Interview: Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom developer Maze Theory on bringing the drama to VR

Interview: Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom developer Maze Theory on bringing the drama to VR
Ben Borthwick Updated on by

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VR and Peaky Blinders fans are gearing up for the upcoming release of Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom – which is due to arrive on Quest 2 and Pico headsets next week.

The game aims to take players into the world of the hit TV show like never before – even bringing in big names like Cillian Murphy and Paul Anderson to reprise their roles from the show.

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Ahead of the game’s release on March 9 – we spoke to Maze Theory’s Chief Creative Officer Russ Harding via email on bringing the world of Peaky Blinders to VR – and if a PSVR 2 version could be on the cards.

What was the thinking behind the decision to make a Peaky Blinders game in VR?

We were obviously huge fans of the award-winning TV series’ and the world Steven Knight has created in post-World War I Britain. We were looking to explore a new challenge in VR and wanted to work with an IP and genre that would identify with a large audience.

I think the reason people will really relate to Peaky Blinders The King’s Ransom is in the premise of being a gangster, the setting around a gritty and lawless world, the immersiveness of the storytelling and a time period that people want to explore.

What makes the Peaky Blinders world a great VR playground?

The immersive setting of Peaky Blinders was something that already resonated with the fan base and public influencing fashion, haircuts and creating many immersive events.

Something that VR can uniquely do is to allow players to actually feel like they can experience being a part of an IP itself by placing them in a world they already love, and take them to places that they couldn’t otherwise experience. 

Peaky Blinders allows us to create an authentic experience set in a world full of gritty gameplay and extreme moral choices, where players get to feel the weight of their own decisions. The world is also populated with an amazing cast, both historical and fictional characters. Again allowing us to engage players in a believable narrative and for us to bring them face to face with iconic characters from the show.

The world of the Peaky Blinders creates an exciting playground in which to experience wish-fulfilling moments of subversion, narrative intrigue and dramatic action – a world where all players (fans or ordinary players) will want to discover how their own story plays out.

What opportunities did making a VR game offer over a traditional FPS?

VR really allows the developer to place the player at the center of the story and give true agency in the worlds surrounding them. Having the sense of presence is something that traditional FPS’ just can’t do – the fact that you feel like you are really there. This really enhances the players’ connection with the game world encouraging exploration and the desire for interactivity with the objects and characters they discover. This opens up opportunities for players to role play and embody a character with their own personality.

As well as exploring the full game narrative and hunting down the game’s objectives players are able to move away from the narrative path to learn more about the world, find collectables and discover their own emergent gameplay- just as you would in the real world. Throwing darts, writing messages on blackboards, bowling tyres or creating your own basketball bin hoops add to the sense of presence and unique agency in a VR environment.

Micro-interactions such as lighting a cigarette, exhaling smoke, flicking ash or simply pouring a drink in the Garrison Pub suddenly become huge moments of pleasure and discovery.

Gunplay in VR becomes physical with players literally ducking and diving behind objects to avoid bullets and explosives. Loading a gun’s ammo with one hand whilst steading your aiming under enemy attack suddenly feels very intuitive, uniquely allowing players to bring their own style to combat.

Previously, Maze Theory has worked on properties like Doctor Who – did the change from sci-fi to a more grounded-in-reality based IP provide any unique challenges?

The experience of placing people into an IP they loved was something that we were very familiar with from working with Doctor Who.

One of our biggest challenges came through the introduction of virtual characters especially in VR. Our characters needed to deliver the goals of the game and drive the objectives and narrative forward. They needed to feel like the characters in the show and in some instances carry the performance of the world famous actors.

We needed to maintain the player’s suspension of disbelief by making the characters feel believable and responsive to the player’s presence. This meant we had to work through a huge number of scenarios and ‘stage direction’ to ensure players met the characters, they were rewarded by their performance and players could interact with them …. All usually avoided in VR titles.

Did you have a lot of freedom with what you could do in the Peaky Blinders universe?

We deliberately chose to take the story in between seasons 4–5, where audiences don’t really have full insight into the timeline. This allowed us to create a unique story working closely with Steven Knight & the showrunners to ensure we remained true to the lore and maintained the narrative intrigue which is such a signature of the show. We were lucky enough to have been given a lot of freedom in exploring new characters with Steven Knight’s help as well as locations and rival gangs all of which tie into the Peaky Blinders lore.

Is the game (and the events within it) canon within the series? 

This is a genuine original story in the world of the Peaky Blinders and as such the characters and events are now part of the canon, which is an amazing honor.

How closely did you get to work with the TV series’ production team and cast?

We felt it was important to work with the key talent from the show to remain authentic. We were fortunate enough to have Cillian Murphy reprise his role as Tommy Shelby and Paul Anderson as Arthur Shelby. Very sadly Helen Mccrory passed away during production, which was incredibly sad news. After much discussion with the showrunners we decided that Polly should appear in the game. Rather than mimicking Helen we worked with Ruth Gibson to sensitively take on the role of Polly and build around Helen’s legacy.

Working with talent such as Cillian Murphy and Paul Anderson gave us the fantastic opportunity to capture their performances. Cillian has played Tommy Shelby for the last 10 years and knows the character extensively so heavily added to the script. Paul Anderson who plays Arthur Shelby  has such a distinct physical performance we decided to work with him extensively in Mocap- Arthurs quite someone to be in the presence of in VR.

We also gained access to the archive of set designs, graphics and references to props used in the show. Allowing us to faithfully recreate environments like Garrison lane, The Garrison Pub, Betting shop and Watery Lane.

Of course a huge name in the world of VR is the imminent release of PSVR 2 – is there any specific reason it’s not currently slated for the format and can you talk about if it’ll come to PSVR2 in the future?

Our focus has been to ensure we push the boundaries as far as possible on the Meta Quest2 and Pico4 headsets. These are technically challenging platforms for developers and PeakyBlinders The King’s Ransom is an extremely demanding game on characters, interactions, authentic but large locations and explosive action. So that has been our solid focus. 

We would want to put the same effort towards any new VR platforms to ensure Peaky Blinders The King’s Ransom can take full advantage of what each of them offer. As we complete the releases we will be looking at the roadmap for DLC updates and possibly other platforms – it’s a case of watch this space.

A huge thanks to Russ Harding for answering our questions. Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom is set to launch on March 9 for Meta Quest 2 and PICO 4 VR headsets.

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