Maze Theory Envisions Fan Metaverses for IP’s Like Peaky Blinders

You a big Peaky Blinders fan? Well, cast your mind back to 2019 and you may remember that British virtual reality (VR) studio Maze Theory confirmed it was working on a tie-in VR experience, revealing a little while later it is called Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom. VRFocus recently sat down with one of the Maze Theory team to glean a bit more info and find out what else they’ve been up to, which involves VR’s current buzzword…the metaverse.

Whether it’s a giant tech company like Facebook or Epic Games or a small indie studio when the word “metaverse” is mentioned you might imagine a digital landscape that’s designed for socialising, with its own or multiple currencies based on crypto and brands as far as the eye can see. Maze Theory’s CEO Ian Hambleton has that same passion for metaverse creation, but he envisions it slightly differently, or more importantly them differently.

Having previously released Doctor Who: The Edge of Time and with Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom in development, big-name IP’s and the fans that support them are key to this metaverse future. “Our approach has always been around well-known IP and well-known fan universes. And so for us as a studio we’re trying to create significant “chapters” in the metaverse, that’s what we want to do,” says Hambleton. “Peaky Land!” or whatever you want to call it, places that fans can congregate around IP and we think that they will be more successful because there’s lore and there are significant fan bases that all want to come together and experience them. And you know that the Star Wars stuff that’s been done by Oculus Studios would really suit that.”

What we don’t want to do as a business is become like a VRChat, so we’re not trying to create areas where people just congregate and chat about anything; that’s not what we’re interested in [in regards to] the metaverse. What we’re interested in are fan universes and story narratives. We will have multiplayer in our games but within those multiplayers you’ll also experience NPC characters that are AI-driven and telling the story, players will go on missions with each other and they’ll roleplay.” Confirming indirectly that Peaky Blinders will have a multiplayer element, in what form that would take has yet to be revealed.

Like many in the industry, Hambleton acknowledges that this current trend toward a more digital society has, in part, been aided by the pandemic: “What’s been interesting in the last year, COVID and everyone working from home…what I would say is that people are more at home and they’re missing real-world experiences but they’re not necessarily likely to return to those real-world experiences in the same way as they did. And I think that all those things coming together at once means that the metaverse can be a way of existing, and being social and being more together, and the embodied internet will be a VR experience.”

I think the crucial thing in VR is what’s said about the embodied internet,” he continues. “The metaverse will exist in mobile and other aspects but for us, as a VR-focused studio, the embodied internet is experiencing the metaverse in VR.

To deliver this idea Maze Theory is developing some core technology that’ll underpin all of its current and future projects: “We’re calling it “Storyverse” technology,” Hambleton explains. “Basically tools and tech we will use in all of our games and it’s starting to bring together a number of things that feel very relevant with all the conversations about the metaverse.”

It’s a mixture of things that we see as really important in the future of VR like multiplayer and roleplay but also even things like emergent gameplay, so one of the big things in Peaky is the amount of emergent gameplay which has been so successful in titles like Half-Life: Alyx and stuff like that. And it’s a mixture of those three and being social, and allowing players to play together that is a really powerful mix. And so we’ve started to build these tools and tech which be underlying all of our games from Peaky onwards.”

Peaky Blinders or Doctor Who, Maze Theory is definitely going for a multiverse approach to this broad topic rather than an all-encompassing space preached by others: “I think people like to simplify and go it’ll be one metaverse but people have said that’s a bit silly. And I think people would like it to be boxed into a simple “oh you insert in one place” and that’s all you do and maybe one day [it will]. For now, there will be lots, like the Oculus metaverse and you go into all the Oculus games, and they talk to other games on other platforms. The metaverse won’t just be VR it’ll be lots of things interconnecting with each other, I just think the purest form of it will be in VR,” Hambleton adds.

So what happens when all of this emergent, roleplaying, AI-driven, narrative tech has a metaverse of its own? “It’ll bring together everything that’s brilliant about VR and gaming.”

For continued updates on Maze Theory, Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom and the metaverse, keep reading VRFocus

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