“Among Us” could have been too scary in VR, developers say

“Among Us” could have been too scary in VR, developers say

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“Among Us” was one of the video games that exploded in popularity over the pandemic. The 2018 murder puzzle and social subtraction game set in space has overtaken games, reached cakes, toy shops and more.

In 2018, the developers at Innersloth were a three-person team working on the party game where a group of innocents perform everyday tasks, while murderers – called “cheaters” – walk free at night. The player group can vote out who they believe is guilty of murder, so that the cheaters are removed from the group before the innocent lose their majority.

In recent years, “Among Us” has expanded into multiple collaborations with other games, into virtual reality, merchandise, and fan art. It was all the product of hard work, said Forest Willard, the Innersloth programmer who also runs the company’s business, during The Game Awards, the industry’s annual Oscars-like awards event, with The Washington Post in Los Angeles.

“We certainly didn’t mean to [“Among Us”] to be a super widespread cultural phenomenon,” Willard said. “But at the same time, we designed the game specifically to be accessible to ‘non-gamers’. Given the virality and the accessibility, it makes sense.”

“If we just look at the wildlife industry, we’re probably one of the better brands in terms of merchandise. Most games don’t mind it. It’s a lot of work.”

Victoria Tran, who handles Innersloth’s social media presence, said that Among Us’ biggest social media platform is TikTok, where the game has more than three million followers. She talked about how she worked to diversify Innersloth’s social media presence, and how the company would not be affected by Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk.

“Having grown up with social media, I don’t trust any platform to sustain itself,” Tran said. “I’ve seen MySpace go down, I’ve seen Vine go down. I don’t know what is happening with Facebook. BeReal was the hot thing and now nobody talks about it.”

Even though Twitter has gone down, Tran said, the “Among Us” developers are also posting news within the game itself, so they have a direct line to players.

“Among Us VR” was up for best virtual or augmented reality game at The Game Awards on Dec. 8, where it lost to adventure puzzle game “Moss: Book II.” A team of more than 15 developers at Schell Games was tasked with bringing “Among Us” to VR, launching the game a month ago.

One of the first things the team noticed during development was that “Among Us” would make VR also good of a horror game.

“It quickly became clear how scary that game can be in VR, especially when you’re now in an environment that can be creepy, surrounded by people who want to mess with you and kill you,” said Michal Ksiazkiewicz, senior game designer of Schell Games.

Ksiazkiewicz said that when they adapted “Among Us” into virtual reality, they had to think carefully about how to adapt killing actions so that they are not too spooky and gruesome for players. The developers also added colors and little jokes to lighten the overall tone of the game.

Schell also streamlined the game by removing actions like stabbing other players with the push of a button, so players don’t have to aim inside virtual reality, which Ksiazkiewicz says can be nauseating.

“It’s all about the aspect of lying to your friends, and everything else has to be in service of that,” Ksiazkiewicz said. “Our goal in VR was to make it as low a barrier to entry for a player as possible.”

Adapting in-game purchases to VR has also proven to be a work in progress. While “Among Us” has rolled out collaborations with “League of Legends” and “Fortnite” on console, PC and mobile, Ksiazkiewicz said they are currently unsure whether they can sell more than virtual hats in VR. Costumes and pets, available on the original game, have yet to make it into VR.

At the Game Awards, “Among Us” announced its biggest update this year, with a hide-and-seek mode. To keep up with the tremendous amount of fan interest in “Among Us,” Willard talked about balancing adding in-game content with employee burnout. He said since “Among Us” started, he had the constant feeling of catching up on business and technical issues.

“It still feels like we’re catching up because people’s demands can come much faster than any update,” Tran said. “It was exciting and stressful.”

Willard said they mostly try to eliminate crunch, or the practice of working long evenings or weekends in the gaming industry.

“You tell your cues, ‘No, don’t grind,’ and your cues tell them directly [reports], ‘No, don’t grind.’ Then everyone at least has that mental image of ‘I don’t want to crunch, crunch is bad,’” Willard said. “We cracked, it’s not perfect, it’s always a work in progress. But we try to limit it as little as possible.”

To avoid overwork, sometimes players’ demands cannot all be met, especially if they are prioritized over other upcoming content and features, Willard said.

“That’s the part where you do start to ignore the players, like, ‘Sorry, it’s just not a high enough priority,’ and you just adjust yourself.”

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