British developer nDreams has come a long way since it made content for PlayStation Home, having just announced a collaboration with Sony Pictures VR to create Ghostbusters VR for the Meta Quest 2.
It’s only the latest in the increasingly ambitious pipeline for the VR-only developer (which just released the action/adventure title Fracked, previously available on PSVR, on the PC). To learn more about the upcoming Ghostbusters VR game and nDreams’ thoughts and plans around the future of Virtual Reality, we had a long and interesting conversation with founder and CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh.
First of all, tell us about nDreams.
We just announced a few months ago that we’ve raised 35 million from the Aonic Group, which is helping us grow and scale very fast. We’re about 135 people now, that’s growing quite rapidly. We develop a lot of stuff internally ourselves, but we also work with third-party developers. We have a big third-party publishing team with quite a sizable budget to go find VR games from other developers, and we will help those devs fund the games, and we will publish and market the games.
We are expanding that quite significantly at the moment. We have three studios internally, we announced a couple over the last 12 months and we are continuing to scale and grow development. Effectively, we are now one of the biggest VR developers and publishers in the world and with the new investment, we’re pretty serious about continuing to grow and expand. There’s a lot of big things we’ll be announcing this year. Obviously, Ghostbusters VR is one of those things that we are super proud of. We’ve been working on it for a while and it’s gonna be such a cool VR game with the co-op multi-player in there. We can’t wait to show that to everybody.
We’ll get back on Ghostbusters VR in a second. Given the post-pandemic world, though, I was wondering if you wanted to speak a minute about how nDreams is structured. Are you doing remote work, hybrid, or in-person?
We have three studios. Our main studio is working in a hybrid fashion. Most people are doing two or three days in the office and the rest from home. We’ve got a lovely new office, which we fitted out last year. The office is really used for meetings and social stuff. If you’re designing a level, you want your people around a big whiteboard, you want to talk them through it. It’s lovely doing design meetings and team brainstorms in person, training people, giving people reviews, all that kind of stuff we’ll do in the office, but if you just wanna get your head down and do some programming or some art, some design, there’s no reason to come into the office to do that.
You might as well do that at home if you’ve got a safe working environment. The other two studios, Elevation and Orbital, are completely remote. We started those post-pandemic or during the pandemic, and they were fully remote from the very beginning. Those guys have got lots of clever ways of working, they meet up in VR and they can look at games and evaluate stuff in VR. They can play games together. They do meet up physically, occasionally, but they’re almost completely remote and because they’ve been set up that way from the beginning, it works pretty well actually. I’d say we’ve got a mix with this kind of hybrid thing for a big chunk of the team and then the other two new studios are fully remote.
I don’t think we’re ever gonna be in five days a week like we were before. I think that time has passed and I believe that’s good because some people have long commutes and it’s a real pain. Coming in for the important meetings is great, but also, if you just gotta get your head down to do some work, I don’t see why you have to commute for 45 minutes. You might still do it at home.
Right. That gives everyone more flexibility, too. Let’s go back and discuss how Ghostbusters VR came to be. Did you go to Sony Pictures Virtual Reality with a pitch or was it the reverse?
We speak with lots of companies all the time and we’ve known Sony Pictures for a while. We’ve always felt that Ghostbusters would be just perfect for VR, particularly with multiple players playing together cooperatively. It so happens that when we were talking to Sony Pictures, they felt the same way. I think it just happened out of a conversation we were having. We meet up fairly regularly, to talk about ways we can work together, and we both thought Ghostbusters would be such a cool VR game.
Can you disclose how many developers you have working on Ghostbusters VR, approximately?
Not on the game itself. We are about 135 people now at nDreams in total, but that’s not all development. Most of that’s development. We have some publishing and finance and operations teams, but most of that is development. They’re not all on Ghostbusters VR, but it’s a good size team. I don’t know exactly how many people are in it at the moment, but we’ve got a really good team on it.
Would you say that it’s a AAA production, as far as VR game production is concerned?
Everyone’s view of what AAA means is different. I think it’s gonna be one of the best VR games out there. I certainly hope so. That’s what we’re working to do. We’re certainly aiming to make a very special game.
Looking at the kind of projects that Sony Pictures VR has done so far, it’s really mostly experiences rather than games, but I’m assuming Ghostbusters VR will be a full-fledged game, correct?
Yeah. This is definitely a game and not an experience, I’m happy to share that with you.
Can you give us a ballpark of the length of the campaign or the amount of content that will be in Ghostbusters VR at launch?
No, I’m afraid we don’t have that information to share at the moment. We’ll be giving that as soon as we can, but I don’t think people are gonna be disappointed with the scale of what we’re doing. It’s an ambitious game. And I think we’ve, we’ve said that it’s up to four players cooperative game, which is just perfect for Ghostbusters. If you imagine the original movie with the team going in together, getting that in VR is just gonna be so exciting.
I’ve seen that so far you have only announced support for Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset. Do you have an exclusive deal with Meta? Can you share if that’s the case?
No, I can’t say anymore other than obviously we’ve announced Ghostbusters VR with Meta on Quest 2. That’s not to say that it’s not possible elsewhere and there may be future announcements, but for now, I can’t say any more than that, I’m afraid.
Fair enough. With regards to the game itself, I think you’ve said that it would be set in San Francisco, a first for the franchise. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s right. Ghostbusters VR is set in San Francisco, where you are effectively building your own Ghostbusters franchise with up to four players and going out on missions. It’s a lovely setting. San Francisco’s a great setting for the game.
Will there be any familiar faces to find in Ghostbusters VR?
You’ll have to wait and see about that, I’m afraid!
