Studio Responsible for Gorilla Tag is Pushing Boundaries of Technology, Interaction & VR Sports

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Another Axiom established a name for itself with Gorilla Tag, which had generated over $26 million from in-app purchases by January 2023, just under two years after launching on Steam Early Access & Sidequest. Gorilla Tag is also the most-rated app on the Quest store, with over 93,000 reviews, nearly twice as many as the second most-rated game, Beat Saber. Even more impressive is the fact that 86% of Gorilla Tag’s ratings are 5 stars.

It’s truly astounding.

What’s even more amazing is that it’s quite possible that Another Axiom is on a path to repeat this performance.

The Upside Down Robot

Kerestell Smith had been a passionate VR enthusiast since the days of the Oculus DK2, a Developer Kit that began shipping in July 2014. Two years later Oculus released the Rift with touch controllers and Smith began playing Oculus Touch games. In the summer of 2017, he joined a small group of VR enthusiasts who were participating in a beta of a new VR sport from Ready At Dawn called Echo Arena.

Echo Arena was a competitive VR game that encouraged players to duck, jump, and dodge in physical reality to achieve similar motions in the zero-gravity virtual arena where their avatars were full body robots or “Echo Units.” The game’s combination of physicality and technology created a truly immersive experience.

Smith, who goes by the gamer tag “Lemming,” became a master at playing the game upside down – since it didn’t really matter which way you were oriented in zero-gravity, and he went on to captain the team that won the first two world championships of the Oculus-sponsored VR League.

All the while he was playing, he was also thinking about VR – developing a foundation and forming his own philosophies. He was also making connections and friends, including David Yee and David Neubelt.

David and Smith chat at Oculus Connect 5 in September 2018.

“The Davids”

David Yee has over 30 years of experience in the game industry, including Director – Studio Manager and Production at Oculus VR, where he partnered on projects such as Ready At Dawn’s Lone Echo, Insomniac Games’ The Unspoken and Stormland, and Hidden Path’s Brass Tactics.

In an interview for the Meta Quest Developer blog in December 2022, Yee recalled how he’d run into David Neubelt and Lemming at VR events like Connect and they’d discuss the “most important things to build a virtual world: diegetic VR, tactile presence, and social interactions.”

Neubelt was the Game Lead at Ready At Dawn for Echo Arena. He recalls playing with Lemming in the early days of the competitive multiplayer esports game and spending hours chatting about VR.

Considering the fact that Neubelt and a colleague (SpecialDelivery) came up with the idea for Echo Arena during a Ready At Dawn game jam, this talented developer seems to enjoy pushing the limits of what’s possible and striving to make VR better.

Both Davids joined Another Axiom (AA) in August 2022.

David Yee shares Another Axiom Philosophy at the First Look event in Las Vegas in October 2023.

A2

When Smith was developing Gorilla Tag and began posting his early iterations of the game on the newly launched Gorilla Tag Discord server in January 2020, there was an immediate appeal to the game, the movement, and Smith’s likeable, approachable personality.

In a post on the A2 Discord server from August 30, 2023, Neubelt stated that the AA team, consisting of 50+ people, wanted “to keep the same radically open development used for Gorilla Tag.” With that in mind, the studio invited a limited number of players to Las Vegas for a first look at the VR sport game, which had only about 14-16 weeks of development at that point.

“We are excited about the idea of sharing prototypes and concepts that are freshly made,” Neubelt continued in the Discord post, “even if that work will ultimately be thrown away and rebuilt with better ideas.”

Philosophy

At the Vegas event in October 2023, approximately 100 players gathered to check out what the AA devs had been working on. They were able to play, see level layouts, experience OP mechanics, laugh at bugs, and enjoy the opportunity to celebrate their passion for VR.

Yee kicked off the event with a keynote in which he shared the three key points of Another Axiom’s philosophy:

  • VR is awesome
  • Emergent play is important
  • Communities, not community

The team wants to encourage a spirit of play and discovery, something Yee has likened to going to a park as a kid and interacting with others simply for the joy of it. This type of organic interaction encourages you to be social and it also opens doors for exploration so games emerge naturally.

Stations

At the First Look event, Yee, Neubelt and Smith discussed their vision for Another Axiom and the future of VR gaming.

Neubelt recalled his love for Echo, but how there were many buttons.

“We wanted to remove as many buttons as possible and make it super physical,” Neubelt explained. One game mechanic he mentioned was tackles, where you’d “go up and just grab someone and throw them into a wall.”

In addition to the physical aspect, Neubelt shared the concept of Stations, which are customizable playgrounds of A2. In stations, players can:

  • Play the main game
  • Play mini-games
  • Socialize and learn the game
  • Spectate
  • Practice

More importantly, stations answer Smith’s core question:  “How do you build a game that guides people toward interaction?” versus pulling people apart. With stations, people can interact in various ways with others in communities of their own choosing. So basically like we do in physical reality.

To facilitate this growth, there will be tools for builders, creators and community leaders.

They’re also pushing for concurrency, with a goal of up to 200 players able to connect to a server simultaneously where they can hang out, play or spectate games, and build with people from around the world.

To be clear, A2 is a completely different game from Echo Arena or Gorilla Tag, but some of the same concepts remain. One of those is the philosophy towards community. The studio appreciates the value of community, but emphasizes on their website that the word should be “communities, not community.” Rather than thinking of it as a monolith, it’s more accurate to consider the “intricate network of individuals, a matrix woven together from passionate players from all walks of life.”

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering when you can check out Another Axiom’s new game, the developers have made it clear that this is still very much a work in progress, but they did announce a target date for an open beta release sometime in early 2024 with a full release toward the end of the year or in early 2025.

Their website states that they’ll add waves of players to the early access on a monthly basis and you can apply on the A2 Discord server. (You will need an Oculus Quest 2 or 3 or Quest Pro for the Early Access.)

Social VR is incredibly powerful and whether someone gained an appreciation for this in Echo VR or Gorilla Tag or other social VR games like Onward, Walkabout Mini Golf VR, Population: One, or newer games like Racket Club, the experience is memorable.

“Being social co-present with other people is super powerful,” Yee asserted in October. “And that’s a super magic secret sauce.”