In this edition of Mr. PSVR’s Interview Corner, we take a closer look at Captain Toonhead vs the Punks from Outer Space. A game about defending towers as you come up against a variation of enemies and weapons coming to PlayStation VR.
Interview with Founder, Enrique Fuentes and honorary Co-Founder and Partner, Luis Daniel Zambrano of Teravision Games
Welcome to The PlayStation Brahs. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Teravision Games?
Enrique Fuentes: “Hello Mr. PSVR, I’m Mr. Enrique Fuentes 🙂 Just like Elliott Salazar, I’m pretty much the “Janitor in Chief” at Teravision Games, taking care of whatever needs to be taken care of, where my skills and experience can contribute in some way. I started Teravision Games in 2006 and back then did one of the best things I’ve done for
this company which was hiring Luis Daniel “LD” Zambrano, the creative force of this company, who has become a partner in the studio and an honorary co-founder, and is Captain ToonHead’s game director. How’s that for an introduction to Elede? Take it away…”
Luis Daniel Zambrano (LD): “haha thanks, I’m LD, appointed channeler of the collective creativity of the TG team and, since Enrique pretty much said everything that’s relevant for my introduction, let me share some random facts: I publicly loathe pineapple on pizza (but secretly I don’t hate it that much), my favorite ninja turtle is Donatello, and I
have never been able to finish a Mega Man game.”
What have been some of your favorite genres and games growing up that really left an impression on you and what was that one VR game or experience that made you really want to get into Virtual Reality?
Enrique: “I started as a gamer with an Atari 2600, but I think the consoles that had the biggest impact on me were the Commodore 64 and the Commodore Amiga, maybe the game I played the most back then was Populus, there was no save system, so I had this notebook paper with all the codes for each new level you reached, so you could go back to it by introducing that code. I would use whatever I had at hand, so you could see the colors changing from pencil to a green crayon, to a blue pen in those codes -I think I still have that paper somewhere… where is that thing??, Anyway, I digress. The first time I experienced VR was in a Game Jam in Chile in 2014, at the time it was on an Oculus DK2, and I was blown away. Some developers created a very simple experience where you were a mouse moving around a house, going below tables and other furniture. I felt it was such a powerful medium that I knew our next game HAD to be VR.
I’ve always been a big Tower Defense fan, so games like Kingdom Rush or Plants vs Zombies, or even less known mobile and web TDs like Don’t touch my gems or Geometry Wars TD had a big impact on me, so when we were thinking what to build on VR we played on the fantasy of “how would it feel to be right there, fighting waves in
VR”, something that would truly combine FPS with strategic TD aspects.”
LD: “I played A LOT of Intellivision II, NES, PC & SNES games since I was 5, but it was N64’s Ocarina of Time the first game that truly moved me; probably because not long before I played it, I was introduced to D&D with my dearest group of friends. So I was experiencing a whole new level of appreciation for that type of fantastic journey. My first
VR-ish experience was with a Virtual Boy that our Dungeon Master had, it was interestingly weird, too red, and ultimately amazing; but a few years later, in 2001, I had my first real VR experience when I flew on the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride at the DisneyQuest quarters in Orlando. I was blown away. Who knew I would be working on that type of sorcery a couple of decades later. I know I didn’t!”
You have a game coming out called Captain Toonhead vs the Punks from Outer Space. What can you tell us about the game?
LD: “Let’s call it CTHVSTPFOS for short. Just kidding! Our dear CTH is a First-Person Tower Defense Adventure specifically designed for VR. Our intention, or madness if you want to get technical, is to mix conflicting genres (FPS+TD), make it not too overwhelming for VR, and tell a compelling hero journey with a unique art style while we
are at it. Totally reasonable goal for our very first Unreal Engine game, right?
