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GINX TV > Interview > PSVR2

Interview: Jörg Tittel On C-Smash VRS, Esports, And Positive Spirit

"Bizarrely, we have to be trapped inside a digital thing in order to be freed from all the noise." We spoke with C-Smash VRS director Jörg Tittel on how esports can evolve into the physical space.
Interview: Jörg Tittel On C-Smash VRS, Esports, And Positive Spirit

Esports was set to be the evolution of sport into the virtual space, poised to be taken seriously by mainstream audiences and on equal footing with traditional sport. But it never quite got there. Despite all the money and brand deals thrown around, the esports scene has seemingly lost its grandeur. Competitive games still have their dedicated communities, and esports pros are still just as skilled as ever, but it's yet to capture the attention of the general masses. One could argue that its form is partially to blame. 

No matter how you look at it, esports is generally centered around the act of watching screens of other people watching screens. Part of what makes traditional sports so exciting to watch is the athleticism of its participants. That’s not to say esports professionals aren’t skilled — watching any competitive tournaments makes it clear why these gamers are leagues above the rest, but there’s something captivating about watching a physical performance. And there’s no reason why esports can’t take this form, too. It just needs the right game. So in something like C-Smash VRS, it becomes easy to see where esports could evolve. Speaking to director Jörg Tittel, “There's endurance involved and skills and all this kind of stuff, but the image is usually a massive stadium filled with people watching hunched over a computer. And I want to see our game bring physical sports into arenas. 

There's other VR games that lend themselves to that, as well. But what’s beautiful about our game is that it's amazing to watch someone perform it or do it single player because it's very, very taxing.”

Think, Feel, Move

C-Smash VRS feels right at home on the PS VR2. (Picture: RapidEyeMovers)

C-Smash VRS adapts SEGA’s Cosmic Smash for the VR space. Originally played on an arcade cabinet, of which Tittel has in the RapidEyeMovers studio, and later ported to the Dreamcast, Cosmic Smash provides a simple concept with a stylish execution. It’s a virtual game of squash, where players progress through stages through a subway-style system. Players need to hit the ball to destroy tiles, clearing the stages as quickly as possible in order to progress. Movement, timing, power shots all play a part in how you choose to play, but in the 2001 original players were limited to joysticks and buttons. With C-Smash VRS, suddenly this movement-based game becomes more real, and it feels like a natural evolution for Cosmic Smash. 

It took me a few moments to get the hang of it — VR still feels unnatural to me at first, despite it calling on more natural movements than most games. It’s best not to dwell on the damage over two decades of gaming has done to my physical well-being. But if there was a way to unlearn my bad habits, to get myself moving while staying connected to the virtual space (and it still being fun as hell), then C-Smash is my best hope. “I think that's what makes VR special and also hard to sell to people in some ways, because they don't realize that it's actually not a video game in that sense,” Tittel explained. 

“It is a theatrical, physical experience. And the more you can perform it, the more people get it, like 'Oh! This is what VR is.' And I'm not here to sell VR, you know? I'm not even here to sell the game. What I do want is people to be physical and to think, feel, and move. To see people doing that together and in a positive spirit, and encourage people to do the same. That's my goal.”

It’s seemingly what esports is missing; that tangible, physical involvement. For some, that’s key to enjoying a sport. Watching an Apex Legends or Valorant tournament, you might not necessarily feel like you want to get involved. There’s a lot to learn, mechanics to master, and settings to adjust. You’d be forgiven for wanting to sit back, watch and let the pros handle it. 

“And you'll never reach their skill level. I mean, I will never be able to — I cannot, ever since a 12-year-old in Alabama or something called me all sorts of cuss words when I played Halo online for the first time I was like, 'Nah, fuck this. I’m done.'

You know, a 12-year-old kicks my ass and is a dick to me at the same time? I'm not going to be in that world. I'm not doing this. So it's just really alienating. And so there's a sort of distancing that happens there, but with C-Smash — I mean you've only just played it for a few minutes but you know, in the beginning you were not hitting it. After a while you were hitting it, and that’s when you started getting competitive with it. You know, it's a joy to watch.“

Decluttering Reality

Spend a moment to take in the space. (Picture: RapidEyeMovers)

C-Smash VRS doesn’t overload your senses, which is a virtue that serves both the player and the spectator. A minimalist style that allows you to focus on the task at hand, and a soundtrack that also encourages you to move with the game. It’s very easy to fall into its flow and, in that sense, it maintains that arcade-feel despite you playing an active, physical role within its space. The current leading esports titles can all feel a little overwhelming, be it through UI or just gameplay, so to remove that abundance of on-screen information only helps to remove more barriers for a general audience. 

“In the process of making this game, and this is not some sort of marketing talk, but in the process of making this game, I realized that I wanted to be physical. Because it was joyful. I was joyful being within this. I started playing squash, which is very closely tied to this, and it’s really good to feel good in your body. Good to feel good in your body with someone else, and to share beautiful music and share these clean spaces, uncluttered with all the bullshit that we can keep being bombarded with all the time.

And that's the other thing about VR is that you can’t second screen it. We're second screening everything right now. Second screening movies, our children… I feel incredibly guilty doing it. But in VR, you're trapped within someone's, hopefully, beautiful experience. Bizarrely, we have to be trapped inside a digital thing in order to be freed from all the noise. I actually see VR as a portal back into reality. I see it as a way of traveling rather than escape. And that's the difference between how most games are being marketed to us, which is all about escapism. Escaping, as if we're supposed to be refugees of something.”

Esports With Its Arms Wide Open

It's easy to feel where the competitive angle will shine in C-Smash VRS. (Picture: RapidEyeMovers)

It’s that mainstream recognition that esports has always been chasing. It’s come a long way over the years, creating strong fan bases and communities, but it’s still seen as a gimmick to far too many. Bringing the physicality of traditional sports to esports could go a long way in ensuring that it's seen as something much bigger than just video games. “Because that's where we come from. Like, to me, games have always been physical, and games have always been social. And games have never been technical for me. They've never been technology. But right now, when you look at the scene, you would think that because a bunch of tech giants are owning everything that games are tech. They're not. Actually my message to that is ‘Fuck you, we're not technology. We're culture.’” 

When I first experienced video games it was in the arcades. It was SEGA’s Out Run. I sat down at an arcade cabinet, my feet could barely touch the pedals. And there I was, surrounded in this Ferrari which was moving about, traveling to these incredible places. Incredible music and blue skies and everything, right? And I was surrounded by people of all ages.  

And so it was not a nerdy basement in which there was one screen and sort of like a pimple-faced loner. It was not that. We didn't come from that. We were deeply social. That's what games are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be social things that you share with people, share the joy with other people. And so I feel that I'm actually just going full circle. I'm taking this full circle. The only thing I want to escape from is tech platforms dominating everything, and going back to the humanity of it all.”

C-Smash VRS launched on June 23, 2023, and is available for the PlayStation VR2.