Thought I’d share a quick development update (the first one, actually) for EXO ONE and let you know what I’ve been spending my time on. Things have been moving somewhat slowly, with a lot of ‘background work’ happening that’s not clearly visible on the surface, ie no new planets or anything fun like that! Background work also includes me just doing a lot of learning as well, C# in particular.
Here’s what I’ve been doing + events I forgot to write about:
EXO ONE managed to reach the top 20 on Steam Greenlight, which is a nice little achievement. It isn’t hard to get on Steam these days, however, so this was just a small stepping stone to getting the game in front of gamers. The real challenge is rising above the throng of games being released on Steam on a daily basis. I wrote about it here.
The story has undergone a number of revisions, and I’d say it’s currently at a 2nd/3rd draft stage. I haven’t talked a lot about the story yet, as it wasn’t really locked in, but essentially EXO ONE will tell much of its story via a narrated voice-over. There isn’t a super complex plot or anything crazy, but I think it really fits. Since the game will be short, I’m not really going to talk much about it either, as I’m wary of ruining it before you play. I can say we begin with receiving an alien transmission, which contains plans for a spherical exoplanetary probe, and instructions on how to open a wormhole.
So I’ve self-voiced a lot of it, just to get a feel for what it’s like to play and listen, which has been quite revealing so far in terms of pacing and how much is enough. Anyone who is on the alpha testing list will most likely get to hear it in all its glory! Don’t worry, I’ll be getting a professional to do the final version, and have done a number of tests with some people already, searching for a voice that fits the bill.
The intro sequence and tutorial level are ready for testing, and if you recall the spherical interior area from AVCON, I’ve expanded that now to include another, larger ‘outer loop’. I may need to continue the tutorial further through the game as I did at AVCON, or perhaps extend it in this interior level to get people more used to using the controls, as it is super short. Testing will probably tell.
EXO Speed and Optimizing
A constant challenge I face for EXO ONE is maintaining frame rate with a decent draw distance, while procedurally generating terrain that is smooth enough to glide over nicely. The farther we can see, the more terrain needs to generate while we play, slowing the game. Blending this procedurally generated terrain with any kind of mid/background is quite difficult (for me anyway) as it is always different. I’ll be interested to hear early feedback on people’s frame rates to gauge how much time I need to spend further optimizing this. I’ll also be further investigating ways to draw a mid/background or integrate it into the skybox. HorizonON appears like a possible solution, but isn’t made for endlessly generated terrain.
I’ve also found that as I’ve developed the game, I’ve gradually increased the speed of EXO ONE to a point where I feel the max speed is particularly exhilarating, but again, this only exacerbates problems with generating terrain fast enough.
My best ally right now is lots of fog and low clouds, but that presents its own problems too with seeing objects of interest. It is really a delicate balancing act!
One of the biggest things I’ve been working on (while I also get to grips with C# coding), is both cleaning up the prototype code I started with and adding systems that let us easily switch between levels and play level-specific narration at set times and places. This is all kinda boring so I won’t say much, it’s basically just me learning how to code better and cleaner.
I’ve done a little work on the camera so now there’s no longer any low-speed jerkiness, and I’ve added a “look down when dropping down” in gravity mode and “look up when on the ground” so there’s less camera moving required by players. I still face a frustrating issue with colliding with objects, so the first alpha will feature a camera that clips through non-terrain geometry like a boss.
I’m using the Master Audio plugin for Unity now, which is fully integrated and working well. Some people may remember the audio cut out bug at AVCON, that’s gone now :) So I now have a fully featured audio system that can handle playlists, audio ducking and a bunch of other stuff that would have taken me forever.
There are also some new sounds for rolling across the ground, flying and impacts, which all further increase immersion and the sense of actually being on the ground.
Plugins and Problems
As a solo developer, still learning code, and using Unity with a number of plugins, it has been a very mixed experience in terms of getting support from some plugin developers. Some devs almost instantly get back to me on problems, sometimes with fixes attached and ready to go. Others won’t reply to emails for weeks or ever, leaving me in a really awkward position, especially with my current skill set.
I have mixed feelings on the whole asset store in general, and specifically with regard to the price of plugins and the level of support required. On the one hand, it is brilliant to be able to gain in some cases man-years worth of work already done for you for a really low price. On the other hand, when you offer these low prices, you get a glut of low skill developers (hi!) coming on board and then generating a support nightmare, meaning you can literally bury yourself under the weight of support. The other problem I have with this is that while you may have bought a plugin for $25, that developer’s hourly rate may be double that, so if they end up spending just half an hour writing you an email with a fix, they’ve kind of halved their income whilst reducing time for future updates.
The hardest thing about non-responder or slow responders, is you’ve got few alternatives or workarounds. You can write the nth “please halp” email, but there’s really no way to reach someone who doesn’t want to be reached. You can switch to a competitor, but you may end up in the same boat, while having to rewrite whatever code integration you’ve done. In many cases there are no replacements or alternatives. Then, of course, you’ve also lost whatever you’ve paid for said plugin (usually only $20-50 but sometimes up to $200) because there are no refunds.
Ok at this rate I should have named my post “my problems with the asset store”! Really I couldn’t make EXO ONE on my own without it, so I can’t complain too much.
I quickly added a little hovering feature the other day, which I’ve left in for now. I thought it could perhaps eventually become a way to cross non-rollable terrain, but mostly it just feels nice to do, which is almost the entire point of the game with EXO ONE. Essentially now when you’re gliding, if you’re near the ground, you’ll get an opposing upward force. It’s not so great that you’ll never hit the ground, though. It can help with a little extra leap off hills too (possibly too much right now):
I’m working on an issue with one of my plugins that stops me from building the game (boom!), so once that is fixed I’ll be sending out an alpha version to testers which contains the intro, tutorial level and first planet. I’m very keen to get people’s feedback on the narration side of it, plus their thoughts on the length of the first planet, general impressions, etc!
Thanks for following along, and feel free to say hello in the comments, contact form or my Twitter @JayWeston.
A crater is perhaps the perfect piece of landscape for EXO ONE to leap in and out of. It can be approached at various angles, has lots of room for error, and is suitably sci-fi and outer space-ey. You can build up a ton of speed if you hit them just right as well.
Below you can see a screenshot of just the crater nodes, which then feeds into the rest of the somewhat vast node network that governs the procedurally generated terrain. This is created using Map Magic by Denis Pahunov @akaWraith which you can grab on the asset store here. Essentially the entire terrain is assembled in this graph fashion. Of course, with EXO ONE I bent reality a bit so that almost everything can be jumped into and out of. Anyway, here’s the nodes + the end result crater:
I began the Greenlight process with practically zero fan base. The games I’ve made prior were on different platforms in different genres and from different companies. Perhaps outside of family, friends and old work friends, I might have had a dozen or so fans following me on Twitter (maybe).
