Image courtesy of Samurai Punk

The American Dream

A Satire by Samurai Punk

Last modification: 15 Sep, 2017
10 mins

It should come as no surprise to you that this video game contains guns. But, I bet you haven’t seen them like this before…

The American Dream mashes up a wholesome vintage art style with guns, guns and more guns. Even the babies are packing!

We chatted with Australian indie devs, Samurai Punk about creating this unique VR shooter, jumping over VR hurdles, and discovering their studio’s mission in the world of games.


How did this idea come about?

Nick: It came out after a lot of time spent making video games. We’ve played many shooters, and we've become very introspective after making a game called Screencheatwhich is a family-friendly FPS that's really odd. We intentionally made it family-friendly because we used to play FPS games as kids and we wanted to make sure the experience was actually family-friendly. We were wondering what the shooter does when he goes home at night. He's clearly into video games. He doesn't have anything to do except shoot. He must just go home and shoot everything. We thought it'd be funny to try and turn that into a game. It took about six months that roughly emulated to the experience we have now. That idea probably was dwelling in our heads for about a year before we even started prototyping it.

Why the art style and why did you choose 1950's America?

Nick: The 1950’s look is really cool, just from a purely aesthetic perspective. The ‘American Dream’, as a concept, is fake. We thought it'd be really cute to create a surreal reality within virtual reality that is already well known. The 1950’s just works really well. Traditional American values such as home-cooking, the nuclear family, guns- it just made sense. We were trying to find a setting and that was the first one that really clicked for us. 

The American Dream © Image courtesy of Samurai Punk

What are you using in your pipeline?

Nick: I'm using Max and have been using Max for a while now. Mostly because it’s what I’m familiar with. The other main artist, Syrian is using Maya. I think we all pipe with Unity. We're not using any real middleware other than that. The games in VR are so simple. It's mostly all hand-painted textures, so it's just Max, Unity, and Photoshop for the textures.

Do you hand painted some textures?

Nick: Well, we wanted to go with a cheap aesthetic- it's referencing Rockwell. We're trying to get our style to feel like it's semi-realistic. The colors aren't completely stylized. In VR, we notice that realistic-looking textures don't look how they do in real life. You want to go with a softer look. What we'll do is we'll start creating a brick tile by hand by taking a photo of a brick and its outer texture, and you'll go through it and soften out all the details and make it look a little more stylized - more like a painting. It's not completely hand-textured, but it's got a softened touch to it.

What did you use for environments?

Nick: Most of the environments are built using modular props in Max and Maya. The game has no loading screen. It's a seamless level, so the real trick was building each level to connect to this generic tunnel sequence. You play the game, you're in an area and then when the game levels are there you press a button, and the walls will collapse, fold, or they'll move away in some particular fashion. Then you go through the wall into this tunnel, which is hiding a loading bar. Everything had to be very ‘handmade’ for the way the player would enter and exit the level. As a result, we try to keep structural stuff very handmade and then everything else as modular as possible so it can be moved easily.

The American Dream © Image courtesy of Samurai Punk

What kind of technical challenges did you come across trying to make this game?

Nick: Making a narrative experience with a lot of the content was challenging. This is our first time working with more than one artist. We have four different artists working on a project between full time and part time. We had to scale up the team to produce all the unique content. We had illustrated characters which are painted on wood. We have unique levels, and every level has custom art. We're using very little content between levels, and then we have to do writing on top of that. We have to sequence all the gameplay on top of that. From a production perspective, it's very different from what we've done before. It used to just be you build a level, done. Then you reuse as much as you can the next level.

Why wood paintings?

Nick: All the characters in the game are illustrated people on wood backing. It gives the game a kind of spooky vibe. This wooden person comes towards you, and their arm snaps 90 degrees and animates. When Mom sees you in the first level in the tutorial, her only point of articulation is a bend at her waist. There's no smoothing or blending on it. It's just a smack joint, and it just bends straight down. She has two joints on her arm with gyros behind them, so she'll move in very nonlinear motions. She'll bend down with a gun in her hand and see you from her gun.

Did you come over any obstacles for The American Dream?

Nick: We had a lot of physics issues. Your moves would be going through an object, and it would not break. Kick the object, and it would go flying. We tried to smooth that out a lot. We had a pretty weird solution. The correct solution is making something 10 times heavier. It's pretty awful. I've been told that it’s no longer necessary as a solution. There are better ways to do it. In fact, we're so far into development now, we can't really stop doing it. We don't have a lot of locomotion in the game, and the locomotion we do have is very linear. The standard locomotion fix is make everything as linear as possible. The object should accelerate almost instantaneously and should then move at a linear pace. So far so good, but once we start filling it with more audio and more other stuff, it'll get really heavy.

The American Dream © Image courtesy of Samurai Punk

How do you think VR has helped inform your viewers of the narrative you're trying to tell, the story you're trying to tell?

Nick: I don't think the game would be nearly as effective in non-VR. VR gives the player a lot of control, but it also gives the player very little control. Because the expectation in VR more often or not the player is in a room or they’re in one place, they move around where they’re able, and the players are more willing to sit back and enjoy something. We're able to do a lot with that because we have guns for hands. The presence that you get in VR enables smaller things to be much more impactful like dialogue or things that are much weirder in VR. VR is very effective at scaring you or shocking you- it’s surreal humor. Even though you can't guarantee that they'll be looking at something at any one time, you could do a trick to incentivize the player to look at something. It wasn't until we got our VR hardware that we actually started prototyping the game. We never really knew what form it would take. We were like, "Okay, we want a game about doing everything dumb." That's as far as we got until we had some hardware and we started playing around with it. You could literally have jumps ahead to do everything with jumps. You can move. You could put your thumbs through a coffee cup and drink your coffee. That was the first funny thing that helped get the concept across, and mentally it occurred to us that's the right way to do it.

Is this your first VR game?

Nick: Yes, but it won't be our last for sure. We are working on another one that hasn't been announced yet.

What has the overall experience working in VR been like?

Nick: It's very different. You can't really rely on having a lot of inputs in terms of control, but you can rely on very responsive hacking for the player being able to move their head around. You need to think about your design before you can start what the player's going to do. That opened up a lot of interesting opportunities for us.

In The American Dream, you're ready to take the advantage of the fact that the player has hands in a really cool way. The VR game, players have guns for hands, and that was really important to us. VR provides the presence this game needs to be effective at communicating a message and being funny. Having guns for hands is half the joke. With the other project we're working on we're doing some really interesting stuff. Taking something and putting it in a space that lets you do a lot more stuff with it- a lot more exciting things.

It seems that you have found the direction for the studio: you are trying to break the boundaries of gaming.

Nick: Yes, that's a really good idea of what we want to do. We've done funny. Hazuminowas a really neat mobile game that meshed up genres. Screencheat was about taking something really mundane like an FPS and adding something really different which was making players invisible. This new game is about placing something old but making it new. It's all I can say about it. That's the goal of Samurai Punk: to make the weirdest games possible and have a lot of fun doing it. Hopefully other people really enjoy what we make.

The American Dream was made with 3ds MaxMaya, and the Unity engine. Trade your hands for guns in late 2017.

  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • VR
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