Interview: Echo Arena tips and perspective from Game Director Dana Jan

Echo Arena's recent open betas have been the talk of the VR gaming community. The multiplayer virtual reality sport, which we wrote about back before it officially spun-off from the single-player Lone Echo, combines elements of Ender's Game, Tron, and Ultimate Frisbee. We've been playing it ourselves in the office (look for our review later this week), and have found that it has provided a level of competitive thrill that other VR experiences just haven't been able to deliver. 

As fun as Echo Arena is, though, it can be tough to master. For help, we got in touch with Dana Jan, Game Director of both Echo Arena and Lone Echo, for gameplay tips, strategic guidance, and perspective form the development team on the success of the game's open beta. 

GameCrate: How can players most effectively use the launch tubes at the start of each round? What do you need to do to use them, and is there anything players might be missing?

Dana Jan: Different strategies have been emerging with the launch tubes since we started development. Basic catapult operation requires one hand for holding the catapult ring and the other for hitting the “LAUNCH” button that appears in the center of the ring when the launch tube doors open.

There’s the obvious speed advantage you get from rocketing out of the launch tube via the catapult when attempting to gain possession of the disc during what we call “the joust”. We’re seeing players daisy-chain and leverage the momentum of a teammate to reach higher speeds when using the catapult. This requires coordination and timing but there is risk involved. If the player holding the catapult doesn’t release their grip on time or drives their train of teammates into an obstacle, you’ve just lost the joust and possible taken multiple players out of the action.

There are so many other ways to use the launch tubes and we’re excited to see what players come up with through experimentation.

GC: What are some tips that can help turn an Echo Arena beginner into a pro?

DJ: One tip I have that I can’t stress enough is to really communicate with your team. We see games change drastically when players start talking to each other. Your skills in all of the core mechanics (moving, boosting, disc handling, etc.) will improve with time and practice. Using your voice and even non-verbal communication to improve team coordination is really going to elevate your game.

It’s a team sport. If a teammate makes a brake for the opposing goal with the disc in hand, call out if they’ve got anyone on their six. If they know they can take that extra second to line up a shot on goal it could mean the difference between a sweet laser show or that soul-crushing “clang” sound you hear when the disc hits the goal frame.

A more obvious tip is to spend time really mastering moving, pivoting, and pushing off the environment with your hands. The micro-thrusters, boost, and brake have their place in getting around the arena, but hand-over-hand mastery will separate new players from pros when it comes to agility.

GC: Have you seen any effective strategies that have surprised you from members of the public playing the game?

DJ: Absolutely. We’ve been really excited and surprised at how quickly the community is discovering some of the more advanced facets of the sport. Just a few days ago, a gameplay clip went around the office where a pair of teammates pulled off a slick coordinated joust tactic. Player1 held onto Player2’s back as they came out of the launch tubes at high speed. Player2 grabbed the disc in the center of the arena and immediately threw it up toward one of the curved “ramps” keeping the disc moving toward the enemy goal and going over the opposing players. Player1 pushed off Player2 at the same moment and flew straight toward the goal. The disc starts coming down from the ramp above (Player1 matched speed and anticipated the trajectory of the disc) and Player1 catches it and fires off a 2 point shot that goes in.

I’m surprised how quickly players are getting the hang of the game and the accelerated rate at which they’re uncovering the depth it. We’re stoked to see footage like that!

GC: What’s the most common mistake you saw players making in the open beta?

DJ: I don’t know that this is the most common mistake, but we saw a whole lot of what we call “kid soccer” when the open beta first launched. We call it “kid soccer” when the disc goes off toward the outer bounds of the arena and everyone swarms it in a frenzy to gain possession. You’ll see a bunch of players piled up on each other, fists are flying, stuns and shields are glowing, but no one is really making a strategic improvement to the situation. Eventually someone gets their hands on the disc long enough to fling it out of the scrum, but it’s usually a wild throw.

It’s funny and chaotic, and I think people quickly learn the need to cover positions, plan several moves in advance, and communicate to avoid putting all of their players in one spot. It still happens in games at the office

GC: How important do you think a third, room-scale Oculus sensor is in order to succeed?

DJ: Most of us developing the game have two sensors at our desks and we’re able to play the game fine. When positioned properly, you can get really good coverage from two sensors. And because our game is meant to be played standing and turning in place without walking around, a room-scale setup was never a necessity. You certainly need enough space to comfortably and safely reach in all directions with some buffer for lunging, throwing, punching, and occasionally drifting off center.

GC: What was the reception like for the game’s open beta?

DJ: The reception was awesome! We couldn’t have been happier with how the VR community showed their interest and support for the game. Developers on our team were jumping into lobbies and matches to see firsthand how things were going. We met so many great people. The interactions you can have with them because of our full-body avatars and zero-g environment are incredible. Players would find out that we were developers and they’d glide over and tell us how much fun they were having.

I personally got a guided tour of our social lobby by a player who was kind enough to point out the bugs he had found. It’ surreal. We were also shocked by the number of positive posts about Echo Arena in the Oculus subreddit when the first beta went live. We want to thank everyone for participating and helping us make it even better.

GC: Are you planning any significant changes between the game’s final open beta and launch?

DJ: We’re going to continue to make refinements based on observations and community feedback. There are still some highly requested social features coming that didn’t make it into the final beta. Communicating directly with our users in VR has been amazing. Ever since the first beta, we’ve been jumping into lobbies and matches to gain firsthand knowledge of what we can do to make Echo Arena better. So we’re going to continue to watch the game grow and we’ll listen and react to the needs of our community.

GC: What are your plans for keeping an active player-base once the game launches? How hands-on do you plan to be with balance tweaks or special events?

DJ: Because the potential for player skill growth is really unique in our game and so personally satisfying, we’re seeing people consistently return to improve their game. Players are spending time after matches and in the lobby training areas exchanging tips and tricks with each other.

Competition is a driving factor for any sport, and Echo Arena is no exception. We have a built-in player progression system, stat-tracking with leaderboards that you can view in the lobby, avatar customizations, etc., to give players feedback on how they are doing.

The plan is to continue to be actively involved in the evolution of Echo Arena. We love to play this game ourselves. We’re constantly engaging with our players online and are committed to keeping the game fun. The upcoming VR Challenger League is an incredible opportunity for us, and we intend to be very involved during the event and all future events.

Echo Arena officially launches on July 20, and will be available for free for all Oculus owners who download the game within the first three months. After that window, the game will be $20. 

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