoyed by players of all ages and backgrounds.
What were the biggest superhero inspirations on the project?
It’s hard to point to a specific superhero, or even superhero universe that inspired us. A lot of people naturally assume we were inspired by Pixar’s The Incredibles, but we only actually realized after the initial characters were designed. The character designs came quite naturally to us as we always loved bold and memorable characters, and needed to design characters that were visually different from each other. portray the story of everyday people, that when the weekend comes, dress up as the imaginary superhero versions of themselves and go into friendly battles in familiar places. The familiarity and relatability is a cornerstone in everything we make.
Your previous VR title, Merry Snowballs, also is a hilarious and colorful competitive experience, pitting players against each other in epic snowball fights. How did the lessons learned making that title inform the direction of Slightly Heroes?
A lot of the strong elements of Merry Snowballs – the charming characters, colorful world, and funny themes – all come natural to us at Hatrabbit. This is how we like to make games! What we saw from our players of Merry Snowballs is that they loved the snowball firing mechanics, but wanted to do more with it. The projectiles are slower in Slightly Heroes than you’d expect from a shooter of this kind, just like in Merry Snowballs. It helps toning down the violence aspect of the game but also adds a lot of fun gameplay when you can react and dodge incoming balls using your controller or your body.
Merry Snowballs was great, but it was very immobile – so with Slightly Heroes we wanted to give you more freedom with movement.
Crafting a competitive experience that is balanced and satisfying, especially in a 1v1 combat situation that supports cross-platform play, is no easy task. Have there been any particular challenges you’ve encountered in the course of development?
One of the early challenges we faced while developing Slightly Heroes was making sure players were able to move freely without feeling motion sickness. We had to work around the traditional “teleport” mechanic for movement in VR and instead draw from research Google had done in the space to implement a “vignette” system that blurs the peripheral vision of the player if they are moving. That part has been done before but not in combination with a static grid outside the vignette. A very simple thing that made the whole difference. This is a great solution for motion sickness and allowed players to increase / decrease the effect depending on how the player feels in VR.
The second challenge we faced, as any VR developer would that is making a multiplayer game, is making sure there is a solid playerbase playing at all times of day. No one wants to play a multiplayer game where they can only compete against bots! To solve this, we made sure that Slightly Heroes would be cross-platform from day one. This meant making sure the game runs the same on all platforms (Slightly Heroes is currently live on Viveport, Steam, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Gear VR, and Google Daydream) and that there is no major competitive advantage for any particular platform. We initially soft-launched Slightly Heroes on Daydream, which made sure the game was equally as fun and competitive with the Daydream controller as it would be when playing on the Vive.
To increase the overall player base, we also released the Slightly Heroes VR Companion App on the Play Store and the App Store. This version of the game lets players play against their friends online from their phone – a way to make the experience more inclusive for players who only have one VR device and want their friends to play against them. This has really helped make sure there are always more players online to play against!
Were there any surprises revealed through observing player behavior and getting fan feedback upon release? Any elements that people particularly responded to that you didn’t predict?
We launched the game in two steps. First we launched for Google Daydream which was great because this way we could find and fix important bugs and get to know what worked well and not. A few months later we shipped the game with more content and features on multiple platforms. This helped us avoid the worst kind of problems. People really enjoyed the first release and the biggest problem for us at that time was that they wanted more content and features than we could deliver. This is obviously a good sign and we’ve continuously been pushing out updates since then.
Were there any particular design ideas or features that ended up on the cutting room floor that players might expect to see with a future update?
We have a long list with hundreds of interesting ideas for this game provided by the community and ourselves. Most of them are placed in the wine cellar for us to bring up at a later point. The most requested feature is about being able to play more than two players in the same game. That one has been pushed forward many times because of the complexity that comes with and also due to the limited bandwidth that we currently have as a small studio. It’s still a personal favorite and something we’d like to see happen one day.
What do you envision for the future of Slightly Heroes?
We see Slightly Heroes as being a significant IP within the VR universe. It’s unique, relatable, and can be picked up and played by gamers of all ages. As the VR market grows we want Slightly Heroes to grow with it too. To that respect, we hope to expand the multiplayer offerings of the game, giving new ways for more players to play and compete against each other. We can’t share any details yet, but we see great things for the future of Slightly Heroes!
Talk a bit about your thoughts regarding the future of VR and the role it can/should play in the competitive multiplayer scene.
Competitive VR is definitely already a thing, and will only grow as devices get more powerful and accessible. Competition and total immersion is a marriage made in heaven, and VR helps you be right there in the action or watch it as a spectator. We hope to see more titles tapping into the world of e-sports, really bending what’s possible. The movie Ready Player One displays this in an interesting fashion. It might not be the most fitting theme for everyone but it shows what could happen when you combine crazy imagination and competition.
There have already been some really great competitive experiences in VR and we look forward to hopefully contributing to the future of that scene.
Recently you announced a collaboration with Fast Travel Games to bring a spider robot enemy from Apex Construct over into the world of Slightly Heroes (on April 1st no less!). Tell us about how that partnership came to be?
Many of the founders and employees at Fast Travel Games and Hatrabbit have known each other for a very long time, so the two studios have always been quite close – both physically (we’re both based in Stockholm, Sweden) but also because we’re both developing high quality VR games. When looking for fun ideas on how we could eventually collaborate, the idea was presented that we could include one of Fast Travel’s characters in our game. It didn’t take long before we had the Mothr Spider in the game wreaking havoc in multiplayer matches!
How many people were on the team during the development, and how long did it take to make?
Slightly Heroes took around five months to build for three to five developers. As a lot of the core gameplay was inspired by Merry Snowballs, we were not starting completely from scratch, but we still were able to achieve a lot very quickly, even with such a small team. Hatrabbit is now a team of eight, with two interns.
Is there a roadmap of updates for Slightly Heroes? If so, are there any juicy morsels of info you’d like to share regarding exciting content coming soon?
Today we are releasing a new character that we designed with Slightly Heroes’ most decorated player, Kia. The new character is a superhero witch, called Kia De Hex. Kia De Hex is out now and can be unlocked in the game for 50,000 coins.
What’s next on the horizon for Hatrabbit?
We’ve been busy at Hatrabbit working on a few ideas for the future. We’re not ready to share what we’re building, but we’re excited to try something new and create even more inclusive games for the masses!
Sounds great! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us