I released a teaser alongside a game announcement press release on GamesPress on the same day the Greenlight went live, and I hand emailed every games website I could find who had covered similar games to EXO ONE. I would direct most of these emails to a specific author, mentioning in some way, shape or form that I was aware they either liked the genre or had reviewed a similar game. I received two replies from probably 50 emails, both saying essentially, “looks interesting, let us know when there’s something playable”.
Here’s the teaser I made using 100% in game footage. Music was by Rhys Lindsay, which, since it was made for the game, really fit perfectly with the mood I wanted.
This netted a total of about 500 views on Youtube in the first week, which is ok, I guess. Clearly not a hit or anything, however. I put a ‘vote now on Greenlight’ annotation at the end, and figure I can swap that out for whatever I’m promoting next!
Within the trailer, I spent exactly zero time showing my Exbleative company name or my own name and instead went for opening directly to a mysterious looking structure behind some pretty clouds, then went from there. The game is all about the vibes, so I pushed that mystery/melancholy angle as hard as I could while splicing in a little bit of gameplay.
While it would have been nice to see the video do so well on Youtube that it brought in Greenlight votes, it did at least singlehandedly take me to #26 on Greenlight, which I’m fairly proud of. I got some really positive feedback on Twitter from some people too:
I used these guys to handle my press release since they had a reasonable fee, Gamasutra used them and so does most of the industry it seems. I also just really wanted to cover all my bases. They were super quick on email and I felt like I was dealing with real people, which was nice. You can see below how many views I received compared to the average, and compared to the best (who already have huge followings). I think if I had something playable, or perhaps just more gameplay footage, this would have been more helpful.
You can see I did almost twice as good as most ‘average’ press releases, and really not too bad even compared to big name releases like Minecraft and The Walking Dead.
After sending my press release through Games Press and hand emailing everyone, I appeared on around 6-7 websites from several countries, which was nice, but it wasn’t exactly a feature on Rock Paper Shotgun or anything. For the most part, I got some repostings of my trailer or quick write-ups that used the press release pretty heavily. I need to mention here just how grateful I am for these, don’t get me wrong! For all I know, I got a lot more traffic from these sites than I thought. It *is* a mystery to me where half my traffic came from (see Google Analytics below).
In the future, I may be writing any releases in a more ‘reviewer’ tone, which might sound more natural if copy pasted. But of course, actual hand-written reviews are slightly better! I put down the lack of coverage again to just not having something playable people could get their hands on. Even with what I think was a quite good trailer, it’s still just a trailer and low on the gameplay and story as well.
2 Weeks on Greenlight
The game followed a straight line trajectory that barely seemed to accelerate or slow, until the last 2-3 days where we hit 24 then 25 then settled on 26. I assume this would be due to the top 25 having a steeper trajectory of yes votes than EXO ONE, therefore making them perhaps unbeatable without outside press coverage or a larger audience. But I don’t feel any of this matters much, I was very happy once we hit top 50. Greenlit is Greenlit!
Here is said, straight line graph: Interesting, all the different trajectories! You can see for some reason even the #5 item isn’t Greenlit yet, after 30 days. I’m assuming the lines disappear once a game has been Greenlit! I’ve also spoken to fellow devs whose games did not even reach the top 100 (not even get 50% there) and they were Greenlit. The mystery process remains, I suppose!
Some more Greenlight stats:
The yes to no ratio looks nice, and I think it is decent, but the AVG TOP 50 also seemed to change a lot from day to day. Sometimes I’d see stats like the above, most of the time it was similar to mine, and sometimes it’d be higher than me, around 63:37. I mostly lagged the Favorites and followers most of the time compared to the top 50, perhaps again due to the lack of clarity on what the game was.
These figures are roughly a third of what I’ve seen other bloggers mention in the past as a ‘minimum requirement’ to get Greenlit or into the top 50.
I got quite a few comments like, “this game needs a story or it will be boring”. I imagine this is mostly from people that didn’t read the description. Probably no one will, so if you want something communicated, you want to do it in the video.
I really enjoyed reading the feedback, though, and in one way I’m glad “it’s all over” because I was becoming a serial refresher, but once the campaign was over I missed all the interaction and waking up to check my rank every day (not really, I checked way more than that)!
I would have liked to have seen more discussions crop up around the game as well, however, I got practically none. On the one hand people seemed fine just asking questions in the comments, but on the other hand, I did notice other titles receive a lot more than me. Once again I believe the lack of gameplay and story shown was a probable cause of this.
I’ve read people going to quite the lengths to get on as many lists as possible, but I managed to get on 10 (good or not, I’m not sure?) without doing anything at all. If you are struggling to get into the top 100, you might want to look into getting in touch with some relevant ones.
I hooked up analytics and apart from noticing some obvious stuff like almost half of my audience being Russian, I couldn’t make sense of the Direct VS Referral stats:
Direct traffic went straight to the EXO ONE Greenlight url from (?). Referral traffic was mostly from Steam itself (store.steampowered.com) with a smattering of what looked like people linking to it from Dota2 discussions from streams, CSGO lounge and GamesPress.
If you understand this I’m keen to know, is Direct traffic coming from people clicking a browser link which opens up their Steam client, which appears as Direct Traffic?
AVCON and Newsletter Sign Ups
I showed EXO ONE at a local anime and video game festival here in Adelaide (AVCON) which happened 4-5 days after my Greenlight began. How many of the people who played the game and voted, I don’t know, but there was a little upward blip over that weekend visible around the 17th. I got around 30 newsletter sign ups from the event too, and it may be safe to say a similar number of Greenlight votes.
I thought AVCON may have added some ‘legitimacy’ to my campaign. If someone at Valve is checking to see how serious your game is, having taken it to a festival I can imagine is a bonus. So too would be things like:
Getting press coverage/previews/reviews
Release date that is less than a million years away (I got a few “this game isn’t ready for Greenlight” comments with a mid 2017 release date)
What Does a #25 Greenlit Game Mean?
If I was an excitable person I might have lept up and down a lot after getting Greenlit, however how this translates into actual success is anyone’s guess. How much does my audience carry over when the game is made available? 190 followers isn’t a huge number, so at the end of the day I feel like this might be the equivalent of adding that many people to my newsletter list. Of course, with the added benefit that I can now release my game on Steam, which is no small thing!
Now I just have to make the entire game, market it successfully, play test it, release the alpha on itch.io, then on Early Access or a full release on Steam… “Ez!”.
If you wanna follow along on the ride and be notified upon release, trailers, alphas and betas, you can sign up here. Here’s the EXO ONE game site.
Also if you’re curious what a number 1 Greenlit game gets, “Scorn” managed 2000 comments (10x mine) and I imagine probably 10x everything else, as well! Once you reach the top 100, I imagine the closer you get to #1, the more vertical the climb required to get there (see #5 above).
Just a quick post to share a couple of animated gifs I showed on Twitter recently.
