Survios has quickly established itself as the gaming industry leader and trendsetter in the VR space. With four critically acclaimed VR games under its belt, Survios has a pronounced presence on all of the major VR platforms, as well as a successful business running and partnering in VR arcades.
With the release of the new ROCKY: Legends DLC for CREED: Rise to Glory, PlayStation Universe had the opportunity to speak with Eugene Elkin, a Senior Project and Engineering Lead at Survios. Over the course of our wide-ranging conversation, we chat about Eugene’s and Survios’ history in the VR space, the development of CREED: Rise to Glory and the ROCKY: Legends DLC, and our wild ideas for fantasy AI boxing matches.
Interview with Eugene Elkin from Survios
Eugene, you’re the Senior Project and Engineering Lead on CREED: Rise to Glory. Have you worked on the other Survios games as well?
I started a with Raw Data here. I was one of the senior engineers on Raw Data, and after that was wrapped up, I moved on to CREED.
Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself your history in the games industry?
My first gaming job was for a company called N-Space that was located in Orlando, Florida. We did a lot of Nintendo Wii games. So I did Tron, and a few other different Disney titles.
After that, I worked in the military sector. I did military simulations, primarily for aircrafts. Helicopters, planes, and even some first person shooter simulations to train up soldiers. And then I came out to LA to work with Survios specifically. We started doing lots of different prototyping.
Actually I started doing VR on my own. I started this little company with my friends back in Florida. Back in DK1 [Oculus Developers Kit One – ed.] days, we just started doing prototypes to learn what it’s like to do melee and combat in VR. That caught the attention of Nate Burba – a founder of Survios. He convinced me to come out here and you know, kind of pioneer VR together. Now I’ve been here about four and a half years.
So Survios has always been a VR-focused company?
Oh absolutely. Yeah. We started out actually making our own hardware. We had an idea for what VR games should be. It should be this active experience. This is not a sit down experience. We really wanted to [feature] this visceral combat.
At that time the hardware just wasn’t up to par. We started off making our own hardware. We actually had this wireless headset. In the early days we tried working with that. Eventually, when the hardware caught up, we decided, okay, the technology is there to make the games we want. So we focused primarily on games.
Wow. You had a wireless headset right out of the gate?
Yes, in the early days. We were working on it for quite a while and you know, we had quite a ways to go. But yeah, it was a system called Orion. It was actually a really awesome. We spent a lot of time on it.
And our first game was actually before Raw Data, it was called Bullet Time Apex, which evolved into Raw Data. It was a very similar game that was specifically for this wireless headset, where you’re shooting different weapons; bows, guns. If you look at the early versions, there are some videos online that you can look at to see how it clearly evolved into the Raw Data that you know now.
In addition to developing games, Survios runs VR arcades, right? Are there locations or do the arcades travel?
We have one location right now that’s Survios branded; that’s in Los Angeles. But we are partnered with arcades all around the world. We’re represented in over forty different countries. We’ve been working for a few years generating all of these partnerships. So we have a distribution network for VR games and location-based entertainment.
So when Survios develops games, you’re not just developing for home platforms, you’re developing for these arcades as well?
Absolutely. When we’re talking about games, we want to make sure that they’re playable in both of these markets. For example, with CREED, it’s truly an arcade title that you can play at home and have a lot of fun with. But it also allows for somebody who’s maybe never even tried VR to just step in and instantly get acclimated and have fun within minutes.
That’s kind of what determines how arcade games are different from other games. It’s how fast you can get into it and be right in the action and then pick up when you’re done after a break. So, yeah, our games – like Electronauts and CREED – we’re very much focused on them being fun in arcades.
At Survios, you create really physical games. There’s a lot of kinetic movement, a lot of physical interaction. Do you have any advice for newcomers to Survios games – who might not be accustomed to the physicality of the games – to help them get started?
With CREED specifically, there’s a reason why the stamina system is built in there. It spans across the game in many ways. But the very first thing we don’t want you to do is for it to become a slug fest. We don’t want you to jump in a game and just start swinging wildly – completely unlike a boxer would inside of match. So it should be a very strategic kind of fight.
