Bullet Hell shooters and VR? Sounded to me like a recipe for disaster. But then again, I'm not Secret Location. This developer has managed to make a neat combination out of two genres that aren't really known for dovetailing. Add a little bit of 80's nostalgia and some tongue in cheek humor, and you've got yourself "Blasters of the Universe." I recently got a chance to play the game and talk to one of the developers behind it.

The Interview

Blasting News: For the uninitiated, could you explain "Blasters of the Universe?"

Secret Location: "Blasters of the Universe" is a VR bullet hell shooter.

It features a big bad villain who was that kid in the arcade when you were growing up; a couple years older than everyone else with a chip on his shoulder. Very good at video games. He puts himself into VR in the nineties; obviously that industry collapses. So, he's been in there by himself for twenty years and he's made himself into this self styled VR god and now we're going to VR to take it from him. He's not really happy about it, but at the same time, he's lonely and a manchild. So, he makes little backhanded comments while you play.

BN: He reminds me a bit of Lo Pan from "Big Trouble in Little China."

SL: Oh, right. Yeah. *Laughs* He definitely has that sort of vibe, you know?

BN: Speaking of which, any movies or TV shows serve as an inspiration?

SL: Oh, Yeah. "Grandma's Boy" was a big reference for the character. Also, I think a lot of stuff on Adult Swim; just like in the humor and a little crudeness in there as well. Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, obviously, we're channeling a lot of "Tron" in there too.

BN: So, how did you guys come up with the idea of a first person bullet hell shooter game?

SL: Originally, during the development, it didn't start out as a bullet hell shooter. Then, as we were playing and refining it a lot in the first six months, we realized that it was a lot more fun to have more bullets coming at you. So, we ended up building this bullet map for our designers. They just paint on a 32x32 bitmap to create different patterns that the enemies could fire.

It was really just an evolution of playing it and seeing what was fun.

BN: Any growing pains in finding out how to do bullet hell shooters in first person?

SL: Yeah, definitely. I mean, especially with VR. Everything is so brand new at the moment. Originally, you could get damaged anywhere on your body, and we found that that was super annoying and not as fun. So, we took a look at traditional bullet hells in the 2D space and seeing how that worked and tried to make an analogue to that in VR. Now you can only get damaged on your head, so that's an analogue to a ship in a 2D version. You can duck and weave and move between the bullets now. And also taking inspiration from the different weapons in those games as well.

BN: Were there other genres or aesthetics in mind before the 80's retro style?

SL: From the very start, we all had a clear vision of the aesthetic that we wanted. We wanted to have those big bold neon explosions. Big bosses and lost of big colorful stuff. It felt that a lot of games that were out at the time didn't have a bright color palette like your "Gears of War" and stuff like that. So, we really wanted it to just stand out and be big and bright.

BN: One thing I noticed was that it didn't take itself too seriously.

SL: *Chuckles* Yeah. Yeah.

BN: The main villain is very quippy. Who does the voice?

SL: He's actually voiced by one of the partners at the company. We were all jamming on Alwyn and his personality and how he would sound.

Pete, who's the creative directive partner, would be like, "Oh, yeah. And he says this," and he would do the voice. And for like four or five weeks, we were in the room and he was doing the voice. At the end, he was like, "Okay, who are we gonna get to do the voice?" And we were like, "Well, obviously, you're gonna do the voice. You're Alwyin now." So, we just get him in the recording booth and give him a few beers and he just goes for it.

BN: How is the difficulty curve?

SL: We have a pretty gentle difficulty curve for the first level. And we try to teach you the mechanics step by step. We have a nice little tutorial that's very easy to understand, so you can understand that you have to move and you can only take damage on your head.

We give you some more defensive tools initially and then as the campaign progresses, we give you a more aggressive tool set.

BL: In addition to the two guns and shield in the demo, what other weapons will be in the final product?

SL: Well, one of the core mechanics of the game is weapon customization. And each gun is made up of five different pieces. So, you can build and customize your loader to how you want to play; say a one shot sniper or like a shotgun effect. Each of the different weapon frames have special abilities such as missile barrage and a time slowing effect. And you can choose from like a myriad of different shields which all have special abilities too.

BN: Will there be a higher emphasis on narrative in the final product?

SL: Yeah, in the full version of the game we do have a campaign mode with a big intro sequence when you boot it up. And you have structured levels as you go through the campaign.

BN: When is it coming out and what platforms?

SL: We're on early access on Steam right now. Full release this year on July on Oculus and Steam.

BN: If "Blasters of the Universe" had a breakfast cereal, what would it be?

SL: *smiles* It would be big and bright and neon and have a lot of sugar in there. And it would have Alwyn on the box slamming it down. He'd be cherry flavored.

BN: Alright. Thank you very much.

SL: *shakes hand* Cheers, mate.