First one below shows most of the gameplay and movement methods available in EXO ONE:
1. Rolling, then 2. “Jumping”, immediately followed by 3. Gliding, then 4. High Gravity mode, followed by more rolling before we go back to Low Gravity to roll up and fly off the hill top into the sky. Then we move back into glide mode where, if we hit clouds, we ‘catch thermals’ that lift us up even higher.
The second one is a recently added ‘skipping’ on water while in glider mode:
This was fairly easy to get going on flat water, and I quite like it, but whether this will translate and work on a wavy ocean I’m not sure. I’ll certainly be trying it out!
Adelaide’s video game and anime festival (AVCON) just finished last night and it was an amazing experience. I showed EXO ONE in the Indie Games Room along with 60 other developers over the course of the weekend and had a lot of fun. I thought people would like EXO ONE based on family/friends/colleagues playing, but the response was above and beyond what I could have hoped for! Considering how fleshed out the two planets were in the AVCON build, people played for a really long time and in quite a few cases, would come back or bring friends over to play. Players would quite happily travel in one direction for (I swear up to or over half an hour?) on one planet, I assume mostly because they enjoyed the flowing, physics-based movement so much. I was blown away!
Some of the most common comments:
– “It’s really relaxing/hypnotic” from both players and people watching
– “I can fly!!!” after reaching and soaring above the clouds
– “Weeeee!” in the ‘tutorial level’, which is a spherical interior level, where people loved building up huge speed sticking to the outer wall
– “I love the graphics” and “Is this the Unreal engine?” (It’s Unity 5)
– “The sound and music is amazing”
– “How long until it’s out?”
In an anonymous survey I had next to the game, the most common ratings were 4/5 (60%) and 5/5 (33%).
Here are some answers to “what was your favorite part of the game?”
– It was a very beautiful game. i loved the movements of the avatar and how it looks so much like real life.
– the graphics and physics of the game
– world design / the visuals / the graphics
– Beautiful visuals and unique design
– Beautiful visuals, free reign, satisfying physics
– the atmosphere of the game – beautiful and stunning. I like the freedom you feel with movement, zipping down hills with more gravity then hurling off a ramp.
– Relaxing – Great Graphics
And some answers to “what was your least favorite part?”
– no impact crator / trail
– Changing direction at low speed with varying viewing angles. Intuitively I’d feel better steering relative to the ball’s movement rather than where the view’s pointing.
– I didnt find many flaws but i think the story should be more open.
– trying to find objective
– unclear of the main objective
– some of the sound affects were a bit screechy
– im not even sure
– Lack of direction, though that was probably intentional
– I might not have played it enough to see, but it would be interesting to explore a wide variety of landscapes – more variation would be cool
– Sometimes feeling like I’m not in control, e.g. not being able to stay in one place.
– No objective – Its a good thing though
– It looks and feels phenomenal and super mysterious. I love the massive structures.
– Love the idea
– really like it, music is awesome, really interested of how the final result will be
– Loved it – very relaxing etc. Can’t wait to see more – love the exotic landscapes. Would like to see more and explore various areas!
– very echoey voice is hard to understand. I’d love a level with more green and that would look like a nice place to be. Gliding [needs tweaking]
– Very serene. I like the first sound track and the introduction was a good tutorial. Got stuck on left stick in to zoom. Doesn’t feel required.
My biggest takeaways and areas to focus on after looking through the survey answers, and from talking to people all weekend was:
– It wasn’t obvious enough where you had to go. While it’s an open world game, you have to travel to a ‘transport monolith’ in order to launch to the next planet. So that needs to be clearer and more visible at all times. People would either think the launch point to the second planet was ‘just another piece of scenery’, or they would lose where it was among the clouds and rain. Another solid option here is that there are multiple launch points on each planet, so no matter which direction you go, you’ll be able to find one. Perhaps the best way forward is both making it clearer you need to reach these structures, and also having them scattered, so you’ll never feel like you need to remain near the sole transport structure to get to the next planet.
– People also didn’t seem all that interested in the story, however being at AVCON, it was incredibly loud and almost impossible to hear the voices that communicated the story. I’d equate it to trying to play Dear Esther or Gone Home in an arcade (a bit useless).
– 10-20% of players didn’t get a handle on the gravity based movement, or it took them a while to get up to speed. I’m going to include a more in-depth tutorial here which, in real-time, will instruct players on how and when to use it. Still, those players who had trouble would play for extended periods of time just rolling and gliding quite happily, which is good. I suppose there’s also a chance that some players just liked moving more slowly.
AVCON Wrap Up
Thanks to everyone that played and signed up for the newsletter, you’ll be the first to know when the first publicly playable build is available via itch.io.
And apologies to the other developers who took the time to come check out EXO ONE, I just didn’t have time as a solo dev to come and return the favor to everyone. Was great meeting so many cool people for a change, though. I am quite the recluse developer!
P.S. if you’re ever in the market for a solid TV, LG make one which can survive a fall from a table top onto the floor, completely unscathed!
We are currently sitting at rank #52 and on a trajectory (based on the sweet graphs Steam gives you) to enter the top 20, which would be amazing! From what I read recently on Steam Greenlight, I expected votes would trail off quickly after 48 hours, which hasn’t happened.
I’m proud to present EXO ONE, a surreal, exoplanetary exploration game. Teaser below:
EXO ONE is on Steam Greenlight now, so please vote and leave a comment. It will be available on Itch.io’s First Access program to buy (500 only to start with) soon after AVCON (Australia’s Video Game/Anime Festival) on July 15th. If you’re in Adelaide, South Australia, you can come and be among the first to play the game at the Indie Games Room at AVCON.
Here’s the full press release:
EXO ONE – Reveal Teaser
A surreal, exoplanetary exploration game in development for PC.
Adelaide, South Australia – July 12, 2016 – Exbleative is proud to announce EXO ONE, a surreal, exoplanetary exploration game currently in development for PC. A teaser video is available using entirely in-engine footage and displays a mix of gameplay and atmospheric shots.
In EXO ONE, the focus is shifted away from traditional sci-fi and space game tropes, such as space combat. Instead, it encourages a relaxed state of flow by using a gravity-based movement system to traverse and explore high sci-fi planets.
Pilot a spherical, gravity powered probe through awe-inspiring, enigmatic alien worlds. Watch cloud formations float across barren, lightning wracked fields. Drop beneath the waves of an ocean world. Ride the peaks of mountain tops and slide down alien dunes.
Upon reaching the first planet, players will encounter a surreal alien presence almost defying explanation. Accompanying the gameplay are highly atmospheric visuals, otherworldly audio and a hypnotic, electric guitar and synth-laden soundtrack.
EXO ONE is and continues to be inspired by the many discoveries of the Kepler spacecraft, and the mysteries of what may lay out in interstellar space for future explorers.
– An array of unique, open worlds to explore, from traditional terrestrial planets to water worlds to gas giants
– Pilot a probe featuring multiple movement modes. Rolling, sliding, gliding/flying, with control over gravity and anti-gravity.
– Use these movement modes to build momentum, slide down dunes and catapult off hilltops.
