Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes taught me how to trust my coworkers and defuse the bomb. The game is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see for the Oculus Rift: something that uses virtual reality to further the mechanics of the game, while still keeping it accessible to everyone.
So let’s back up. In Keep Talking, one player wears a virtual-reality headset (in our case, the Oculus Rift), and the other is presented with a hefty manual of instructions. The person in the Rift sees a bomb with a set of modules, each of which is a puzzle. That person has to describe those puzzles to the person with the manual, who then explains how to defuse the bomb.
It’s a whacky scenario that was inspired by an episode of Archer where the character has to defuse a bomb while getting instructions over the radio, resulting in comical misunderstandings.
“That is the game we want to make,” developer Brian Fetter told me. “We want to make a game that’s about exploiting people’s bad communication.”
The flip side of that is that the game encourages and teaches good communication. With the puzzles they designed, the team focused on finding new communication methods for each one.
The first bomb, which Courtney and I played, has three modules. One with wires (a classic), one with a button that has a word on it, and one that has four buttons with symbols on them. Even the wire-cutting puzzle wasn’t as simple as, “Oh yeah, cut the red wire!”
Courtney asked me first how many wires there were (I can’t count, so I just recited their colors in order), and then she asked me for the last three letters of the bomb’s serial number. I couldn’t see her or the manual, so all I could do was what she asked and hope that I was describing it well enough. The symbols were the most fun.
“There’s no analogue in real life for most of them,” Fetter said. ” People have to come up with funny words and hope that the other person is on the same wavelength as them.”
Our set included “backwards Euro sign with two dots” and “that ae that British people use for encyclopedia,” which fortunately Courtney was able to understand. Thanks to her help, I was able to press the buttons in the correct order and defuse our bomb with two minutes left on the clock. By the end of it my heart was racing, and I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finally pulled off that headset.
But that’s just the beginning. Keep Talking includes tons of procedurally generated bomb puzzles of varying difficulty.
“Every puzzle, when we built it, if it didn’t have an interesting communication method we threw it out,” said Fetter. “It has to be something where both people are going to be involved at every stage.”
Fetter also explained what happens with more difficult puzzles. “We have one where it’s about trying to interpret this Venn diagram together. There’s one where you have to do Morse code, there’s one where you have to solve a maze.”
The team is driven by the desire to make a VR game that doesn’t isolate the people with the headset—a game that anyone can play.
“There’s definitely sort of a stigma around VR, that you have to be kind of a hardcore gamer or someone who’s really an enthusiast. But what we’ve seen with this is that we can bring in all kinds of people who may not have an interest in VR, or they may not have seen the point of it, and they can see how this kind of game can really benefit from that.”
I can’t stress enough how much I loved this. I’ve seen VR games that are beautiful or immersive, but I hadn’t seen a game that was pure fun and that meshes so well with how I play games. It’s very rare that I want to isolate myself and get lost in a game—especially since my console is set up in the living room where, you know, people hang out. This is the kind of game I wouldn’t hesitate to bring out with anyone, because it’s super freaking cool. It uses the hardware to full advantage, and doesn’t punish people for not being familiar with a controller or not having used VR before.
And just because it’s accessible doesn’t mean it’s easy. After Courtney and I tackled the first bomb, I had the pleasure of watching two of my friends, both med students, crash and burn on a harder puzzle.
I think that’s a really important step for this blossoming medium, and it seems like the guys at Steel Crate Games know it too.
“We’d love to be the definitive VR party game, essentially. I mean we love the idea that this is gonna be something that people can bring people into VR with.”
Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes will be released on Steam in October. It’s out right now for Gear VR. The Steam version will be playable without the Oculus Rift, and I definitely recommend trying it out. I suspect it will be worth playing without the Oculus Rift. Personally, I’m planning on trying to play it with someone else over the phone or Skype in another room, to recreate that feeling of isolation—at least until I can get my hands on the Oculus.
There’s definitely something special about being in VR and feeling so far away from someone who is right next to you. Especially when there’s a ticking time bomb right in your face.