The Assembly: Preview

The Assembly from nDreams, a story driven VR experince

The biggest presence at this year’s EGX Rezzed was without a doubt VR. Both Sony and Microsoft are pushing their respective VR peripherals as we approach the imminent launch of the Sony PlayStation VR and the inevitability that the Oculus Rift wont be too far behind, not to mention the countless other VR headsets available, from the Samsung Gear to the HTC Vive. It comes as no surprise that VR was such a focus this year by any stretch of the imagination. This is of course the prime opportunity to get these pieces of tech into the hands, or should that be onto the faces, of the gamers who will eventually looking to part with their hard earned cash to own one.

Of the games we saw; from giant cop, which had us take control of, wait for it…a giant cop, in order to rid a city of crime. Onto The Blu VR where we were plunged into the depths of the ocean and watched as a Blue Whale and other sea life swam around us. All offered impressive but relatively limited experiences, we are in one location and we are observing and repeating the same tasks over and over, you could of course ague that this is all a video game does in general but in theses instances I felt like I was playing an experience rather than a game.


How the game looks to the outside world


One standout however was The Assembly from nDreams. The Assembly had arguably the longest queues for any of the VR games at this years EGX Rezzed and it was the one VR game I was most looking forward to trying out. VR titles usually pick a scenario and, to me at least, refine that experience and show off how impressive the tech is and that’s all I ever really come away with. What sets The Assembly apart from those games is it’s focus on story, characters and world building; the VR is merely the doorway through which we must enter to experience these things.

The Assembly are an organisation who has been experimenting and researching god only knows what, without any ethical or moral boundaries and it is up to the player to expose them. You take control of two characters each with a different play style.

The Assembly 3

Firstly we have Madeleine Stone, a scientist who agrees to work with The Assembly in order to further her own research which through a series of unfortunate circumstances has been halted. Madeline has been abducted by The Assembly and in order for The Assembly to co-operate with Madeline’s request for help on her research must preform a variety of tests to prove her worth to The Assembly. These range from simple logic puzzles to tests of endurance and more complex puzzles.

Then there is Cal Pearson, Cal works in one of the research labs at The Assembly, his sections will be far less elaborate and focus more on story and exploration. While working in the labs and doing his research Cal will be able to discover more about what The Assembly is up to behind closed doors. The tests Cal performs start to worry him and eventually he will decide to take as much evidence as he can and run in order to stop whatever plans The Assembly has.

the assembly 2

One of Madeleine’s trials

The demo open to us at EGX Rezzed put us in control of Madeleine at the start of her story. This also happens to be the best way to get introduced to VR, Madeleine is strapped to a gurney and wheeled through the Nevada dessert towards the bunker housing The Assembly’s research facilities. All the player can do at this point is look around as they are transported. Madeleine keeps having flashbacks to some of the events that lead her to be inducted into The Assembly. These smalls snippets of back story fill in a little of what Madeleine has gone through but still leaves her a mystery, dotted around each flashback are clues that the player has to really focus on to get more of the whole picture.

I found it an odd sensation sat in the VR headset at the nDreams booth, I was fully aware I was sat in a chair next to a few other gamers with what is essentially a large pair of novelty sunglasses on my head, before I got to gave a go myself I watched other players as they leaned around imaginary corners and immediately thought: “I’m not going to do anything that stupid”. Almost instantly after putting on the headset I forgot about all the people watching as was immersed in The Assembly.

As I tilted and moved my head I could see more of the world and the urge to peek over and under tables and around corners in overwhelming; at one point I even leaned over the gurney Madeleine was strapped to and even reached out my arm to grab onto the side bar as I peered over at a part of the game that most games would never have even shown. The sheer amount of detail that must have gone into building the environments and objects is staggering, as I mentioned before, that isn’t the point of The Assembly. Environments are not just playgrounds for the player to explore and marvel at, they all tell a story and the detail serves as proof that this world is inhabited. I came away likening the experience to the first time I explored Rapture in Bioshock; the meticulous detail isn’t just for decoration there is purpose to the environments in The Assembly and all I wanted to do after my brief time spent with the game was over was to jump back in and explore some more.

We spoke to someone from nDreams to find out more


Could you tell is a little bit about the game?


The Assembly is a narrative lead game. Its centred around an organisation which is very morally dubious, they are sort of a Google gone rogue. They are progressing with technological breakthroughs and pushing ahead with research into medicine and science at an incredible rate but they don’t really care how they get there. The ends justify the means.


Could you tell is a bit about what you will experience?


So you play from two different perspectives, two characters. Madeline Stone who us a scientist who has been inducted into The Assembly, so she has been sold the dream of The Assembly and the good it can do. On the flip side you have Cal Pearson, Cal Pearson is a member of The Assebly and has been there for years and has contributed to some of the great tings they have been doig. However he’s got to a point where he realises that what they are now starting to do has got to a point that has gone past what he deems acceptable morally and ethically.

So you play as these two characters across a story, which tonally is very different to what you might expect from most video games.


Why did you pick to tell this story through a VR game?


One of the things we felt worked really well in VR is that a story that is more human, more grounded is much more impactful that something that is bombastic or over the top. With more believable characters, some of which you inhabit there is more of a connection that can be made. We look at is as the connection made to characters in an HBO series like True Detective for example as opposed to the connection you make with the characters in something like Avengers Assemble.


And how does game play work?


So gameplay wise it’s split into two halves, Madeleine and Cal. Madeleine’s chapters are more gameplay based, so she is put through a series of trials and each trial has different puzzles or different dilemmas to face, so some of them are moral tests and others are simulations of disasters for example. More traditional adventure and puzzle game play in other words. Cal’s chapters on the other had are more about exploring and we know from playtests that exploring is much more interesting in VR and players want to lean in to get a look at objects and get immersed in the world a lot more.


Yeah I found I had the urge to lean over and actually tried to grab parts of the environment as I was playing. Was The Assembly always going to be a VR game?


Yes it was built from the ground up for virtual reality and also we didn’t want to make something that was just for virtual reality we wanted to make something that serves as the perfect introduction to VR as well. So the first chapter, which we’ve shown today, starts you off on rails then it introduces you to movement and gradually gets the player comfortable with VR. At the same time we wanted to make something which is quite a deep and expansive experience compared to a lot of the other VR games out there. Some of which are obviously fantastic but are quite limiting in terms of scope at times.


What is the average playtime in The Assembly?


Good question, we are not sure on the actual length just yet it’s still being put together and finalised. So when we set out was wanted to make a 4 to 5 hour experience so that’s a good benchmark. As the game is spilt up into chapters and each chapter will take around 20 minutes. We feel 20 minutes is a good length for a play session in VR then you can go off and do something else for a bit and come back to it. At the same time it doesn’t stop people playing for an hour or more as well.


Is that something you had to deal with? VR games often come with warnings about being sat for any extended period of time.


Speaking from personal experience I had to acclimatise to VR a bit myself but now I can sit and play for hours so I think it’s very much a personal preference on that front.


Thank you for your time one last question what can we play it on and when can we play it?


It will be available on PC on the HTC Vive and that will be out this summer. It is also coming out for PlayStation 4 and that will be out following the lainch of the PlayStation VR.

What are your thoughts on VR gaming? let us know in the comments

– Dan P



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