– Glide through clouds and catch thermals that lift you high into alien atmospheres.
– Drop beneath the waves of boiling oceans under the glow of distant suns.
– Wind down and travel at your own pace. There are no challenges, wars or enemies.
– Listen to the sounds of the planets and contemplate the alien presence that occupies them.
– A minimalist yet mysterious narrative that allows players to form their own conclusions of the story.
EXO ONE is being developed for PC, with other platforms TBD. The release date is tentatively slated for mid-2017. It will be shown for the first time in Adelaide, Australia at the AVCON anime and video game festival on the 15th of July, at the end of this week.
Almost a full year since Rocket League was released (wow I don’t blog much) and it’s still pretty much the only game I ever play. For such a simple game with effectively one car and one pitch, that’s pretty amazing.
Anyways, here’s the brag play, felt pretty amazing to pull this one off with a fellow random player:
I recently listened to an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast that talks about the health benefits of gaming and the lessons we can take from the games we play. Tim’s guest, Jane McGonigal challenges people to ask what the current game they’re playing can teach them, and what they can implement from that game in their every day lives. You can listen to it here.
Currently I’m playing the BestGameEverMade aka Rocket League an inordinate amount, certainly pushing close to (ok, over) the 21 hrs a week limit that Jane feels is a wise upper limit. So I thought I’d write up some thoughts. I’ve considered this topic before in another game I used to play a lot of, which is semi-professional (mid stakes) poker. Thinking again about that game, I think the two share a lot (as I suppose many games do). Read below for the lessons I feel that Rocket League can teach and how they might be applied to life. My examples are pretty skewed towards games development because that’s what I’m focusing on, but I think they’re fairly easily translated to business, study, and other things.
I’m certainly no “life coach” either, so I’ve left my own advice somewhat thin, and linked to people I like on the subject.
If you haven’t played Rocket League, aka Soccer Cars, its exactly as the latter sounds – you play soccer with cars, ‘ramming’ the ball into the opponents goal to score. You also have access to a jump and rocket boost ability, which funs the game up to ridiculous levels. Its quite a spectacular game – fast cars, airborne cars, flipping cars, a huge floating ball, plus neon lights and epic slow motion replays that let you re-live your glorious goals! Oh and when you score, there’s a giant explosion in the net and nearby cars are flung into the air. Whoever thought of that is a true genius.
I think most of these “Rocket League lessons” are most applicable in the 1v1 version of the game as it seems to highlight a lot of things. Your team mates aren’t around to pick up the slack created from your errors, you can’t blame them for your mistakes, consciously or otherwise. The best blame game I’ve managed in 1v1 is the (maybe?) very slight RNG’ish-ness of the initial kickoff and some other ‘clash’ situations. Otherwise every action you take has pretty clear repercussions.
In 2V2 and above, forming and working within a team is very important, and I talk about it below.
1. Don’t over extend
This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my recent Rocket League games and potential tie in to real life. Most likely this is my number one because it has resulted in some of my most painful defeats. In my very biased opinion, I’ll be the superior player in said defeats, flying around the pitch in spectacular (ridiculous?) fashion, taking shots from all over the place, while my inferior opponent trundles around. Where it all goes wrong is where I overextend, miss a shot, which ricochets into my opponents hands, right when I have zero boost left to catch him. He doesn’t need any skill to walk it into my goal when I’ve over extended sometimes literally inside his goal net.
The problem is partially that I’m trying to play the same game as pro players, but without the requisite skill level. A classic example of this is trying for aerial goals, by far the best way to overextend and get out of position. Aerials require great control to pull off, and if you miss, you’ll sail slowly toward the ground while your opponent again walks the ball into your goal. If you can pull off reliable aerials, great, but otherwise you’re definitely overextending!
Here’s a clip of a player over extending just a little too much (especially in a high skill game like this one):
What’s the real life tie in? I’m personally involved in games development and have developed a couple in the past few years. They were very simple games that I managed to complete to some degree by myself or with another developer (www.class3outbreak.com and Unknown Orbit). Currently I’m attempting a more ambitious title that has made me question if I’m overextending my own skills, time and ability. I’m trying to mitigate this by hiring some part time help, and thankfully I have a business (www.hyperfocaldesign.com) that helps pay the bills while I tackle this, but I certainly still feel on the edge of my capabilities. Realising when you’re overextended in Rocket League is certainly a touch easier than trying to guess the schedule, time, budget and fun-factor of a multi year development cycle on a game, but even just bringing attention to this stuff can help or potentially wake you up a bit.
A friend of mine and concept artist has shared similar thoughts with me in regards to art. He teaches students who can sometimes try to run before they can walk, attempting some extreme perspective drawings of dynamic and complex anatomy with difficult to render materials. They have an epic, grandiose image in their mind of what it will look like, and what may take an experienced artist days the novice student is trying to do in half the time, leaving them inevitably discouraged and frustrated.
So I suppose the lesson is that in life, take into consideration your current skill level, abilities, resources, time and so on, and plan your projects accordingly.
1b. Risk Mitigation
Where will your next action leave you in relation to your opponent? What are the odds of you pulling this action off? Who is in the better position? This is a crucial skill in Rocket League. Watch this guy get it wrong:
This guy’s best possible case situation from this position is that he blocks the hit from his boosting opponent, leaving him still out of position facing the wall while his opponent faces his goal. He also has little chance of moving the ball toward the opponents goal, while his opponent has a very good one, being lined up parrallel to the wall. There’s also a good chance that he will end up upside down or turned over from his opponents hit, making things even worse. He gets lucky when his opponent misses.
The best move in this position is most likely to move back into a defensive position, keeping the ball and opponent between him and the goal, and choose a better spot to play back.
“IRL”, where do your plans leave you if you make a mistake, or when a risky move doesn’t pay off? In poker, people often play with only 1/100th of their entire ‘poker fund’ or bank roll in front of them. This mitigates risk so that during an unlucky streak, you can still survive to play another day.
Did you quit your day job to make a game that has to succeed in 1 year while living off meager savings? You should probably read Dan Cook’s excellent post on Minimum Sustainable Success.
Did you burn all your bridges with previous employers to make your new Oculus Rift VR-but wait for it, the hero is blind, (OMG!) out-there game? You kinda just boosted at a wall and hoped for the best.
The corollary is, as a very wise creative man named James Victore would say, “Use momentum as your friend. You only fail when you stop taking shots.” Rocket League is just extra tough on those damn rebounds every time you take and miss a shot, while games development requires that you get to survive long enough to take enough shots to score once or twice.
2. Prediction and Planning
What’s your opponent about to do? Where’s the ball going to bounce? What are your team mates doing? Judging these things takes a lot of practice and can result in some huge gains to your Rocket League’ing abilities. An obvious example of planning could be designating a goalie or defender, or informing your team mate that you’re about to center a ball, so they should get ready to take a shot. I felt a pretty noticeable click while playing at one point where, instead of forever driving straight at the ball, I’d start thinking a few seconds ahead of time and lining up for (seemingly now obvious) rebounds off walls.
