Interview with Matt Walker of Camouflaj, Developers Behind Marvel’s Iron Man VR
In our humble opinion, the best VR from 2022 wasn’t exactly a new title. Sure, there were bangers like Moss: Book II and Cities VR, but the one title that stood out above everything else was the Quest 2 port of Iron Man VR. While we did like the game while it first came out for PSVR years ago, it had its flaws, namely stemming from the actual hardware. The Quest 2 port fixed most of these issues, being prettier, better performing, and most importantly, portable. We were finally free to move around as Tony Stark whenever, wherever and however it wanted. It’s easily one of the main killer apps for the Quest 2 alongside Resident Evil 4.
Naturally, we just wanted to know more about the game and its porting process. We reached out to Camouflaj in order to interview the game’s Director of Production, Matt Walker, who was kind enough to answer our questions regarding the game’s pitching phase, the advantages of the Quest 2 over the PSVR, as well as his opinions on the future of VR and Camouflaj in general.
First of all, congratulations on the release of Marvel’s Iron Man VR for the Quest 2! Before diving deep into the hurdles and development period of that port in particular, I’d love to know about how Camouflaj ended up developing an Iron Man game to begin with. Who came up with the idea? Did you pitch the concept to Sony and Marvel, or did they approach you?
Matt Walker: Thank you so much! We’re absolutely thrilled with the positive reception the Quest 2 version of Marvel’s Iron Man VR has received. The studio head of Camouflaj, Ryan Payton, was interested in returning to the title ever since we shipped it on PlayStation VR. Flash forward a year or two later, and Meta asked if we’d be interested in bringing the title to Quest 2. We quickly jumped at the chance! It was awesome that Marvel, Sony, and Meta were able to partner up to make this a reality.
How did Camouflaj come up with the idea behind Marvel’s Iron Man VR’s gameplay and control scheme? Considering VR gaming, as a mainstream thing, is still in its infancy, what games inspired you when designing gameplay for Marvel’s Iron Man VR?
We started by asking, “How does Iron Man fly?” Then, we worked backwards from there. If you watch the movies or read the comics, you’ll see Iron Man using the thrusters in his palms to fly and maneuver. So we set out to do the same thing in VR, allowing players to feel the thrust from their palms when they push a button. It worked way better than we expected!
Our next question was, “How does Iron Man shoot?” Iron Man’s repulsor blasts come from his palms, just like his thrust, so we added blasts that come from your palms when you push a different button. It was a success. War Machine was the initial inspiration for auxiliary weapons since his hand is in a different orientation compared to a palm-blast position.
With a compelling translation of Iron Man’s flight and weaponry under our belt we asked, “What else can Iron Man do?” Well, he punches. A lot. So, the challenge was then translating punching in real life to punching in the game. We tried ground pound first, and it felt great! Regular punches worked too, but almost too well. So, we added a “make fist” requirement to prevent players from accidentally punching non-stop.
Being a Marvel game with an original storyline and new takes on known characters, how was the process of writing the game’s plot, and getting the greenlight from the IP holders on each and every decision you’d take with their characters?
Camouflaj started out as a developer with its own original titles like Republique, so initially the crew was nervous about working with Marvel on the story. But over time, Bill Rosemann and the crew at Marvel really fulfilled their promise to guide the story and creative. They inspired us and fired us up to tell the story that we really wanted to tell. Much of our core inspiration came from the classic 1979 Demon in a Bottle comic book arc.
We also had the opportunity to work with acclaimed writer Christos Gage who added an authentic Marvel flair to the script. He was a great pairing and we remain close friends even years after working together.
Despite featuring, at its core, arcade elements in its gameplay, which are perfect for a “pick up and play” system like the Quest, Marvel’s Iron Man VR was very story-heavy, with many cutscenes and moments of character development. That’s not common in VR games. What was the decision to, say, push the boundaries when it came to bringing more extensive storytelling to a type of gaming platform not known for featuring a lot of it?
We started Camouflaj with the core tenet of making high quality, meaningful games because we’ve always felt it’s important to go beyond just offering entertainment. We want to positively impact our players, and obviously our friends at Marvel believe in the power of storytelling, so it was a natural fit for us to not only deliver on the fantasy of being Iron Man, but also face Tony Stark’s inner demons.
Now, about the Quest 2 port. I did play both versions and noticed it being a vast improvement over the PSVR version, namely in terms of performance and framerate. That being said, the PSVR had the backing of an actual console to power it up, whereas the Quest 2 is pretty much a portable running on a Snapdragon system-on-a-chip, with less horsepower and RAM. Can you share with us the wizardry behind making this particular port load and run better than the PSVR original?
We’re ecstatic to hear that you enjoyed the game! PSVR and Quest 2 each have their own strengths and weaknesses. When developing for Quest 2, we fully invested in all the terrific things that were already built in, including the wireless nature of the device granting the player the freedom to move without worrying about cables, its highly responsive Touch controllers, and its super-fast SSD which dramatically decreased the game’s loading times.
We also owe a huge thanks to our development partners at Endeavor One. Some of our development team was busy with another title so, when the opportunity to bring Marvel’s Iron Man VR to Quest 2 arose, we were able to lean on Endeavor One to deliver an absolutely fantastic translation of the original game. It’s amazing to think of just how much work we got done in such a short span of time!
Camouflaj has always been a company hell-bent on delivering more, say, AAA-ish experiences on more experimental hardware, be it with Republique on mobile or Marvel’s Iron Man VR on the then-still-unproven PSVR.
What’s your take on the state of VR gaming now, and what the future holds for it, now that Meta is investing more on gaming studios and the PSVR2 is set to be released later this year?
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that VR is here to stay, and now everyone is asking, “What’s next? How big can VR get?” Similar to our work on Marvel’s Iron Man VR, we want to push the boundaries of the platform by providing new, high-quality titles that make people take notice. That’s obviously our aim with our next title, for sure.
Personally, I can’t wait to try out PlayStation VR2. Games like Horizon Call of the Mountain look incredible, and the PSVR2 library includes dozens of fantastic Quest 2 games, so I’m excited to see how they translate to the new hardware.
Now that Camouflaj is owned by Meta, it is pretty obvious that VR will be the company’s main focus in the future, right? Is there anything you can share with us about future projects? Be it a possible Iron Man sequel (despite the licensing hurdles), something related to your Republique series, something completely new? Any hints?
We can’t really say anything more than what we’ve already announced, but the team is already deep in development of our next title. We’re ecstatic to be a part of Meta and thankful that development on our next game is going smoothly. We can’t wait to share more with you all when the timing is right. In the meantime, we hope that everyone enjoys all of the hard work Camouflaj, Endeavor One, Meta, and Marvel put into Marvel’s Iron Man VR!