If you notice after four or five swings, you’re drained on stamina. What we’re encouraging you to do is actually wait and look at your opponent, wait for those openings, wait for a weakness, for a window opening up for an attack.
The game also gives you a chance when you’re regaining your stamina. That’s when you should be blocking. That’s when we’re encouraging you to dodge because when you’re playing against the AI, successfully dodging an attack grants you an extra ability to cause more damage. A perfectly timed dodge will create a slow motion effect, and you can just light your enemy up for a couple of seconds.
So the key – since it is a physical game – is to not to panic. Nothing’s going to hurt you in there. Really try to gauge your environment and everything that’s going on. And then react.
I see a lot of people get into the game and instantly just start swinging. Within 15 seconds they’re just completely drained of all their energy and they’re done. So, I would say that is an incorrect way of playing. I mean, the great thing about VR is that there is no real “correct”. You are your own controller, but in order to be successful in the game, I would say really take your time and be strategic about your attacks and defenses.
Do you feel like the training activities that you have built into the game will help players?
Absolutely. We designed it in mind to kind of train you. At its very base, it was meant to teach you what is a correct punch. Because you can really throw your whole weight into a punch, but you’ll be draining a lot of energy in the physical world. So just punching around, you can kind of gauge what’s a weak punch and what’s a hard punch.
And then you start learning the combos. When we start feeding you the combo games, that’s actually trying to give you an idea, how to go left, right, left; right, right, left. We actually do boxing classes here in the office. It started when we first started developing CREED, and then we just kept going with it because we enjoyed so much. What we’ve learned in the boxing classes is that patterns of attack are very important. That’s kind of what we want to teach the player over these mini games.
Have you encountered any players that play CREED or do the training activities strictly for exercise?
Quite a bit actually. VR Fitness is a publication, when we first showed them the demo of CREED, they were like “Oh yeah, there is a group of people focused primarily on using the VR for exercising, and they can definitely use it for training.”
I see it on reddit quite a bit. We read all the reddit posts and the forums on Steam, and people say that all the time. They will login for an hour, for half an hour a day, just to kind of break a sweat. Maybe get a game or two. But they’ll sometimes just focus primarily on the mini games just to get their exercise in.
When you first started working on the game, was it initially conceived as a CREED licensed game, or were you just working on a boxing game? How did the connection with MGM get made?
We’ve always been interested in making a melee-type game. Even before I came to Survios, I was working on a melee experience. In Raw Data, we got to work on it a little bit, because you could actually punch and duck out of the way of the robots when they were attacking you. So we had an idea of extending this melee technology that we were kind of developing in the back of our minds and working on a little bit at a time.
And then with MGM becoming our partner and our investor, they had this license that is a great IP. In talks it came up and we were like, “Oh wow, we have just a perfect marriage. We really want to do melee and CREED is an amazing movie, an amazing IP. So we started. From the beginning, it was a CREED game.
When you were first conceiving the game, did you realize that was going to go this far? Did you expect it to go as far as it has – bringing in all the Rocky lore in the DLC, and the villains from the original films?
Well, we were hoping. MGM is a great partner, because we definitely wanted to focus on Creed – and for the most part we did focus on Creed’s legacy and his story and the movie. But then all of us have such great love for the old Rocky movies. You know, there was so much history behind them.
Once we were done, we were talking with MGM like, “It would be so great if we can get the license and include this extra content. And once again, they were great. They were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
So we knew a long time ago that we were going to make these classic characters and it was always kind of difficult reading forum posts. People saying “Please include Rocky or please include Apollo. We want Apollo Creed in there, we want Mr. T.” I would just have to bite my tongue. I’m like, it’s coming soon.
Growing up with these movies is, it’s such an honor to get to work in such a title, and get these classic characters into the game.
Did MGM give you materials to work with to get these older characters in the game? Did you study the old films? What sort of reference materials did you use?
We studied the old films, and looked at pictures. The art was done completely in-house from our own study of research materials. And then we just had to get it approved. MGM was a great partner to work with. There really, really wasn’t much blocking us. So it all primarily came from the old movies and then we stylized it up a little bit to fit our artistic vision of the universe and our game.