Planning and prediction is a pretty valuable skill to have in real life, you’ll use it to guess at how large your market size might be, how long it’ll take you to develop something, how much money is required, what the server load might be, etc.
3. Meta game
The best place to look at the meta game in Rocket League is the kick off. Especially at lower levels you’ll find a common strategy where some players, instead of driving straight at the ball on kickoff, will sit back and let you fire a shot straight at them. They will save the flat shot easily, in fact kicking it straight back at you and into your own goal. The way to counter this is to chip the ball over them while they sit in goal, which is much harder to save. The meta game consists then of, will this player carry on doing this, or use it as a once off move? Will he come for the ball or sit back? What is your opponent doing, what has he done, what is he most likely to do next?
This ties in a little with prediction, and teaches us to consider the bigger picture and not just focus on each individual situation on its own. In game development, ask yourself how each feature you’re adding fits into the greater picture and how it serves your game’s end goal. How does this game you’re working on now fit in with the other games you’ve developed, or the audience you’ve built? If you’re going to kill yourself making your game, how does that affect the rest of your life and relationships?
4. Savings Strategy
Don’t spend it all at once, ya’ll. That’s what Rocket League teaches us in regards to our valuable boost meters. If you rocket around the place for no particular reason, you’ll soon find yourself with no extra speed when you need it most. The life lesson here is pretty clear, save something for a rainy day, you never know what may come up where saved resources will become invaluable.
5. Stay Calm
Due to the pace of the game, the excitement and thrill of scoring, winning, etc, you can sometimes fly at the ball and toward your opponents goal with such fervor that you may suddenly find yourself a) without savings in the boost bank and b) horribly overextended, or c) simply fumbling the controls and letting an easy save go begging. I think some of the greatest examples of control are the almost robot levels of emotion you see some Dota2 players having while avoiding almost certain death or wiping out an entire team on their own.
Another important part of staying calm is when you’re in a bad, losing position, say 2-0 down or worse. The worst way you could handle this is just to quit the game, leaving you of course with no chance to come back. In the best case scenario you may stage a come back, or your opponent may get over confident. Even if you lose badly you can learn from what your opponent did and how he played, using that to improve your own game.
This is certainly one of the hardest things to keep under control in any competitive game and in more important life situations. I won’t pretend to offer any zen-like habits for keeping your cool, especially when I find it so hard, but the more you can actively practice this kind of thing in a zero downside situation like Rocket League, the better you can prepare for more serious and high emotion situations in real life. A good stepping stone to practicing emotional control is playing low stakes poker for real money, where the stakes are slightly higher, but not so high that you will negatively effect your bank balance too much. Entire books are written on the Psychology of Poker. This guy should read it (language warning):
See how he does that pointless “rage jump” before the 2nd goal? He *might* have saved that shot if he kept his cool.
I find during games development one of the hardest things for myself is staying calm when I just can’t seem to figure out the cause of a certain bug. Often taking a break or going for a walk helps, as does writing and then not sending an email to a coder friend. This is called rubber duck debugging and I highly suggest trying it out.
SWOT is a classic business acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Each of these is vital to manage as part of your Rocket League game and in life!
Identify what skills you have as a player/person and capitalise on those. Perhaps you played a lot of volley ball in real life, so you’re great at judging and timing an airborne ball? You might choose to use that to contest far more balls and with more aggression and speed than most players. Or years of console gaming has given you great control over your Xbox controller, allowing some more reliable aerials.
Back to the concept art example from No.1, if you’re a beginning artist, you may use the fact that you have a lot of knowledge surrounding … say, the WW2 era, and choose to focus on drawing objects from that area of expertise. If you’re a game developer and love and play a lot of strategy games, it’s probably wise to develop something based on that.
What do you seem to have trouble with? If you can identify these things, you can change your game plan or project to mitigate them. Bad in goals? Maybe find a team mate who is a great goalie? Or attempt to leave the goal earlier to intercept more balls before they become shots on goal. Can’t code, but want to make a game? Try Unity’s Playmaker plugin, which uses a form of visual scripting.
Of course, you can also begin training to bring up your weak points, but just remember not to over extend and try to do everything.
One of my greatest Rocket League pleasures is biding my time for a loose ball to come toward me as I sit in goal or in midfield, and then spearing forward to make an unexpected shot. Sometimes this can also leave me badly out of position, so I’ve been trying to reign this in a little in 1v1 and 2v2! Opportunities exist for epic, ego boosting playzzz almost every second in Rocket League, and identifying them requires practically every skill in this post. Can you identify a player like me that overextends too often? Where will the ball bounce after he’s taken that wild shot? Is my opponent going for that boost, and can I deny him? What if that goalie misses that cross ball and I’m right there?
Identifying opportunities in real life is just as all encompassing as in Rocket League. In terms of game development it can often take a more simple form of, “this game seemed like it would be great if only it had X”. It can take the form of a coder looking for an artist or vice versa. As in Rocket League, always keep your eye out for opportunities while considering the rest of your SWOT analysis, and try not to over extend with too many!
In defense you’re often faced with the question of whether to sit back in your goal, or farther out, or whether to even rush out to tackle a threat head on, before it becomes a problem. In Rocket League its easy to forget that you kind of have two threats, the ball and the opposing player’s cars. In your constant fixation on the ball, you can forget its perfectly acceptable to ram or destroy an opponent rather than kick the ball like in real soccer. It can also be easy to forget this while you sit motionless, waiting for a ball to drop down to you.
Also related to prediction and opportunities, try to keep your eyes open for opposing cars trying to take you out, and remember you can play the car, not just the ball, which is often a far easier ground based target.
Try to always be anticipating how a ball could bounce badly or where an opponent could boost forward and take a shot on your goal, and remember its usually best to tackle a problem before its flying into the upper right corner of your net at 100kph.
In real life this is a very important part of SWOT analysis for business and game development. Is there anything on the horizon that could derail your project? Perhaps release dates for big name games that clash with your own? An API that looks like its about to be deprecated? This happened to Class 3 Outbreak, more than once.
7. Study Your Failures
You can save and watch your replays from a variety of perspectives, and what may have been unclear in the heat of the moment can be very educational when viewed after the fact. Did you get carried away near the opponents goal? Use boost where you shouldn’t have? Gotten airborne for no real reason? Maybe that bounce was just a bit awkward and there wasn’t much you could have done about it? Or you could reveal a critical bit of information on how your opponent drives at kickoffs, which caused him to win most of them?
There’s been a huge amount written on the value of failing as the best resource for learning and improving. Look at your replays in Rocket League and look back at past projects to try and learn as much as you can so that you can avoid the same pitfalls next time.
