By | January 4, 2024
UNDERDOGS Q&A: How One Hamsa traded rackets for VR mechanics

How does a studio go from VR racquet sports to urban sci-fi mechanics? With UNDERDOGS soon to be released on Quest and PC VR, we interviewed developer One Hamsa to learn more.

Revealed last year, UNDERDOGS marks an exciting second game from One Hamsa after Racket: Nx. Set in the 21st century underground fighting pits of New Brakka, this physics-based brawler uses arm-based movement and a comic book presentation, and finds two brothers making their way into the city.

We were blown away by what we saw in our November UNDERDOGS preview. With a limited build, we found it a tough but fair brawler, praising the “satisfying combat” and “good presentation.” This led us to name it our most anticipated VR game of 2024, and you can read more below:

Hands-On: UNDERDOGS Shows Promising Gritty Mech Combat

UNDERDOGS promises a refreshing take on physics-based mech combat. Our full preview:

Eager to learn more, we spoke to One Hamsa through an email-based interview, discussing development with co-founder Dave Levy.

Henry Stockdale, UploadVR: First, thanks for answering my questions today. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your role in the team?

Dave Levy: Happy to. I’m Dave, one of the five founders of One Hamsa. We all have many roles in the team, mine are mainly game and art direction.

Upload VR: How do you go from making a game like Racket: Nx to UNDERDOGS, can you tell us about the development story?

Charge: For those who don’t know, Racket: Nx is basically psychedelic racquetball in space. It’s a sports game about high scores and motor control. UNDERDOGS, on the other hand, is a hardcore game about gangsters in mechs who crush bots in pit fights – it’s a roguelike in a rich world full of badass characters, with RPG elements and huge customization options, and in general it’s much closer the style and depth we know and love from PC games.

We made Racket: Nx in the very early days of VR when everyone was just exploring the most basic mechanics (the first version came out in 2016!). But we’re gamers and we’ve always wanted to see more hardcore gaming in VR. So that’s what we set out to do with UNDERDOGS. Also, let’s face it, sports are good and all, but we wanted to do something more violent.

The idea of ​​wrapping the player in a mech that follows their arm movements, bridging between them and the game world, came first. This small degree of separation was supposed to solve the lack of weight and physical feedback which
always broke our immersion in VR melee games – you’re there, but it’s the mech’s arm that’s actually hitting stuff, so of course you don’t feel it. This ended up working really well. UNDERDOGS has the best sense of physical impact of any VR game I’ve tried.

But one idea is never enough. Between prototyping the wrong things, working on expanding Racket: Nx, and dredging through commission work to keep the studio alive, it took us several years to arrive at a prototype we liked. We actually left the original concept at one point and it took me two years to say “guys, I can’t let go of that mechanic idea.” Luckily one of my partners picked it up and in less than an hour something clicked together that was instant magic – and we were back!

By mid-2021, we had a playable POC, our main characters and world, and a nice looking game. We had most of the production budget covered by Racket:Nx and our commission work, but partnered with Meta for the rest of it. We started production in 2022, with a 2 year budget and only half the team established. None of us have ever done anything this big and complex, and literally no similar games to look at for reference. It’s been an insane uphill climb every step of the way, and I’m loving (almost) every moment of it.

UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot
UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot

UploadVR: Were there any particular lessons or feedback that the team took on board from Racket: Nx’s development into UNDERDOGS?

Charge: We learned a lot of VR fundamentals from Racket: Nx – from making the UI work in VR, to creating a satisfying physical interaction. Learning where you want to innovate because VR and where you want to keep things familiar and reliable was one of my personal biggest takeaways. Not that I have it yet πŸ™‚

UploadVR: One thing that immediately stood out to me during UNDERDOG’s reveal was its visuals. What inspired this comic book style and the New Brakka setting?

Charge: Thanks! The world of UNDERDOGS and New Brakka is an attempt at a modern interpretation of Cyberpunk. This genre is originally from the 80s when computer screens had two colors and punks were a thing. I wanted to take the basic premise of “high-tech low-life” and apply it to today’s visions of the future.

Together with the Canadian Sci-Fi author Peter Watts, we ended up with a humanity ruled by a benevolent digital dictatorship. An AI network known as the Big Sys, which through resource and logistical control saved humanity from self-destruction in the 21st century. Big Sys is the ultimate nanny state: nobody owns anything, privacy does not exist, everyone’s behavior and actions are scored, rewarded or punished.

