Fantastic '90s puzzle adventure game The 7th Guest is being remade in VR, and developers Vertigo Studios and Exkee are using a cool solution to recreate the original's FMV acting in realtime 3D environments.
In The 7th Guest, you're trapped in a toy maker's spooky mansion with the apparitions of six previous guests who mysteriously disappeared. In between solving riddles and geometry puzzles, the story of those guests plays out in the style of a dinner theater production, with semi-transparent video of actors overlaid on pre-rendered 3D sets.
In the VR remake, players can explore those sets in real time while the FMV scenes play out. If the ghostly guests were still portrayed with flat video clips, they'd appear like Doom's cardboard-cutout sprites, constantly rotating to face the player. Vertigo could've designed 3D character models and animated them with performance capture, but it wouldn't have felt quite the same as video, so instead, the studio recorded actors with "volumetric video" capture.
"Volumetric video is like 'bullet time' from the Matrix," says game director Paul van der Meer. "The actors stand in the middle of a circle while they're being filmed by cameras all around them. The result is a series of meshes with textures that update each frame."
According to Van der Meer, "you really have that sensation of being in the same room" as the actors when viewing the scenes in VR.
"It's amazing to see how well the original capture translates over to the game," he said. "A pleat in a dress, the movement of a jacket. And of course the performances of the actors. An eye roll, a smirk, all those subtleties you pick up on."
Vertigo Games worked with a Dutch studio called 4DR to record the actors using technology developed in France by 4Dviews, and then optimized the video using tools made by US software company Arcturus. It was a "very intricate process," says Van der Meer.
The remake of The 7th Guest will feature "the original story as written by Matthew J Costello," but will make some creative alterations to the game, with "all-new puzzles" redesigned for VR and some intriguing-sounding "VR-powered optical illusions."
After Zork: Grand Inquisitor, The 7th Guest is my favorite game in this very particular genre of silly, Myst-like '90s puzzle-adventure games that combine pre-rendered 3D scenes and live-action video clips. I was momentarily disappointed that a game I Iiked so much as a kid is being remade as a VR-only experience, which inevitably limits its audience, but then I found that the original is easy to acquire: a 25th Anniversary Edition released on Steam in 2019.
The new VR version of The 7th Guest will be available on Steam and the Meta store later this year. We also just learned that Meta has a new headset on the way, the Meta Quest 3, and that the Meta Quest 2 will be dropping to its old $299 base price as a result.