Personally, I recall during development on Unknown Orbit, watching a number of people struggling with the controls but thinking to myself that my awesome, two image tutorial would fix it, or that “its a skill based game, so its supposed to be hard”. When Touch Arcade reviewed it, the video showed the player having some big troubles controlling the comet, which resulted in an unappealing looking game. For Class 3 Outbreak, looking back, I should have realised much earlier that development speed was going too slowly and that our views on where the game should go were too different.
8. Team work
In games, business, study and relationships, good team work and forming a good team is huge. You can quite easily mitigate your weaknesses with other team member’s strengths, pass the ball to each other to gain openings on goal, and back each other up in threatening situations. The right team environments usually boost morale as well as each team member is there to encourage one another and to bring you back up if you’re down (like my team mates often do in Rocket League by spamming “What a save!” repeatedly when I miss a save…).
In real life and game development, the obvious and smallest team is the artist + programmer, each mitigating the other’s weakness and fully utilizing their strengths while working toward the same end goal. Other less obvious examples feature two artists or two programmers but little code or little artwork respectively, creating games that don’t require the skill set they lack in.
A lesson I learned over too long a period with Class 3 Outbreak is that you need to share the same goals for the game. Not just “lets make a successful/great game”, but precisely what type of game it will be and what the focus of development will be. If one person has a dream of writing their own graphics engine while the other wants to make a Dwarf Fortress clone (for an overly obvious example), then you’ll be in trouble. In my case, I wanted to focus on gameplay while the programmer wanted to focus on tools, with the added problem that I had a free schedule while he had a day job.
9, 10, 11. Enjoy Rocket League, Cos Shiiieeet its Fun!
Being brought up in 80’s and 90’s where gaming was pretty squarely relegated to nerd status, I sometimes still feel a bit guilty playing games. So I think it’s also important to just let yourself have fun and play a game of Rocket League, and deafen whoever is on Skype with your screams of delight as you sail through the air, overextending wildly to execute an unlikely but epic shot for glorious, glorious victory, deep into overtime, earning yourself a well deserved MVP.
… here’s some epic, grin inducing footage of some Rocket League pros. I may have watched this more than a few times now:
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I got this idea from Tom Francis of GunPoint and Crate & Crowbar fame, and thought I’d do a recap of every game I’ve worked on. Partially this is an attempt to share my game dev history, partially to make myself feel better about the lack of progress I’ve made in the last couple of years(!).
I’ll start with the oldest games and end with my most recent.
I worked on this game straight out of high school, it was a post apocalyptic racing game that focused a lot on, yes – powersliding physics. I made (if I can recall that far back) 1-3 tracks, I definitely did the majority of the desert track and maybe a lot of the dam and mountain (?) tracks. As my first job, first game and first crew of non-school related co-workers and friends, it was a pretty huge deal and I’ve got a lot of great memories. A Powerslide ‘plaque’ still sits behind me here in my office, which consists of a team photo and signed gold master disc.
Role: 3D artist / Texturing
Made in: Custom Engine
Dirt Track Racing
When you’ve got a game with nice powersliding physics, dirt oval racing is a pretty logical move. DTR let you race in a career mode that mimicked real life competition, complete with sponsorship, multiple classes and progression. I think I was credited as game designer, but when you’re modeling a real life competition from real racing, the game is practically already designed for you.
Role: Game Designer / (artist? so long ago!)
Made in: Custom Engine
Looking back, this was probably an overly ambitious title for its time, and the game designs I wrote for it probably didn’t help! The concept would have looked a lot like GTA but in a Mad Max world, complete with FPS and car combat sections, and an in depth story to boot. I recall the original game design by Richard Harrison (part owner of Ratbag) was far more realistic but I had some huge thing for people leaning out of windows and shooting each other rather than ‘copying’ Interstate 76. Anyway, I think this design morphed over time but never saw the light of day.
Somehow, after getting my dream designer role at Ratbag, I just didn’t seem happy at all, in fact it was the opposite, the last year I was there I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I guess I went from making DTR where I had a lot to do, to being someone who sat in front of the game design document all day long. I left Ratbag in the early stages of development, having picked up a copy of Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad” – I had a need to go start my own business.
So here’s where I left and formed Hyperfocal Design (sells HDRI sky maps). After the sort of crazy schedules games demanded, I’d somewhat sworn off returning to developing them.
Here’s a video, which ended up being fairly different gameplay wise from what I’d proposed:
I cringe looking back at how much harder the prototyping process was (I don’t think there was one at all), especially with today’s tools like Unity. Back then I’m sure I’d have realised early on that dudes leaning out of car windows shooting at each other in a big open desert would have been a little boring!
I managed to secure some early funding from our state government for this one, but at the time, with this concept, it was unrealistic to produce without a large team. Even today I’d say unless it was top down/2d sprite based or something it was another over ambitious title and I didn’t want to form the next Ratbag to do it. I got as far as actually meeting with a couple of venture capital people but didn’t get any interest. The gameplay again was GTA-like but ‘cops and robbers’ where the robbers could mark territory with spray paint and blend into the general population (there were no names hovering above heads). I suppose in hindsight the design is a little like APB (minus the MMO part), which was a spectacular failure.
“Zombie Outbreak Simulator”
I teamed up with Saxon Druce from Ratbag to make this one about 5 years ago. It was step one on the way to releasing the next game, Class 3 Outbreak. ZOS was a sandbox simulation, not really a game at all, where you could adjust various attributes of zombies such as their speed, infection time and so on. We had some success in terms of press coverage because the game ran on Google Maps and it had a big novelty hook.
Role: Game Designer/Artist
Made in: Custom Engine
Platform: Web, then iOS, then Android
“Class 3 Outbreak”
With ZOS ‘complete’, we then released the ‘real game’, which I still felt was quite devoid of features. At least it had a fairly nice core mechanic where you had to use police units to stop the zombies multiplying out of control. Unfortunately, due to Saxon being only part time on the coding side, and due to changes with Google’s APIs, and then some huge screw ups with funding from the government, this never went much further. Eventually Saxon and I went different ways – I was always pushing for more gameplay but he wanted to focus on things like the map editor. We butted heads a bit and eventually I handed over my share of Binary Space to him.
Role: Game Designer/Artist
Made in: Custom Engine
I’m fairly proud of this little title, which I developed in a year and released on the Apple app store. It’s essentially a 3D Tiny Wings/Endless Runner where you orbit around a small planet as a comet. It did pretty average, made maybe $2-3k or so and now sells a copy a day. I think the biggest let downs from this game were that I probably made it too hard and didn’t make enough content, ie other planets to fly around.
Role: All things! No wait, Rhys Lindsay did the music and Saxon helped with some high score code!
Made with: Unity, Playmaker
Enter the ‘prototype years’
Whereby I make lots of prototypes and never finish anything:
I messed around with a number of different designs for zombie games and never quite settled on any.
Status: This one is still simmering in the background, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I tackled a strategic zombie game at some stage in the future.
