Cloudgate Studio announced its first game, an open-world virtual reality dinosaur hunting game for the HTC Vive. In Island 359, you play as a mercenary sent to a tropical island that has, for unknown reasons, become infested with dinosaurs. Your mission: destroy as many dinos as you can and get out alive.
We had the chance to sit down with Steve Bowler and Jeremy Chapman, the two co-founders of Cloudgate, to learn more about the game. We’ve yet to give it a try, but what we’ve seen so far has us anxiously awaiting the game’s release.
Striking Out On Their Own
Cloudgate Studio is a brand new entity. The two partners formed the development studio at the end of March this year, but they aren’t new to game creation. In fact, they aren’t even new to VR development. If you’ve tried the HTC Vive, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ve experienced Bowler and Chapman’s handiwork: Chapman is the brain behind the terrifying Brookhaven Experiment demo from Phosphor games, and Bowler had a big hand in making the demo, too.
Following the positive response that Brookhaven received, Bowler and Chapman left Phosphor Games to start their own game studio that focuses primarily on virtual reality content. The pair has been working diligently ever since to get Island 359 ready to ship. They don’t have a date locked down yet, but Bowler said that it’s almost ready; we should see it hit Steam in the coming weeks. The team is committed to a summer launch.
The Brookhaven Experiment demo was designed to frighten you, but Bowler said that Island 359 is not meant to be all that scary. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops; you are hunting vicious predators, after all. And those predators are actually hunting you in return.
When the game ships in Early Access later this summer, there will be three Dinosaur classes to hunt and avoid. At launch, the game will include compys, raptors, and allosaurus. Chapman said there will be plenty of dinos added in the future. There are plans to add quadruped creatures, such as triceratops, brontosaurus and brachiosaurus. The game will also eventually include flying dinosaurs that will swoop down from above to attack you. Chapman told us there’s a T-Rex coming, too, but that will be a future update.
Each type of dinosaur will feature unique AI characteristics. For example, raptors will follow the lead of their alpha and work together as a pack. Bowler said the raptors are smart, and we can expect a "clever girl" reference to the raptors from Jurassic Park. One raptor will come at you directly, while the others will flank you in the bushes on either side. Compys will also attack in packs, but they are a little bit skittish. If you manage to kill one of them while they are running at you, they will often turn around and temporarily retreat in fear.
Island 359 is an open world virtual reality game, which means there’s a locomotion system. Bowler and Chapman thought long and hard about how to approach this problem. The pair felt that using the Blink system would take away from the survival experience; after all, if you can always teleport out of the way, there’s no real sense of danger. As such, the pair came up with a stamina system that is linked with the teleport function. You can’t just repeatedly move out of harm’s way. You’ll run out of energy and become exasperated. Bowler said he added audio cues that help you keep track of your current energy level. You’ll hear yourself out of breath when you can’t move anymore. Your character will sigh when your energy level is back.
The stamina system is constantly regenerating, but it gets depleted much faster than it recharges. You’ll have to strategically manage your movements to work around that limitation. As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to upgrade your stamina level so you can make additional movements between rests.
The game also includes an inventory system, but you will have to be strategic about your choices of equipment. Throughout the map, you’ll find loot crates that have upgraded weapons, health, and other items. Bowler said the inventory system was intentionally designed to force you to play “backpack Tetris.” In other words, the developers want you to make hard choices about the items you keep with you.
You’ll have a backpack that you can reach into whenever you want, but it will have only four slots for gear. Between the backpack and your two hands, you can hold six items, but you have to have a free hand to pull things from your backpack, so you may find that you have to drop items on the ground just to access the stored equipment. Chapman said that you will eventually be able to upgrade to a larger backpack, but the initial release of the game will include only the basic bag.
When Island 359 launches later this summer, the game will only have one mission, but the plan is to eventually have a number of different missions to choose from. The one that will ship with the game at launch is called "mercenary mode." In this scenario, you are dropped onto the island by way of helicopter. Your mission is to kill as many dinosaurs as you can without being killed. Chapman said that it's “not a go 'til you die sort of thing. You have to get back to the chopper before you die.” That means not only managing ammo but also keeping an eye on your stamina and not forgetting where your getaway vehicle landed.
Chapman and Bowler have been primarily focused on getting the game to a playable state, but the partners have a long list of updates that will start coming out shortly after the Island 359 launches. Chapman said he has enough content that's almost finished that he expects to have at least one update released every week for the first month or two. The updates will include more dinosaurs, more guns, and additional missions.
Look for Island 359 on Steam in the coming weeks. Cloudgate Studio did not say how much the game will cost and has not yet locked in the final release date. Bowler said that it’s just a matter of approval from Valve at this stage.