In the not-so-distant future, a rogue AI has taken control of earth and enslaved humanity. On their 18th birthday, every human is given one chance to earn their freedom by playing and defeating the AI at their favorite game: Holoball.
Equipped with only a paddle and your own skill, do you have what it takes to defeat your opponent and earn your freedom?
Holoball is a futuristic take on racquetball, set in a Bladerunner/Tron inspired universe. The player, with paddle in hand, smashes and slices the ball in an attempt to score, whilst defending their own net. The harder the player hits the ball, the faster it goes; your timing and athleticism determine the outcome, and by the time you’re done playing you will be sweating.
While I was away at PAX East, Shawn had developed a small Pong/Paddle Ball VR demo. Once I returned home I got the chance to try it, and it ended up being extremely fun to just hit a ball in VR. I was then tasked with making this game look interesting, and coming up with an overall theme/story.
We ended up throwing around a few ideas, including a grungy “junkball” theme, a minimalist clean glossy theme, and a few others. There was one major caveat, though: we were a 2D-only game studio, zero experience at all with 3D. So whatever we decided, we had to make sure it was reasonable and achievable with just the two of us.
We were both fond of the retrofuture, neon chrome style that has been re-emerging as of late, so we quickly became attached to it as an overall concept that was within our means. Then, inspired by the Blood Dragon cover art, I began to learn 3D modeling so I could recreate that world in VR. After a lot of trial and error, endless YouTube tutorials, and online training, I finally felt comfortable enough to create our arena, then eventually all the other assets.
The end result? Holoball looks like what the 80’s thought the future, and VR, would look like. This aesthetic brought the whole project together, feeling cohesive, congruent, and — most importantly — exciting to interact with in VR.
When we first began developing in VR it quickly became apparent that the small things make all the difference. Multiple layers of subtle effects can add up to much more than the sum of their parts. We took this to heart and ran with it.
In Holoball we used finely tuned haptic vibrations to make the paddle feel alive in your hand, and shudder when you nail those smash shots. We paid special attention to spatialized 3D sound effects for ball bounces and explosions, increasing the depths of the world around you. We then found some amazing synthwave tracks by Dance with the Dead and integrated them directly into the world. As you play, the entire world pulses to the beat of the music, further sinking you into the world and dialing up the immersion.
Another powerful aspect of VR that we realized early on was scale.
Our brains are easily mesmerized by large structures, and in VR the sense of scale is very convincing. So, we scaled everything up! The arena got bigger, the ball got faster, and the end result is an extreme sense of power and awe, which really gets the adrenaline pumping.
The final layer of immersion, bringing it all together, is the enemy AI. Constantly taunting you, and belittling your efforts, things quickly become personal. As you defend your sweet 80’s ride, you will want nothing more than to beat this guy, and shut him up for good! With the anger, comes the joy when you finally prevail, and when it’s all over, standing there in victory, you will have completely forgotten you’re actually in a living room, wearing a helmet with two glowing lights in your hands!
The gaming industry as a whole is growing considerably every year. The emergence and accessibility of do-it-yourself game development has empowered creatives around the world.
What used to be seemingly impossible tasks for small teams have been made possible, easier, and in exponentially less time than ever before. PS VR has aided this even further, giving devs a brand new platform in which to captivate and move gamers like never before.
Holoball launching on PS VR marks a major milestone for TreeFortress. We are proud and humbled to be among the developers we admire, and excited to be a part of the PlayStation family. Holoball was a few “firsts” for us: first 3D game, first VR game, and our first game on PlayStation. Coming from a studio that had only done 2D games, VR had intrigued and tempted us to break out of our comfort zone and try something new and exciting.
What started out as a simple “ping-pong in VR” tech demo evolved and took shape into something we’re extremely proud of. This game is just our first step into VR, and we plan on continuing to bring you great, high quality experiences for years to come. If you have any questions about the game, or about our process, please ask them below, and we’ll be sure to get back to you!
We hope players enjoy the game as much as we enjoyed making it. Get out there and break a sweat, fighting for your freedom in Holoball!