Well, not too different from Elliott (our hero), somehow we survived that mess and ended up with a game-burrito that packs all of those unexpected ingredients into what we like to think of as a radioactively tasty experience. For us, it has been a huge feat of sheer labor and stubborn passion for our craft that drove us through a journey of self-discovery as a GameDev team. We are very proud of how it turned out with its own unique identity. It is definitely not another FPS, TD, or Adventure game. And we made sure to make all of those components somewhat optional in order to match different interests and playstyles. For example, if you don’t like shooters, it will be a little more difficult but you can passive-aggressively focus on upgrading your towers so they do all the dirty work for you; or if you find strategy to be snotty, well you can totally go berserk with your weapons and try to murder every enemy at the expense of your trigger fingers; oh, and if you don’t care for narrative, we tastefully added a nice option for you to guiltlessly skip all that budget and countless hours we invested into creating that story for you. You don’t need to know how a cabin-fevered space janitor saved the whole human race from an interplanetary dictatorial menace after his commanding hero crew died from a burrito-related explosion on Xmas Eve in 2083 if you don’t want to…”
So there really is a balance of action and strategy to the game?
Enrique: “YES! That’s a CORE aspect in our game. We didn’t want to make another wave shooter but still wanted the player to feel really immersed in the battle, so the biggest challenge was to calibrate how much the FPS aspects vs the Tower defense aspects weighed in the potential success of a level. It required many, many iterations, and we feel we achieved a great point in which you feel you need to constantly move around the level, covering points that need some reinforcement with your FPS fire-power, but still making your towers strategy really key to succeed in a level.”
So how does building and taking control of your towers work?
Enrique: “So in order to build towers, or toonrets, which is how Elliott chose to call them, you first need to pick up scraps left by defeated enemies. Using scraps as resources the player can build toonrets on specific slots in a level, and choose the type of toonret he will build on a specific slot, so there’s a very strategic aspect to where towers are placed
-tags Elede to continue-“
LD: “-flawlessly continues without even thinking- once toonrets are in place and your ToonRide! bar is fully charged, you can lift your hands above your head in order to take full control of the toonret you are currently in and irresponsibly unleash unstoppable amounts of power upon your enemies. Spoiler: each toonret behaves and plays
differently during ToonRides! It’s a lot of fun, it’s my favorite gameplay moment of the game.
After watching the trailer, I just had this vision of this could be an awesome sci-fi movie on the sci-fi channel. Captain Toonhead looks fantastic. Where did the idea of the character come from?
LD: “It has been truly a collaborative effort. The Lore and scenes are packed with obvious and obscure references to things that different TeravisionGamers passionately love.
The main character has been carefully built to reflect all of us in the team. He is not a traditional hero that relies on oversized muscles and superpowers that give him an overt advantage over his enemies; he is an optimistic nerdy guy that fused his obsessive passion for cartoons and his brainy talent for engineering stuff in order to build himself into the hero he needed to be. Following the thoughts of a famous Latin-American comedian called Chespirito: it’s easy to be a hero when you know you can win, true courage only comes when you know you will most probably lose and you still stand up for what you believe in.
We actually consider all of us to be ToonHeads in the Studio. Because even when nobody around us thought that we could make games, and especially not from LatAm, we stubbornly mixed our collective geeky obsessions and weird talents to slowly build ourselves into the GameDevs that nobody, but only us, thought we could be. That mutual support and respect percolated into the process of how we created the character: the geeky janitor persona came from an early synopsis I wrote; Enrique had the brilliant idea to use a TV as a helmet; JP, an incredible concept artist, drew different amazing versions of the character that everybody voted on; Simón, our current Art Director interpreted the guy into 3D; and JD, awesome programmer, but at the time our freshest and youngest hire (19 and only a couple of weeks in the company) came up with the name Captain ToonHead in an open brainstorming session we had with the
whole studio. After that it was just a matter of trusting each other to do our best work from each of our areas of expertise, intensely iterating and polishing on every detail of the game, while hearing each other’s feedback and testing things out through User Research.
It has been a wild ride that is hard to explain, but that every Teravision Gamer deeply understands and appreciates.”
So players will face a T-Rex in the game. What are some of the other punks from outer space that players will come across?