I then entered a phase where I thought I’d like to make a game with no combat in it. I still feel this is a very noble goal and that potentially there’s a lot of uncovered non-combat stuff out there, but I didn’t do a great job of finding it. I wanted to make a game about a Generation Ship that was trying to survive out in space, you had a galaxy map and a crew, and had to decide where to go, what to do to survive. In the end it was just no fun, there wasn’t much to do, and I’ve since seen other games come out with similar mechanics that I didn’t like much either!
Status: Now ‘reborn’ (below)
Obviously here I’ve totally given up on that theory and decided to do a turn based space combat game. This was probably my most promising prototype, which I abandoned when I saw the Oculus Rift.
Status: Also reborn (below)
This was an Oculus Rift prototype that also got quite far along. I wrote an entire script for it, characters, made a prototype… The only gameplay consisted of this kind of ‘dimensional tuning’, controlled by head movement, that never really seemed to resonate with people. Also I realised if I was going to make this game, I’d become a full time 3D artist again, which didn’t appeal to me.
At this stage I’m realising how lucky I am to have Hyperfocal Design paying my bills.
Status: I may come back to this one day, I’m not sure – I liked the story and concept but just didn’t want to make it I suppose. Its also a pretty big commercial gamble having no idea how Rift games would sell.
This idea didn’t seem to leave me, and I thought, why the hell didn’t I try combining the two ideas of the Generation Ship and Fighter Tactics? I was thinking a lot about Battlestar Galactica as well, and Star Trek Voyager’s Year of Hell episode. In terms of games, FTL is an obvious inspiration, as is XCom, and I really liked SteamBirds and Hero Generations. So that’s where I stand right now – the Generation Fleet/Fighter Tactics game is in prototype phase, I like the game play and I’m just trying some variants to make sure the turn based space combat is as fun and strategically deep as possible. The Generation Fleet story/world surrounding it will form a kind of XCom style meta game.
Early last week I received my Oculus Rift DK2 after having developed some prototypes on the DK1 (un-released) last year. I wanted to put my thoughts down in a completely hype free manner, which I feel will probably make this one of the more level headed looks at the hardware. The hype right now is pretty crazy, especially from mainstream media/entertainment/games websites. So here’s what I think, starting with what I feel are the biggest downsides and short comings. Of course, some of this may or may not be solved for the release version:
Hardware setup and cables
During setup of the hardware, I was somewhat annoyed with all the cables required, and felt like it was quite a procedure to plug everything in and set up the camera. I have two computers in my home office, one of them in a standard (I guess?) setup where the case is on the right of my desk on the floor. For the DK1/normal case position, this was simple. For the DK2 I’ve now used a case behind my desk and so the cables are quite annoying. Inevitably speaker cables get mixed with Rift cables, and elbows yank on both as you decide whether to have them under or over your arm. If CV1 has headphones built in this will make this much better, as tangling cables does suck. I prefer using ear bud headphones so I don’t have double the things on my head.
Then you have to factor in that the Rift has to/wants to live somewhere on your desk, along with joysticks, mice and whatever else. You’ll pretty much be needing an input device like a controller or joystick for the Rift, so your desk just got double cluttered! A hook on the Rift somewhere would be great to just hang off the back of my monitor.
The DK2 on my desk, with ear buds, mouse/keyboard… joystick… wheel… oh, the cablezzzz!
The camera is pretty much never going to be in a perfect position unless you have no monitor at all, or it’s magically off to one side. The 5 foot setup distance suggested is pretty unrealistic for most. Hopefully this distance is a DK2 feature and not permanent for CV1, because most people will need to mount this on their monitor, which is 2 feet away. When it’s this close, you’ll lose positional tracking past a certain (close) point to either side. If you put it farther back behind your monitor, you’ll lose positional tracking when you move your face in front of the monitor. To put it behind your monitor you need a tripod, wall mount or shelf. Sure these are all doable, but just inconvenient barriers for the normal consumer. A final point on the camera I’m unsure about – if it’s mounted on your monitor, I can’t imagine it doesn’t get knocked around a lot, messing with tracking in some way. Using a wheel or joystick is almost certain to shake everything around on your desk a little bit, including your monitor and Rift camera, disrupting or shaking your VR view(?).
Back to the cable situation – I think we still need some more customization/hooks/guides on the headset to direct them in a way that suits your setup. I hate the feeling of the cable around my neck/over my shoulder, but can’t really direct it away. I really want it just shooting off the right or left of the headset itself, but maybe you can feel the cable more that way, tugging directy at it rather than spread more evenly as it is now?
How’s your face feel?
Ok so what’s it like on your face? I’ve mostly played Elite Dangerous and Live for Speed, two of the best and most-working-est DK2 games out there. Every time I’ve played these games with the Rift, I’ve had to take it off and put it back on 2-3 times while it warms up and condensation stops forming on the lenses. So that’s pretty annoying. Once that’s settled it’s not too bad using it for around 30-60 minutes or so. After that point, I don’t know what to call it other than just fatigue. Whether it’s from the weight (it’s pretty light, though), it pressing against your face/nose bridge along with the heat, or looking at a low(ish) resolution screen, it’s hard to stay in for long. You might get some eye strain from trying to read all the now just legible text as well. Plus the foam that presses up against your skin isn’t the nicest.
The new lenses seem a little less forgiving than DK1 and require a more precise placement on your face to reduce the chromatic aberration effect, and the reduced FoV is noticeable when you’re looking for it, but not at all if you forget about it, same with the screen door effect.
Monitor > Rift > Monitor…
One of the biggest problems that will need solving is the awkward transition from monitor to Rift. This ranges from going from game to game (Rift off, select game, rift on, play game, quit game, rift off, new game, rift on…). Then you’ve got a key to recenter the rift, head set off… I’m pretty sure we will always need a re-center button(?), so maybe including one on the headset itself could be an idea? Often times I’ve been racing, wanted to reset, have to lean in to hit a key (my position is then different…) It’s a little awkward.
I almost think two buttons on the Rift could be great, one being recenter and another being ‘interface’/esc. Two buttons could do a multitude of tasks that would always be in reach, and would perhaps follow the design of Google Glass somewhat.
That Original Wow Effect?
I feel like a traitor to VR saying this, but I recall the first time I looked at a huge tree on a hill top in Minecraft and could barely believe my eyes. That tree was really truly “up there” and it was big! Now, with DK2’s new Minecrift it’s even better, there’s no motion blur, the frame rate is amazing, but now I’m used to the “VR effect”, and after a quick login/test play I didn’t get a repeat of this. I was still quite impressed with the views and increased resolution, the actually retch free playability of Minecrift. I made a little home in the mountain side, stretched my neck in all directions cutting down trees, and explored a few caves. Some of the views are great and the exploration sense is certainly heightened as you feel more that you’re actually inside these places. I’m more and more certain that it will all wear off, though. A second and third play through will likely feel a lot like playing vanilla 2D Minecraft again.