But the world has never been safer or more prosperous. Most of the world, at least. New Brakka is the standout. The last place still run by humans. A place that Big Sys conveniently funnels all her unwanted psychopaths, criminally inclined and misfits into. As you can imagine it’s like $%t show. That’s where UNDERDOGS takes place.

As for the visuals, it’s a combination of technical limitations and personal preference. I’ve always wanted to try and apply my understanding of composition, colors and light to a real-time game. We built the entire UNDERDOGS lighting and shading from scratch. This is what our basic shader looks like (each orange node opens to its own subgraph):

UNDERDOGS VR shader graph provided by One Hamsa
UNDERDOGS shader graph from One Hamsa

Lucky for us, we found Marcin Sobon – an amazing Polish illustrator with whom I was able to develop a style that worked in 3D and was replicable to the game’s vast amount of 2.5D comic book illustrations.

UploadVR: When I played the preview I could only choose three preset mechanics but the full game has over 100 equippable items. What variety can we expect from combat?

Charge: UNDERDOGS is a roguelike, and the items you buy, steal, earn, or otherwise come across during the game will make or break your run. We have different weapons, status effects, modifiers and gameplay elements that interact in different ways, creating a huge pool of combos and playstyles. This is also one of the areas of the game we are most keen to continually update and expand upon once the game is out!

UploadVR: What was the thought process behind using arm-based motion over analog stick-based motion, was it a challenge to use that along with throwing punches?

There are two main reasons for our movement system (which, for the record, we came up with before Gorilla Tag was a thing). First, we don’t like buttons and sticks in VR. VR’s controlling strength is movement, and movement increases the sense of embodiment. If I pull myself forward with my arm, not only do I have more control over the movement, but I’m also more present in it.

Second, the whole fantasy of UNDERDOGS is that you get to be a raging 5-ton metal gorilla! It’s about arguing, fighting face to face and being in the middle of it. You don’t control your mech, you ARE your mech! The first time I tried this movement scheme I was like “holy s$%t… I’m a BEAST!”.

UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot
UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot

UploadVR: As a roguelike, how does each run change compared to your previous attempts?

Charge: There are three levels where each run differs from the last: First, what did you learn as a player. What did you learn about the game, how much did you improve motor skills, what killed you and you will never let happen again? Second, we have a huge amount of content that you slowly unlock from run to run. New items to use, people to meet and visitors to sponsor your fights offer new challenges and new rewards.

Finally, the run itself is full of random elements. The enemy roster, the people you meet, the items you pass, and all the dice you roll throughout your run as you try to navigate the streets of New Brakka. A principle of roguelikes we try to live by is “Hero or Zero”. Some runs you’ll just blow through. In other cases, you fall flat on your face.

UploadVR: Given how many recent Quest games use it, have you ever considered mixed reality support?

Charge: A big part of UNDERDOGS is the world and atmosphere. It’s a VR game, meant for VR – part of the promise is that we’ll throw you somewhere else. That said, we have some ideas for spinoffs in MR that we might look at once the game is out. Then we’ll talk about it again πŸ™‚

UploadVR: It’s been mentioned before that UNDERDOGS will have Quest 3 enhancements at launch, can you elaborate on what to expect?

Besides the obvious visual quality improvements across the board (resolution, particle count, shadow maps, sample quality, etc.), Quest 3 allows us to use higher quality assets and additional detail in a bunch of places in the game.

UploadVR: Any chance we’ll ever see UNDERDOGS and Racket: Nx on PSVR 2, Pico or other platforms?

Charge: Next question thanks πŸ™‚

UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot
UNDERDOGS Steam Screenshot

UploadVR: Finally, are there any messages in particular you want to share?

Charge: I am at the edge of an event horizon. I’ve never worked at anything so hard in my life, I’ve never sacrificed as much as I have for UNDERDOGS, and I have no idea how it will be received. But no matter how it does, or even if it doesn’t come out at all due to some crazy apocalyptic scenario with pigeons – I’m just incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to work on a game where I feel like I didn’t get any kind, with a team of crazy, talented and dedicated lunatics. UNDERDOGS is the game I wanted to make. I sincerely hope you and everyone who plays it has a great f$&king time out of it.

#UNDERDOGS #Hamsa #traded #rackets #mechanics

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