Enrique: “Oh not much else, pretty basic and standard enemies, you know? Like Cyberchickens, flying cats, and Terra-Sharks (sharks that move below the ground).”
What can you tell us about the different weapons that can be used in the game?
LD: “The Captain has 3 main weapons:
- TurboMjölnirs: Flying electronic hammers that Elliott invented to be able to build stuff from afar. The dream of the lazy mythological Norse janitor he likes to think he is. You will use them mainly to build and level up your Toonrets. But they are also magnetic, so they are super useful for picking up all that precious scrap scattered on the battlefield after obliterated enemies.
- Brent-X Blasters: By standard regulation, the W.T.F. issues a single one of these lethal laser handguns to all military members of their Space Hero force. Well, Elliott not only grabbed 2 from his deceased crew… he also attached a bunch of unnecessary sh*t to them. We cannot condone such irresponsible behavior toward futuristic guns, BUT we can’t also deny that it is very fun to Mike Lowrey your enemies to hell, I guess you need to thank Captain’s TV obsession for this
- The Chanclas: This mission may happen in the future, but the strongest weapon in the Captain’s arsenal is, no doubt, something that mothers from different cultures around the world have wielded masterfully since ancient times: sandals.
This sophisticatedly simple and fearfully aerodynamic device is super effective for stripping down enemies from their technological enhancements. Like if that wasn’t powerful enough, it also NEVER misses… We are not exaggerating, you
can LITERALLY throw that thing behind your back with your eyes closed and, if there is an enemy on the battlefield, you can bet anything it will find its way and stun-slap that sucker no matter how far and small it is. Scary stuff, we don’t
understand how Elliott got away with watching so much TV when he was little. All of these can be upgraded in the tech-tree located in Elliott’s messy bedroo…I MEAN, the super professional Weapons’ Lab at the MissionShip.”
Music can add to those special moments in the game and hearing the music from the trailer seems to really have that punk rock/heavy metal tone to it. Did the music have a different sound from the beginning to what it is in the final game?
Enrique: “The game started being a very Bladerunner-inspired game, called Neon Fury, and the music was what you expect on a theme like that, it was very electronic, heavy on synthesizers, and pretty futuristic. But after a few months of developing this idea, we felt the cyberpunk theme was being used everywhere and that the game lacked a more unique identity and soul, so we said, let’s make something that really speaks to our unique identity as developers, and let’s not play it safe at all. So we created a hero we all could identify within the studio: a geek that uses his creativity and extensive cartoons culture as his main power and wields a chancla. Fortunately, we counted on the musical genius of Daniel Zambrano (LD’s better-looking brother) who very quickly fell in love with this new “more punk” and eclectic approach, and created the amazing music you can now see in the trailer and the game.”
Did you find that when creating the fast-paced action, that there were some surprises with the immersion that you did not expect?
Enrique: ‘When you conceptualize something during the game design process, it’s always super exciting when you can test it in the game. One feature in particular that I think blew our minds when we first tested it was the “toonride”. The first time we raised both our hands to the sky to activate this power and take control of the tower, shooting hot sauce “lasers” from our hands to the tune of heavy metal, was a magical moment.”
What has been the most challenging when it comes to creating for Virtual Reality?
LD: “Oh man, there have been SO MANY big challenges for us that it is so hard for me to choose only one. Please allow me to offer at least 3:
- Player’s attention on the right things: this is a challenge for every game in any medium, but in VR the unintentional blindness problem gets hugely amplified by the depth perception and the unavoidable gaze total-freedom that the players always have. Among many things, this made UI design especially challenging for us. I don’t even remember how many iterations we have had on info distribution and repetition to make sure the player doesn’t miss critical stats during gameplay. And I am not even talking here about how this jives with your interactions with said UI elements, which only makes it more challenging. Funstuff!
