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Presented in partnership with Magic Leap. Tune into the L.E.A.P. keynote at 9 a.m. PT on Wednesday, October 10.
Magic Leap, the groundbreaking wearable pocket PC/augmented reality company, is holding its inaugural L.E.A.P. conference this week offering presentations and demos for industry professionals (follow Gamasutra's ongoing coverage here). Thanks to Magic Leap, we were able to attend the conference today to try some of those demos for ourselves.
While we explored creation tools, medical AR, science games, and a wonderful shooter at L.E.A.P., the star of the demo sessions was Wingnut AR’s hysterical Pest Control. Wingnut AR, a New Zealand studio, was formed by famed movie director Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh. While Jackson wasn’t involved in the making of the game that we know of, fans of his early work will find Pest Control’s dark humor familiar.
Players take the role of a new worker at a sci-fi pest control company, lead along their day by a sardonic voice coming from a speaker on the wall. On one side of the room is a table with lab equipment and a disposal box. The demo is designed to teach you the basics of pest control, from swinging a bat to welding a sawed-off shotgun or utilizing a flamethrower. You know, everyday work.
"We instinctively dodged each swipe from the faceless toilet beast."
As the level progresses, it becomes clear that you’re dealing with special bugs; the roaches find ways to escape and the spider’s blood is toxic waste. New weapons come in the form of experiments you’re asked to perform between fights with bugs. It was during this later part of the demo where the game truly began to shine. While the constant mockery of the announcer put a smile on our face, Pest Control took on a life of its own when an experiment went wrong.
While blasting a flamethrower around the room, we accidentally started a fire which lead to a chemical spill. Acid flooded off the table and melted the floor of the room. It was the first time all day we felt the urge to take off our headset and make sure the room didn’t really have a hole in it.
When you examine the hole, it reveals a crappy office building bathroom. As you laugh at the chaos you’ve caused another surprise awaits, a monstrous hive of tentacles that explodes from one of the toilets. This “boss battle” of sorts requires you to freeze and then explode the monster with the sawed-off shotgun. While there wasn’t a life bar to keep track of, we instinctively dodged each swipe from the faceless toilet beast. It gave us the illusion of playing a game, even when the world couldn’t interact back.
Pest Control’s greatest strength is the way it uses character and story to immerse you in a world that can’t hit you back. Blasting bugs is fun, but there’s no real sense of danger when nothing is biting. Utilizing the speaker to mock you and teach you new things, similarly to how Portal uses GLaDOS, drew us deeper into Pest Control than standard shooters. When the (digital) floor literally dissolved beneath our feet we were so busy trying to get the announcer off our back that we were genuinely shocked.
From a design standpoint the game is easy to pick up, more interested in getting you into the game than it is forcing you to learn mechanics. But its simplicity is why it's easy to get lost in its world. Augmented reality is often a fun gimmick with underutilized storytelling. Here the story is only possible because of the augmented reality. While we hope the final version of the game includes a life bar, just for a little challenge, we’d crawl through roaches to play it again as-is.