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Jessica Manins, Co-Founder at Beyond Studios — Interview Series

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Beyond Studios is gearing up to launch its endless runner-type game, Runaways, on Apple Vision Pro. To get ahead of the curve, we thought we’d touch base with the team to discuss its upcoming release, as well as the future of virtual and augmented reality and its ever-growing ecosystem. Here’s everything we were able to learn from that rather brief, albeit insightful conversation:

Tell us about Beyond Studios. How did it all begin for you guys, and what sparked your interest in gaming?

Jessica: Beyond was founded by industry professionals in 2018 and is focused on social games with mass appeal. We are known for our high-quality environmental art, accessible gameplay and focus on producing games full of fun.

As pioneers in free-roam wireless multiplayer VR games, Beyond was the first in the world to launch an 8-player free-roam game on the Oculus Quest at the famous Two Bit Circus in LA in February 2020 and received 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Our second game in collaboration with Flufworldsold 10,500 copies in 3 minutes putting Beyond on the metaverse map. Beyond has collaborated on other VR titles with Weta Workshop and Felix + Paul Studios.

It was augmented reality that sparked my interest in gaming. You could probably say Pokémon Go had a fair bit to play in this. That game blew my mind and opened the possibility for me to make games. I could see a new era of gaming emerging. One that immersed us in the game. One that enabled us to interact with both our real world and the digital world. I was so excited for both augmented and virtual reality that I knew I had to start exploring the medium and seeing how I could add my knowledge of entertainment and my mission to spark joy and bring more fun and laughter to the world.

When Pokémon Go came out, I was running technology hub. There I’d had my first VR experience on the Oculus Rift, and I’d supported a few start-ups looking to explore immersive technology. It was in 2017 that I decided to start my own co-working and research hub for Spatial Computing alongside Wellington City Council called ProjectR.

It was here I met Anton and our passion for entertainment and new technology saw us joining forces to explore gaming, first through a services company specializing in VR and AR and later through the formation of Beyond.

Is there something that compelled you to dip your toes into the world of virtual and augmented reality? Was this always in the cards?

Jessica: Entertainment has been my life. I was a professional improvisor, an actor, presenter, producer and filmmaker. I had no idea that gaming and virtual reality would be added to that list but in the end, it makes total sense.

In terms of what compelled me to build my first VR game, it was a couple of years after making several VR and AR experiences that I went with my co-founder to AWE, the Augmented World Expo. Here in the ‘Playground we tried a free roam VR game for the first time. It was using Opti-tracks and backpack PC’s. The setup cost huge. But it was so much fun! I just loved the social nature of multiplayer free roaming VR. Giggling away as I tried to avoid sharks and lasers across a room. We knew there must be a way to make virtual reality more accessible to the masses. How could everyone play? That’s when we started doing research into arcade gaming and raised funds to build a multiplayer VR game, Oddball, that would be economical to set up and would appeal to the family market i.e. no zombies!

As a mum, I knew how much the types of games our kids played matter. I also know that mums are often the ones who have the purchasing power and that we are looking for ways to play with our kids. Bringing my experience as both an entertainer (I studied film and produced theatre) that I could bring a unique perspective the VR arcade gaming market. Thankfully I was right, and we found that our game had a wide appeal, not just with families but men and teenagers.

What it really comes down to is creating worlds where people can have fun. That are accessible and don’t require a steep learning curve to play. We also ensured our characters were non-gendered, and we did a lot of market research on the looks and types of players.

Honestly, you just can’t beat asking your target market what they want and working alongside them as you build.

Let’s talk about your upcoming game, Runaways, for Apple Vision Pro. How would you describe the game, and what can players expect to find in it?

Jessica: Runaways is a 3D infinite runner built specifically for Apple Vision Pro.

“Join Hank, the rebellious hombre with a heart of gold, as he ditches the gloop mines of ExHume 8 and finds himself smack dab in the middle of a tentacle-infested planet. His mission? Find the exit portal before he's turned into a puddle of gloop or worse!

Guide Hank through the treacherous terrain by disarming traps, making split-second decisions, and boosting over gaps as he races through your very own space! But beware – the further you go, the more your room transforms into a gloopy, tentacle-filled mess.

If you love endless runners, arcade games and spatial computing then you will love Runaways.

Each campaign is based on a comic book. New comics will be delivered along with new collectable characters and environments.”

Is there any advice that you can offer newcomers? Would you say that previous experience with augmented reality is needed to be able to make the most out of Runaways?

Jessica: Know your audience and work with them. Get players in very early while you are prototyping to test out your ideas and user experience. We run Friday testing groups, and this has hugely influenced our games.

Choose the right game engine for the experience you are building. They both have pros and cons. Unreal Engine was great for us when building a complex PC game where Unity has been much better for our VR games.

Expect things to go wrong. Failure is part of the journey, and it takes more than just passion to build a business in AR gaming.

Find a great team to work with, especially designers who understand how different it is building for spatial games. It’s very different from other types of game design.

Aside from Runaways, do you have any other projects in the works? If so, could you kindly tell us a bit about it/them?

Jessica: We have a survival life simulation game underway called Lifestars, and an adventure/action game called Zips we have just started to prototype. We also have plans to bring Runaways to other platforms and lots of new comic book releases which will be added as DLCs.

How can newcomers support you in your journey? Are there any upcoming live events or online platforms that we should know about?

Jessica: : Join us on X @beyondxworlds and on our website www.runaways.fun for information on the launch of our game, live events and competitions.

Any final words for our readers?

Jessica: We all bring a unique perspective to making games. We need diversity of thoughts around the table, that’s how we innovate. Don’t be afraid to speak up, to try new things and to be anoutsider. You may find that eight years down the track everyone changed their mind, and you are no longer the odd one out and in fact Apple have launched a headset that’s literally changing the game!

Thanks for your time! We’re looking forward to seeing some more of Runaways over the coming months!

Interested in staying up to date with the team over at Beyond Studios? If so, then be sure to check in with their official social handle here. Alternatively, you can check out their website here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.