'Among Us' could have been too scary in virtual reality, developers say – The Washington Post

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“Among Us” was one of the video games that exploded in popularity over the pandemic. The 2018 murder mystery and social deduction game set in space has transcended gaming, reaching cakes, toy stores and more.
The developers at Innersloth were a three person team back in 2018, working on the party game where a group of innocents perform mundane tasks, while killers — called “impostors” — run free at night. The player group can vote off who they believe is guilty of murder, so that the imposters are removed from the group before the innocents lose their majority.
In recent years, “Among Us” has expanded into multiple collaborations with other games, into virtual reality, merchandise and fan art. This has all been the product of hard work, said Forest Willard, the Innersloth programmer who also manages the company’s business, sitting down with The Washington Post in Los Angeles during The Game Awards, the industry’s annual Oscars-like awards event.
“We definitely didn’t intend for [“Among Us”] to be a super widespread cultural phenomenon,” Willard said. “But at the same time, we did design the game specifically to be approachable by ‘non-gamers.’ Given the virality and the approachability, it makes sense.”
“Just looking around at the game industry, we’re probably one of the better branded ones in terms of merch. Most games don’t bother with it. It is a lot of work.”
Victoria Tran, who handles Innersloth’s social media presence, said that “Among Us’s” biggest social media platform is TikTok, where the game has over three million followers. She spoke about how she’s worked on diversifying Innersloth’s social media presence, and how the company would not be influenced by Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk.
“Growing up with social media, I don’t trust any platform to sustain itself, honestly,” Tran said. “I saw MySpace go down, I saw Vine go down. I don’t know what’s happening with Facebook. BeReal was the hot thing and now no one’s talking about it.”
Even if Twitter went down, Tran said, the “Among Us” developers also post news inside the game itself, so they have a direct line to players.
“Among Us VR” was up for best virtual or augmented reality game at Dec. 8′s The Game Awards, where it lost to adventure puzzle game “Moss: Book II.” A team of over 15 developers at Schell Games were tasked with bringing “Among Us” to VR, launching the game one month ago.
One of the first things the team noticed during development was that “Among Us VR” would make too 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 could be creepy, surrounded by people who want to mess with you and kill you,” said Michal Ksiazkiewicz, senior game designer from Schell Games.
Ksiazkiewicz said that when adapting “Among Us” into virtual reality, they had to think carefully about how to adapt kill actions, so that they weren’t too spooky and horror-like for players. The developers also added colors and little jokes to lighten up the overall tone of the game.
Schell also streamlined the game, abstracting actions like stabbing other players with a knife into the press of a button, so that gamers don’t have to aim within virtual reality, which Ksiazkiewicz said could be nauseating.
“This is all about the aspect of lying to your friends, and everything else should be in service of that,” said Ksiazkiewicz. “Our goal in VR was to make it as low a barrier of entry for a player as possible.”
Adapting in-game purchases to VR has also proven to be a work in progress. While “Among Us” on console, PC and mobile has rolled out collaborations with “League of Legends” and “Fortnite,” Ksiazkiewicz said that they are currently unsure of whether they can sell more than virtual hats in VR. Costumes and pets, which are available on the original game, haven’t made it into VR yet.
At the Game Awards, “Among Us” announced its biggest update this year, adding a hide-and-seek mode. In keeping up with the tremendous amount of fan interest in “Among Us,” Willard talked about balancing adding in-game content with employee exhaustion. He said that since “Among Us” took off, he’s had the constant feeling of playing catch up on business and technical issues.
“It still feels like we’re playing catch up because people’s demands can come much faster than any update,” Tran said. “It’s been exciting and stressful.”
Willard said that for the most part they try to eliminate crunch, or the practice of working long evenings or weekends in the gaming industry.
“You tell your leads, ‘No, don’t crunch,’ and your leads tell their direct [reports], ‘No, don’t crunch.’ Then everybody has at least that mental image of ‘I don’t want to crunch, crunching is bad,’” Willard said. “We have crunched, it’s not perfect, it is always a work in progress. But we’re trying to minimize it as much as we absolutely can.”
For the sake of avoiding overwork, sometimes players’ demands can’t all be satisfied, especially when prioritized against 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 high enough priority,’ and you just pace yourself.”


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