Each character has their own particular boxing style. Did your team develop that on your own? Did you adapt what was already existing in the movies? How did you come up with the patterns for each of the classic boxers?
We developed it on our own, obviously using the movies as an inspiration in the end. We wanted the game to feel good. We didn’t necessarily have to get that one specific move from the movie, but we definitely wanted to capture the personality of each fighter.
You’ll see with their intro, or whether they fall down, whether they’re cocky or whether their stoic. But as far as their moves, it wasn’t specifically like we have to have that type of punch. It was, “Oh, he’s an aggressive fighter. Oh, he’s a slugger. He’s going to just really go for the most powerful punches as much as possible.” So that’s the kind of personality we borrowed from the movies.
In the sixth Rocky movie, Rocky gets pulled back into the boxing world when he sees a computer generated fantasy match between himself and Mason “The Line” Dixon. With all of these characters at your disposal, are you guys able to take the various AI’s and pit them against each other and see who comes out on top?
Oh, we actually haven’t tried that. It would be really interesting. The thing is the AI, there’s so much technology built in into it to react to the player and be a good fighter toward the player and not necessarily toward [another] AI. But if we actually find some time, I’d actually really like to try that. Because it wouldn’t be that tough for us to do.
Once you got all of the characters in the game from the Creed series and the Rocky films, what were some of the favorite fantasy matches that the folks at Survios couldn’t wait to do in-house?
Oh, once you put Drago and Mr. T in, I think every time I see somebody play here, it’s Drago vs. Mr. T. Or Rocky vs. Drago. Personally, the first thing I did was recreate Rocky IV.
You see people reenacting specific moments from movies, which is awesome. You know, from Rocky III, we’ve got Apollo vs. Mr. T. For the first time since I was little, I can imagine what it’d be like to fight as Apollo. We can actually do it here in the office. It’s great.
When you’re fighting each opponent, they have their own strengths and weaknesses and styles. Do those strengths and weaknesses carry over when you are playing as that character? Meaning does a punch from Drago hit harder than a punch from the weakest character?
Yeah, there is a slight buff to them. It’s not enough to truly upset the game too much in any way. But everything is kind of balanced, so characters who hit more tend to have maybe a little less stamina. Some people have more stamina and they hit less, so they are able to land more punches. There’s a slight balance between those. But yeah, but it does carry over.
Not as much as when you fight the AI for the final guy [in the game]. He’s going to hit super, super hard when you fight against him. When you play as him, that’s not going to be the case, but you will get a slight buff. You’re not as strong as the AI was, but you’re still a little stronger. There is a buff to it, but you might have less stamina.
This afternoon I went in to do a little trophy clean up and I was trying to go through the roster beating everybody on championship level. Didn’t work out so well. Can you beat them on championship level?
Yeah. I had to beat them. It’s been a while, but I’ve played through the game so much, I can do it.
I think we kept a trophy in there. There’s a trophy for a one handed fight that can definitely be done. Obviously we have to get all the trophies when we’re testing it out too.
I find it a little hard myself. It’s definitely not easy. But I’ve seen our ruthless QA punchers over there, and they just go nuts and do it pretty consistently. They’ve played for months and months from morning to night.
Really, the trick there for the big powerful guys is to use the dodge mechanic. A lot of people forget that you have the dodge mechanic. But when the big powerful punches come, they can break through your stamina. Ducking out of the way, slowing down the time [is key]. You can really do a lot of damage in that window.
The ROCKY Legends DLC delivers the last bit of content that I was hoping for from this game. Do you feel like right now we’re seeing at the definitive version of the game? Is there any further content to add? Do you have any unmet desires as far as CREED goes?
There are still potentially some bug fixes. As far as DLC content, as far as I know right now there is not another one planned. But we’re always looking out for crashes and improvements, so there might still be patches that come out quality of life things that I’m looking to improve.
PlayStation Universe would like to thank Eugene Elkin for his participation in this article. Survios will be present at this year’s Game Developers Conference from Monday, Mar 18, 2019 through Friday, Mar 22, 2019 at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA.