The next Vertigo Games title set for launch is The 7th Guest VR, a remake of a 90’s CD-ROM puzzler of the same name. It is a murder mystery with a supernatural edge that fits comfortably in an October 19th release window, less than two weeks before Halloween.
While a rich gaming history influences the remake, it could not have been accomplished without the passionate work of developers at Vertigo.
I had the great pleasure of discussing the upcoming title with Director Paul van der Meer, who helmed this passion project and brought it to life. He was thoughtful in his answers, humble in crediting his colleagues over himself, and genuinely excited about his work.
The team at Vertigo put heart into this project, and gamers will want this on their radar when it arrives for the haunted season.
How a Remake of The 7th Guest VR All Started
So when the original game came out on CD-ROM it was groundbreaking tech. When the process started for The 7th Guest VR was the choice to use VR partially because it is one of the newest innovations in gaming?
It sort of happened. I am a long-time fan of the original game, and I remember playing it vividly. I was always interested in VR and back even in the 90s when it was sort of a brief blip it was there in the periphery and I thought this is such interesting technology. Fast forward 15 years later and through Oculus, it became a big thing again. And at some point I found myself working at Vertigo, years ago as well. I was thinking, okay, what kind of game would I like to play in VR?
And I thought back to my time playing The 7th Guest and I was thinking that’s a perfect fit. It’s sort of slow-paced, you can walk around the mansion, you can play the puzzles at your own speed, sort of escape room like, and that felt to me like a really cool game to play in VR. And then I sort of pitched that to Richard, our CEO, and he agreed. And being a fan from back in the day, I actually knew the original developers, so I reached out to them saying we have this idea, we want to get this on VR and see what that looks like. We got them on board, we made a demo, we showed it to them, and they liked it.
And the other part of that story is that the original had full motion video. They had real film actors, and they sort of superimposed them into the mansion. At the time, that was a big thing for CD-ROM, moving images, hearing people talk, that was a big deal. And when I started working in VR, I found this existing technology called volumetric video, and that did the same thing, but in 360-degree video.
My mind instantly clicked with the original game. It’s like, oh we could totally use this for VR, and it would be sort of the natural progression from the full motion video to full 3D 360-degree video in VR. How cool would it be to see the ghosts come to life, so to speak, in the mansion? And that was a big part for me to get this going and see it come to fruition.
Will you tell me a little bit more about volumetric video and what it’s like for you to direct actors in that environment?
First of all it was a lot of fun, and it’s terrifying. In game development you can screw up and then you fix it, you improve it, and you make it a little bit better, and at some point it’s good enough. You don’t have that luxury in a four-day or five-day shoot. You need to nail it in one or two takes, and then you sort of need to move on, because there’s not a whole lot of time. But it’s exciting, it’s so fun. It’s also figuring it out, because we went to a studio dedicated to these kinds of video, because it’s a hugely expensive setup. Like, there are all these cameras around.It’s sort of a dome-like studio that you’re in, and everything is green, so you actually have to leave the set otherwise you’ll get filmed because there’s no place to hide. You know, there are cameras everywhere.
But we also knew that we could trust those people, because they did it before. They just hadn’t done it to this scale, because we were talking about group scenes. Just huge environments where we would place them, and they’d be ghost-like, and they’ll be having fights, and all sorts of things that make them go, “oh that’s new.” So that was a bit scary as well, but I think we did our homework, and thought, well this could work.
Did the actors involved have previous VR experience or acting in other video games?
No. I mean, I’ve worked with one of the actors before, and that was an applied game and in a way it was very traditionally. You shoot your video and that video ends up as a clip in the game. I’m not sure what the experience was for other actors. Some of them have done quite big movie productions, so the whole virtual production thing is happening, in all sorts of productions or films. So they might have had a taste of it here and there, but not like this. Even VR for them was kind of a new thing.
We brought a Quest with us, with an earlier demo, just to make them experience the environment where it’s going to be. Like it’s going to be a mansion, there’s going to be a bedroom, and this is going to be the dining room. This was just to give them some sort of feeling of where it’s going to end up. I mean, they love that, but for them it’s a leap of faith as well. They have no idea how it’s going to end up, and they’ll just do the best they can.
The 7th Guest VR Reimagines a Classic and Takes Inspiration From Great Murder Mysteries
What were some of your influences in directing? What did you draw from when you were deciding how these scenes were going to play out?
Well, it’s not something that I did by myself. We had another director, Ruwan Heggelman, and we did it together. The original game sets the tone, right? So, you want to be true to that, and you maybe steer it in a slightly different way than the original, which was sometimes criticized for being a little cheesy, especially looking back. Well, anything you look back on in 20 or 30 years gets cheesy and outdated.
So, we wanted to see if we stayed true to it and updated it slightly for a modern audience. That’s always the balance that you want to keep. But, yeah, I talked with the screenwriter, Claire Downs, to get that tone. And we were talking about, well, we like the film Clue, a comedy, and House on a Haunted Hill. So, we went way back to get that sort of dialogue, that snappy dialogue going. Yeah, those were sort of the reference points.
You’re credited as the Director in The 7th Guest VR, but you are also a writer. How do you feel that you played off all of your skills in this production?
First and foremost, I am a game designer/producer on the project. But since I brought it on board, they said “you’re the number one fan, so you know how it’s going to be, or how it should be.” So, that made me the game Director as well, which I thought was great. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I love to write, but I’m not a native speaker, so that’s why we brought Claire in for the script. We needed a polish, I mean, I can get it to a certain level, and then I need a native speaker to really make it shine. And the same thing sort of thing happened with directing.
I have some experience with directing actors, but Ruwan, for instance, that’s his sole occupation. So, he works in the company as well, and it was an easy ask, like, join me dude it’s going to be fun. And we work amazingly together. It’s something that I like to do, but I don’t think I would have been the person to do all of those things. So, in this case, I thought I’ll bring it as far as I can. I’ll talk with Ruwan and say things like “I think it should be like this,” “the scene, the puzzle, it goes like this,” “the area is like that.”
And, yeah, then the actual one-on-one with the actors, I let him do that because I didn’t want two voices on the set. I wanted the actors to listen to him, and we could discuss something, like, “okay, maybe tone it down a little or bring it up” or “this is funny, maybe make that a little bigger, or it’s too slow, it’s too fast.” Those kinds of things, just between the two of us, and then you would pick that up with the actors and try to get that across. And I think that worked really well.
The Incredible Atmosphere Will Add to Your Playthrough of The 7th Guest VR
Do you have a favorite room or character or puzzle that you just really felt spoke to you or maybe was a good callback to the original?
Some rooms I really like just because of how they look. I think the art team did an amazing job, and so did our art director. He really sort of ran with it, and we got it. I’ve had so many compliments that were saying the game looks gorgeous. I was like, yes, thanks, he did a great job. So sometimes it’s the room that just looks amazing. I think the kitchen looks spectacular, for instance. In other rooms, I like the puzzle.
I think the library is a really fun way of integrating the puzzle mechanic with the layout of the room itself. There are these large bookcases that sort of slide across the room, and I thought that’s just neat. And, like, the demo we had was Temple’s room. Temple is one of the guests. And we did a lot with magic attributes. So I thought that clicked really well with the character that he is, and it also made for fun VR interactions. And sometimes I like the scene that takes place there. So I have different reasons for liking certain spots.
How long is the game?
Our estimation is about 4 to 5 hours. It depends on how fast of a puzzle player you are. We designed the game so that you won’t get stuck easily. We have coins that you can collect throughout the game, and you can use to solve puzzles. If for some reason you think it’s too hard or you don’t like that one, you can sort of buy your way out of it. I don’t think the fun in a game like that is getting stuck and sort of banging your head against the wall, like, why doesn’t this work?
But if you give it a fair amount of time as you would in an escape room as well, then we’re aiming for 15 minutes per room and we have 17 rooms. So that’s how we got to the five-hour margin. Although people have told me it’s way more, because they spent, like, 45 minutes in one room, just 10 minutes looking around just to see all the details, and then getting stuck.
How would you describe this game? I’ve seen a lot of different labels from different outlets. Some people are calling it a murder mystery, some are calling it horror, how would you nail it down?
I think murder mystery covers it really well. And the word I always come back to is “spooky.” Someone from a magazine came over to play the demo and without me saying it, he used that word, which made me feel good. It’s like we nailed that. That’s good. Because it is very specific, though. It’s not horror. There are horror games out there that will scare the pants off you and good for them. But we didn’t really want to go in that direction. I think the original game had its scary moments, but that’s also because I was 10 years old and I didn’t really know that. If you look at it now, it’s like, did I ever find that scary?
And also, because I think that a puzzle game should entice you, sort of bring you in, and if you’re terrified of what might happen, you don’t think properly. And we need players to think because we’ve got all these challenging puzzles for them. So, we want that sense of mystery, a bit of a creepy atmosphere, but mostly the spookiness of it. It’s like, okay, I can handle this, I can deal with this. I might get some goosebumps here and there, but I won’t throw away the headset. So that’s what we were going for.
We mentioned Clue, right? I mean, Clue is a comedy. It’s slapstick, and that’s what I liked about the original as well. It had its darker bits and it is definitely a gothic supernatural story, but it also had funny bits. And I always liked the fact that you could throw in multiple things, and I think ultimately it makes it more interesting. So we have funny bits in there, there’s some lighthearted comedy in there, but also in the stuff you encounter along the way. I think that’s just fun and I don’t see that often anymore in games. It’s usually very one-note. Like, “we’re a serious game, we deal with trauma.” And it’s okay, good, but a joke can help, you know?
Since this is such a passion project for you, if you could make any other project in VR do you have a game in mind?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting one. And it’s also something that I can’t really talk about. We’re in a position where it might actually happen, and I cannot say anything about that. But there’s interesting stuff on the horizon, for sure.
You have a really good opportunity to bring your passion projects to life and that seems like a great way to create something people will love.
That’s what we’re hoping for. Ultimately, we make it for two people. The original fans, but it shouldn’t be a nostalgia trip, it shouldn’t be “oh remember this.” And for people who have never played the game before, I want it to be equally interesting. It’s like, what is this? There are real people in here? It’s a sort of spooky mystery. I want those people to be entertained as well.
Music Plays a Major Role in The 7th Guest VR
What speaks to you about this game and your experience outside of directing and writing?
There are so many little things I could talk for ages about this. One thing is I like the music. The original was sort of known for its amazing score that The Fat Man did. His real name is George Sanger, but his game persona is the Fat Man. I love that soundtrack because it’s like the tone that I described. It’s creepy, it’s spooky, but it’s also very funny. It has all these different influences. It has African rhythms. It has jazz in there. Yeah, all sorts of interesting things thrown together.
Our home composer was heavily influenced by George, and we actually got him on board to play a guitar solo and even sing on a track. So that was fun for Jonathan, our composer, to work with him and to play around with this iconic score because we didn’t want to copy it. Again, we wanted to do our own thing, and modernize it. But, for the people who know, they hear it and for the people who are new to it, they’re like “Oh this is kind of jazzy, I like this.” And I think Jonathan did an amazing job. So that’s why I had to give a little shout-out to Jonathan and George there.
Which platforms will have The 7th Guest VR?
It’s going to be on PlayStation VR 2, it’s going to be on Quest 2, Quest 3, and PC. All the major platforms you’d expect it to be on.
What are the challenges of working with different headsets when developing a game like The 7th Guest VR?
In a way, it has become a little easier as the controllers tend to look the same now. They are the same basic functionality, and that’s good. Like, they have sticks now. That first generation didn’t necessarily have sticks. And the tricky part is that some of them are way more powerful than others. That’s the whole tethered versus untethered standalone divide. And that is the difference between making a game that is basically a mobile game performance-wise, graphically, and at the same time having to deliver a high-end game on PC and PlayStation.
So, there’s this huge divide between what graphically is possible on both platforms. And I’m really impressed with the level of fidelity we managed to retain on the lower end, because it is the same game. It’s the same gameplay, it’s the same puzzles from start to finish, and it is the same experience. But yeah, all the high-end platforms got all the fancy shaders and all the bells and whistles, but it is still the same game. And that I find pretty impressive. That’s a cool feat that both the art team and the tech team managed to pull off.
Everything Fell Into Place for a Halloween Release
How long was the entire process and has Halloween always been the goal release date?
It hasn’t. It has been in development for a good two years now. I spoke with Richard about it years before and then Vertigo became huge because of the success of Arizona Sunshine. And then the whole studio started working on After the Fall. So the idea percolated, but it didn’t really gain any traction. And then after After the Fall, it became serious and we started production for real. The art and design part being handled by Vertigo and the coding part by Exkee, a partner of ours. And, Halloween, it’s just the best fit. It just makes the most sense. So we’re really pushing for that and it’s so close. I mean, it’s a passion project for me, but also for other people. And I think we’re all really proud of what we’re doing.
Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
It is a throwback in a way that every room has sort of unique puzzles, as games tended to have back in the day. More modern games have these sorts of main mechanics that you expand upon, and that’s totally great. This one will just surprise you with every door you open. It’s going to be new, it’s going to be different, and I’m really hoping that gets people excited to play through the entire game. Like, oh, I just want to see what the next room is going to be about. That was the idea.
Paul van der Meer and the incredible team at Vertigo Games are excited to present The 7th Guest VR to the world on October 19th. This passion project that has become a full-fledged remake is sure to be the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. So, be sure to keep a lookout for the title as it reimagines a classic murder mystery experience!