Well, can’t blame a guy for trying. Interestingly, another Ghostbusters cooperative game was announced recently for non-VR platforms. The developers at IllFonic also unveiled the ability to play as a ghost in asymmetrical PvP modes, which I think would be very cool in VR as well. Is that something you might consider?
I think it’s an interesting idea. To be honest with you, I don’t know much at all about the other game. I’ve seen what you’ve seen, the announcements that they’ve made. I’m super excited about Ghostbusters on any platform, so I’m sure it’ll be great. In terms of what we are making, there’s some very, very cool things. Lots of things that we haven’t announced in terms of the detail of the game and I’m so excited, I can’t wait to, I wish I could tell you more. I really do, but yeah, it’s gonna be very special.
I’ve also noticed that there is no release window yet for Ghostbusters VR. Can we at least expect to learn more details in the near future, possibly at the Summer conventions and showcases?
I certainly hope we’ll be sharing lots more! This is just the first announcement, so I’m sure there will be a lot more information coming out soon. I think Meta said in the presentation that all of the games they showed are due in the next twelve months. That gives you an idea of the sort of window.
You’ve made quite a few VR games before. In fact, you are strictly a VR developer, right?
That’s right. We have just been doing VR and nothing else since the end of 2013, so we’ve been very focused on VR from the very beginning. We got in very, very early, even before Facebook bought Oculus, we were doing VR before that point. So we were lucky. We’ve learned a lot, our first games were small as we were a very small team back then. We are getting better. I think hopefully you can see from the games that we are making, that we’re getting better all the time. Games like Phantom: Covert Ops and Fracked and our Far Cry location-based entertainment game show what we can do.
Hopefully, you’ll see that the games are continuing to get better and better and better, the budgets and the quality go up and up and up as VR grows, which is great. We are really excited that VR is really finally becoming commercial. Last Christmas was brilliant for VR, the Quest sold phenomenally well, and we’re very excited about PSVR2 coming in the future. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in VR, there’s lots of rumors about Apple, so it’s a very exciting time to be in VR.
I’m sure you might agree though that perhaps the perception was that VR gaming would take off quicker than it did, or at least that was the idea about five or six years ago. Then there was a bit of slowdown and now it’s accelerating again. Why do you think that turned out to be the case? Is it also an issue of the developers themselves having to adjust to VR game development?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s like a lot of new technologies, when VR first came, there was this huge amount of hype that VR was gonna sell a billion units in the next 24 months, and it was gonna be the biggest thing ever. There’s a curve, a very well known curve where you have this peak of expectation and there’s this massive expectation at the beginning but no new technology ever hits that. Then there’s this trough of disillusionments afterward. That’s when it gets interesting. It starts to build up and it takes time, and then it becomes a really big thing. It happened with mobile phones and with lots and lots of different types of techs.
I think the same’s true of NFTs and AR, there is a huge, huge hype around these techs at the moment. Everyone’s expecting it to be massive. And I think people will be disappointed, but ultimately they’ll end up growing. It’s just gonna take a lot longer. That’s what’s happened with VR. It’s taken time for the headsets to become good enough, to be honest with you. If you look back at the complexity of setting up the very first Vive and you compare that now to the Quest that you just plug in, charge up and it just works, it works anywhere and it’s instant and it’s high quality and it’s cheap as well. The price of the Quest 2 is very reasonable. I think it’s taken a while for that to happen. At the same time, it’s taken a while for developers to understand VR, for the budgets to grow enough to be able to do some really big games, like Ghostbusters VR. I think it’s a natural thing, most technologies actually take a lot longer to get going than people initially think, and fortunately, we are definitely on that nice upwards curve now.
As a game developer, what’s most exciting about the feature set of the PS VR2 in your opinion?
I think it’s going to be the combination of the visual quality that you can get with the PS VR2 and obviously the power of a PS5 behind it with the foveated rendering means you can do some very, very high-res, very beautiful looking worlds, which is always great, cause everyone loves looking at gorgeous stuff. I think the haptic controllers are fantastic. You’ve obviously tried the DualSense controllers, which add a lot in terms of the resistance if you’re firing a bow and arrow, you can really feel it with the resistance and in VR that’s even more important. For me, probably the two PS VR2 highlights are just the sheer quality of what you can render and what the haptic controllers allow you to do in terms of helping the immersion. It really helps you feel that because those triggers give you the feeling that you’re actually pulling back on something or grabbing something or, you know, pulling a bow or whatever it is.
I think it’s gonna be very interesting to see what the power of PS5, PSVR 2, and UE5 can do. We use Unreal as our sort of engine of choice for our games and Unreal 5 is stunning. You’ve probably seen the new update that they did recently. The Matrix demo, it’s pretty incredible, there’s some very, very cool stuff that’s possible. The great thing is that all VR hardware from every manufacturer is getting better every single month. There are lots of new headsets on the way, they are getting more powerful and new features are coming in like eye tracking and haptics and all that kind of stuff. It’s already great with the Quest 2, but it’s just gonna get so much better over the next few years. That gives me a lot of excitement about the future.
You’ve mentioned the Unreal Engine 5 and it’s of course, one of the biggest advancements made to engine technology. How easily can technologies like Lumen or Nanite be applied to VR games, though? Is it seamless or do you have to make some tradeoffs?
That’s a good question. In all honesty, I’m just not technical enough to tell you the answer. I know the guys love Unreal Engine 5 and it’s proving to be really, really exciting and useful, but I don’t know enough detail about how easy all of the new bits are, I’m too far removed. I spend my time managing people and hiring people and looking at money now, which is a shame I used to be a game designer a long time ago.
Understood. Thank you for your time.