With just over a week left to run of Pax Online, gamespace took some time to get outside indoors and take on upcoming VR title Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia.
Set in the majestic Ionian forest, this new adventure from Rotu Entertainment allows gamers, and Pax Online attendees to jump into a fully immersive VR experience and save the Harpa. This mythical creature and talisman of the Ionian ecosphere is on the brink of destruction. A malevolent force marches across the lush vegetation of Ionia, turning what remains of the Harpa’s habitat into ash. Like any great quest, it’s up to an unassuming individual to save the day, in the first of a series of VR adventures.
Taking on the mantle of a young Ionian native, players are plunged into a VR world lush full of natural wonder. This single-player experience follows you and your sister Allegra, as you explore the natural wonder of the Ionian wild using your wits, and a little bit of musical magic, to save the creatures of Ionia from the oncoming Tritone Army. Stepping into Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia for the first time, it’s clear that this utterly charming adventure comes with a great deal of personal investment from the team at Rotu Entertainment.
Jason Parks, CEO of Rotu Entertainment explained exactly why he and his team had come to find themselves strapping into VR. Rotu is a multidisciplinary media company who have a history of documentary and filmmaking, with one particular project having a definite influence on their decision to save Ionia.
“We were hired by the Amazon aid foundation to fly and go backpacking into the Peruvian Amazon to film the illegal gold mining and deforestation happening there. Literally, I had a backpack on and had no right to be down there. I had no experience. We just marched and got on a boat. Three hours downriver, we got off and just marched into the jungle until we found land that was just devastated by a goldmine and filmed it and a lot of the natural beauty that was there as well. Ultimately, this created a music video and a documentary that brought hundreds of children together from over 90 different countries to sing a song of peace for the Amazon,”
The influences of this encounter make for a very interesting Pax Online demo. From the very first moment you strap on a compatible VR headset and move through the ruined interiors that play host to the Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia, this title stands apart. From the design of the wildlife to the musical themes that thread through Ionia, this title has an innocence and wonder that is infectious. The passages and abandoned hallways of this demo might seem relatively generic but the neon plantlife and design of Allegra are brilliant. You’ll even get an early glimpse of the enormous Brassaurus, a creature that seems somewhere between a Diplodocus, an elephant, and a tuba. It adequately whets the appetite and left me eager to get out into the bush to see what else we could find.
Getting Around Ionia
Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia provides six degrees of freedom for, but not limited to, tethered Vive and Oculus headsets. I have to admit that I found getting around Ionia a little unintuitive at first. Moving the right-side analog stick controls the movement of a positional cursor, allowing players to progress along an available path by teleporting. While this seems a little unnatural at first it utterly eliminates an element of motion sickness that left me in a bit of a haze when we reviewed Nostos for the first time. There’s still plenty of range for movement in the Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia Pax demo, however. Almost every obstacle that players encounter comes in the form of a puzzle. Rather than blow through the Tritone army, Allegra and her sister spend much of this opening chapter navigating highlighted yellow handholds and hanging vines as Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia.makes use of vertical movement to split up the monotony of teleporting from A to B.
When talking about building Ionia in VR, Jason noted that:
“Back in 2015, I tried the Vive. My business partner, Amir, also tried the Vive. When I put it on, I saw the whale go by in the blue. I ripped off the headset and just knew this is what I’m doing with the rest of my life. We realised that this was the medium we wanted to tell initially our story in”
Of course, VR is more than just freedom. It’s an ability to take players back to another world, dance with dinosaurs, or get close to nature, as Jason points out.
“What we wanted to do in VR is instead of try and create something literal is to try something different. I think with VR, you have an opportunity to create a hyper-realistic world. You’re able to make something that no one’s ever seen before and will never see again. It’s something that can’t be recreated anywhere else.”
It’s clear that with Ionia, Rotu isn’t just focused on making a jungle trek with a different look. Ionia has its very own soundscape to explore. The co-founders of Rotu Entertainment are from MIT and Berklee College of Music and this influence is already baked into the heart of what developer Rotu does. Thus, music lies at the heart of Ionia. This is more than just a thematic reference, however. If the title card wasn’t enough of a hint, music weaves a consistent thread throughout Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia’s puzzles, narrative, and even it’s native wildlife. From the call and refrain puzzle that asks gamers to play their way through a blocking puzzle, to the design of signature wildlife in Ionia, there’s a unique and slightly magical approach to the world-building in Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia. Just wait until you meet the part slug part Ocarina native to the Ionian jungle.
While the joy of music and the unrelenting beauty of Ionia are central features of this single-player VR title, Rotu expects that this brand new game is just the first of several steps in a new narrative. Jason describes Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia as, “Our Lord of the Rings. It’s this giant saga that we want to tell.”
Ionia is just one of the several regions situated in the supercontinent of Pangea. Each area of Pangea comes with its own story to tell. Across each chapter of this narrative, Rotu plans to bring a different perspective to the fate of Pangea and its inhabitants. While Allegra and her people are just one end of the scale, future journies will dip into regions like Lydia, which will be underwater, and Aeolian, which will be a sort of desert terrain. Carrying on the mix of music and aesthetic direction, Jason detailed how each territory and tale will come with its own tonal shift.
“Each of the different regions is based on different modes of music. We have the Ionian Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian mode in music, and each one of those lands on the supercontinent Pangea is one of those modes”
The Tritone Army, for example, come from a land-based on the Locrian mode. This gritty tone reflects an inhospitable environment full of jagged rocks and desolate landscapes. It reflects the extremes of this all-consuming approach to the natural world and represents its own environmental mission. While themes of animal, water, and other conservation might sometimes seem heavy-handed, Rotu has crafted a genuinely interesting adventure, at least from what I’ve seen, and let’s be clear that the fate of Ionia is an increasingly relevant one for many of us. As the west coast of the United States fights seemingly apocalyptic skies and our ability to save the natural world starts to slip away, modern media like this tends to shine a light on the choices we make.
Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia is definitely more of an experience than an action-packed blowout, but Rotu Entertainment has done more than just craft a walking simulator and I’m eager to see the more of the same forest where the Brassaurus roam. Check out the Pax Online demo for Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia before it launches on VR platforms later in 2020.