2. VR Discomfort: Eye strain, motion sickness, not seeing your controls, unintentional cable pulls, arm tiredness, tracking limitations etc etc etc… man, VR sure does expose our human weaknesses! We were very careful to design and implement the game to provide a pleasant experience to our players. We don’t want these side effects to break your immersion from the Captain’s Journey, so we mapped out, tested, observed and iterated A LOT on the game’s features to make sure everything feels right. The unfairness of it all is that you only notice these things when something doesn’t work. This natural and fluent gameplay feeling was unexpectedly hard to achieve, and yet it’s mostly unperceivable to our players.
3. Optimization: Consoles and PCs generate wild expectations of how games could and should look like in terms of the amount of details and overall visual quality… This happens both in our future players and ourselves as game devs, because well, we are gamers too! On the other hand, VR is perceived as state-of-the-art technology, the next step of PC and Console gaming, so it is only natural that people expect VR games to look better or at least the same as their console/PC counterparts. But what most people don’t take into consideration is that VR games have the same computational resources than their consoles and PCs have… with the huge additional challenge of having to render everything TWICE! Once for each eye! And to kick you while you are down because the players are immersed in the middle of the scene, they can look at things from a closer distance than ever before!!! You don’t play your console games with your TV at the tip of your nose, do you? And, if you want to cry a little bit more, this problem is even greater for untethered devices, those understandably have way fewer resources than a console, imagine how hot and heavy it would be to tape an Xbox Series X to your head. That said, limitations are fun and spark creativity, and thanks to this resource scarcity and a lot of mindful work, we end up with a weird and unique identity for the game that we are now so proud of.”
Captain Toonhead vs The Punks from Outer Space is coming to Steam, Oculus, and PlayStation VR. Do we have a release date and will the PSVR version have an option for the Aim controller?
Enrique: “The game is coming this summer, but we haven’t announced a specific date. Soon! You wield two weapons in the game (one on each hand) and change from blasters to hammers to chanclas, so we didn’t think it would work well with the Aim controller.”
Will there be leaderboards within the game?
LD: “Not at launch. We focused on providing a great single-player experience first, but they are definitely coming in future updates!.”
If you could open that door that allowed you to enter a Virtual Reality dimension where you could not return but could be anyone at any time, who do you think you would be, what time period would it be, and what do you think you would be doing?
Enrique: “I would be Captain ToonHead fighting Voorhees punk army, wielding a mighty chancla to stun enemies, and wishlisting our game at <steam link>. Self-promote much? ´:)”
LD: “I would go to 1993, the FIRST thing I would do is to watch Jurassic Park for the first time again with my dad. After that’s out of the way, I would invest my lunch money in Apple and, decades later, I would reinvest those earnings in bitcoin, just to be sure I have enough money to overfund the VR research so today we… ok, I see it now, I learned NOTHING from Back To The Future. Sorry, Doc!”
With the content for Virtual Reality continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Captain Toonhead vs The Punks from Outer Space?
Enrique: “I honestly don’t think there’s anything quite like Captain ToonHead in the market right now. There’s the very narrative experiences, and then there’s the shoot shoot shoot experiences. Captain ToonHead provides a level of humor, narrative and we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously wackiness that not many VR games out there offer. Also as important, I believe we created something that truly blends what we love from tower defense, with FPS action, so you don’t feel like playing another diorama-style TD, but actually immersed in the battle from the front lines.”
LD: “On top of what Enrique said, I would only add that the Captain is the product of a geeky bunch of overgrown kids that luckily found each other and that together fulfilled their supposedly unreachable dream of making their very own videogame. We had a lot of fun building it, we irresponsibly threw a bunch of stuff we loved in it, and we ended up with something that we all are deeply proud of. But a game is not a game until it is played by somebody else, so we would love for you to join us in this journey and help us complete the game by playing it. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it for you!”
I really want to thank Enrique and Luis for taking the time out of their day and giving us a closer look at Captain Toonhead vs the Punks from Outer Space as well as talking about Virtual Reality.
Captain Toonhead vs the Punks from Outer Space is coming to PlayStation VR this Summer.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.