That kinda sums up the whole experience right now, awkward. Awkwardly pretty great, though. Yes it’s a dev kit, but the above points are what I see as some challenges to removing the Rift from the too-hard basket. Currently it is kinda in the same league as owning and using a steering wheel, requires similar levels of setup, and they occupy your desk in similarly annoying ways, subtly pushing you away from using them.
On the plus side for DK2? I can finally reaaaad! An amazing improvement in resolution that allows you to now actually play games and read instructions and interfaces! I can see into corners in Life for Speed and apex them properly, and only a little lean-in is required to read Elite’s interface text. The removal of the splitter box doesn’t really plus me that much, I never noticed it anyway once it was set up, and it’s been replaced by having to set up that camera.
The low persistence is really nice, and once devs have the software side working this improvement will become more apparent as we lose all judder, which is a slight problem with most demos made for Dk1 and tweaked for Dk2.
The number one thing worth talking about for me is positional tracking. Being able to move your head around in an environment both greatly adds to presence and opens up a number of game play situations. Looking around inside your ship in Elite is pretty amazing – doing simple things like standing up a little bit and looking over the front of your ship is great and really makes it sink in. Peering about the various cockpit objects for me is far more engrossing than looking out into space, potentially just because there’s so much more depth variation close up. I’ve also found myself peering over the bonnet of my car in LFS to see if I can see damage to a wheel, and I’ve thought how cool it might be to… I dunno, check my vehicle/space craft for holes/leaks/damage in some not yet existing game.
Top Moments with the DK2
My best moment so far has probably been playing Live for Speed, despite having logged more time in Elite. If you have the full game and the DK2, I highly suggest choosing the MRT (a small open cockpit car close to the ground) and the city track. The sense of speed is amazing, and flying through that concrete chicane at top speed and hearing your engines bounce off the walls as you clip them made me laugh out loud.
In Elite, I logged in with my brother and used in-game voice for a while. We also bumped into another player and text chatted with him. In both cases the feeling of communicating with other people who occupied a ‘real’ space was pretty amazing for reasons I can’t really explain too well, other than they really seemed to be there. Typing with the Rift on though, it’s a bitch!
In Minecrift, it was getting that sense that I was carving out my own 3-dimensional home in a mountain, and later looking up from within a recently discovered cave at a night sky.
Still just a novelty?
So what do I think about this awkwardly great Rift? I’m not entirely sure yet. Part of me feels like it is a bit of a novelty and it’ll all wear off. The DK1 was so radically new and different and amazing that perhaps you can’t help but feel slightly let down when the second one doesn’t do the same all over again (despite it being much improved). I’ll certainly still be one of the first to place an order for the release version.
In LFS, am I really using VR to its fullest advantage when mostly looking straight ahead? I’ll rarely have to use positional tracking, but I sure feel like I’m there at the track, and I have an improved knowledge of my position, barrier positions, turn in points, etc. For VR, I feel car racing fits nicely into that “you couldn’t do this in real life” category where the benefits of the technology directly helps the game genre by increasing the sense of speed and gives you the ability to look around at competitor positions. The biggest downside is that, if you don’t know how the car feels to drive, you’ll probably suffer from motion sickness no matter how good the hardware. If you’re “mysteriously” losing traction and spinning/drifting, you’ll feel a bit queasy.
In Elite, again positional tracking isn’t hugely needed, you mostly look forward or around for your target, and again I feel like a VR traitor (because I do actually love the Rift) but it’s just a bit of a step up from Track IR if you don’t consider the immersion and presence. Despite the fact that the game is now completely playable in the Rift, I still get the feeling that I don’t want to play this game, because I’ve played games like it many times before over the years. When you’re ‘really, truly inside that VR space station’, you’re still weighing up if I should buy space widgets here and sell them there, or take this mission to kill space bad guy number 999. Don’t get me wrong though, E:D is a really nice step up in many ways (those sound effects!) and I’m planning on doing a complete play through at some stage, hopefully with friends or family.
Should I discard my monitor?
Another thought, VR in these games isn’t so amazingly good that its pulled me away from my current favorite non VR game, Dota2. My point I guess is that I’ll probably still be playing non-Rift games if they’re more fun/challenging/engaging. VR won’t just make all games magically the best thing ever/throw your monitor out the window. Picture this extreme example, 50 years in the future we finally have “the holodeck”. You plug in and load up your house environment that was scanned a moment earlier. It’s perfect, you can’t tell the difference between reality and VR. Unfortunately, despite this technical marvel, I’d rather go play Dota2 in real life or VR life because it’s more fun and challenging than going “wow this seems so real!”. If the same thing became some kinda “X country just invaded, defend your family in your own home”, then great, I’m in! My point is, the experience or game still has to advance beyond the same shit just with VR tacked on. Whether I’d play Dark Souls 3 in VR mode or not, I’m not sure. I haven’t been bothered using VorpX or similar to try many traditional games other than Dear Esther.
But the immersion! The presence!
Obviously you can’t say a huge improvement in immersion or presence is not a big leap for gaming, but I think the best experiences are going to be emotionally deep ones, where the message the game is giving you is heightened. I think this is mostly true of all fiction and media, the best experiences are ones that touch you emotionally and once you’ve closed the book or left the cinema (or turned off the PS3/Journey!), you can’t help but keep thinking about that story. In Star Trek, on the holodeck, if you wanted to be moved, you’d load up stories or “holonovels”.
I love action games and competitive multiplayer which have no story or meaning, it’s probably what I play most often (Dota2 for example). However games like Eve Valkyrie I feel will kind of just top out at “wow this is cool”, in the same way we think 3D is cool for the latest action film. On the other hand, having an experience like Gone Home or Dear Esther that aims to do things with your emotions, and where the focus is the environment and story, that’s what I really can’t wait for. Feeling like you’re really inside the house from Gone Home, or on the island in Dear Esther could go beyond “wow this is cool”. The house in Gone Home is a huge part of the story and the feel of that game – if you believe you’re in that house, that would really add something above just cool-factor alone.
Positional game mechanics
If we step away for a moment from any talk of story, and instead look at pure mechanics, I think the Rift doesn’t add a lot more (yet) other than positional tracking, which certainly has a lot of potential. I’d like to see something up close and personal like The Room where you’re actively peering around and inspecting objects. Or as I said above, something where I need to inspect the vehicle I’m sitting in for damage. Something that really uses positional tracking. Super Hot seems to do this with its bullet dodging/time mechanics so I’m keen to try it. A lot of positional movement has already been covered a lot just by use of controllers for things like leaning around corners so I’m still not too sold on this being a huge thing for pushing game mechanics further.
My latest prototype
Maybe if we do something that combines both of the above things? Emotionally deep games where you inspect objects in your highly immersive environment, to help tell a story? This is what I’m working on right now – I’m prototyping stuff anyway! Being a mostly 1-man team I’ll have to choose something that’s possible within that scope, but I hope to tackle a game that only the Oculus Rift can do justice to. I’ll keep you up to date as I develop it. If you’d like to stay tuned, read more posts like this or be notified of demo releases in the future, you can sign up below: