exo one at avcon

EXO ONE AVCON Wrap Up

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!

exo one at avcon

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?”

Survey Responses

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
– exploring
– world design / the visuals / the graphics
– everything
– 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.
– Exploration.
– 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
– nothing
– 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

Other comments:
– 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
– multiplayer!
– 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.

Takeaways

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!

Steam Greenlight

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.

EXO ONE – Reveal Teaser!

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.

Features:
– 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.

Watch the teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAiOrl4y5w8

EXO ONE on Steam Greenlight: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=718608076

Presskit(): http://www.exbleative.com/press/sheet.php?p=exo_one

EXO ONE Website: http://www.exo-one-game.com

EXO ONE
Surreal, Exoplanetary Exploration.
Coming Soon.

Exbleative (http://www.exbleative.com) is Jay Weston, who has worked on titles including Powerslide, Dirt Track Racing, Zombie Outbreak Simulator, Class 3 Outbreak and Unknown Orbit.

Just a quick Rocket League brag post!

*edit I’ve added another full length game:

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:

Life Lessons from Rocket League

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.

Rocket League?

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.

rocketleague

1V1

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.

6. SWOT 

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!

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

Opportunities

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!

Threats

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.

Nice Shot!

Wow!

OMG!

OMG!

OMG!

Wow!

OMG!

Thanks!

Great Pass!

… 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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Games I’ve Worked On

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.

Powerslide

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
Platform: PC
Year: 1998

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
Platform: PC
Year: 2000

“Next Game”

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!

“Concrete”

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
Year: 2009

“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
Platform: Web
Year: 2010

“Unknown Orbit”

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
Platform: iOS
Year: 2013

 

Enter the ‘prototype years’

Whereby I make lots of prototypes and never finish anything:

“Zombie Games”

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.

“Generation Ship”

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)

“Fighter Tactics”

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)

“The Station”

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.

“Generation Fleet”

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.

Status: In development

 

–>

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A bleat-free view on the DK2

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 DK2 on my desk, with ear buds, mouse/keyboard… joystick… wheel… oh, the cablezzzz!

Camera

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.

From Kotaku’s article on being a space commander. I imagine my eyes look more tired and bloodshot!

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.

Awkwardly great

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:

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Game designers I’m learning from

I’ve read or part-read a number of books on game design including Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun, and The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell (and a few more that I barely got a chapter into). I read Theory of Fun most the way through and re-read Art of Game Design a few times, especially when in the concept/ideas phase of a game, or when a prototype didn’t seem to be working out.

Lately though I’ve preferred watching videos, listening to podcasts and reading blog posts by a number of game designer’s whose games I enjoy, or in genres I’d like to get into. That genre I suppose I’d call narrative led/exploration/”not games”, but that doesn’t apply that well to all the designers and games below.

So anyways, here’s a list of people, companies, blogs and podcasts I like that you might find useful:

Jon Blow

jon_blow

A quick search on youtube will yield a deluge of talks from Jon, and he likes to get deep into game design in a creative, artistic and meaningful way. This isn’t the sort of designer who’s thinking up new combat mechanics or ways to virtually kill people with the most ‘fun’ combo. Developer of Braid and now The Witness, Jon Blow is like(!), my favorite person to listen to right now.

I’m not a particularly huge fan of Braid (I just don’t like platformers that much) and the preview of The Witness doesn’t excite me much either, but then I think that’s a game you have to play to ‘get it’. The main reason I like Jon is he likes to get into the meaty emotional parts of game design! Here’s his latest that I could find:

I have trouble translating some of his advice into actionable steps, especially the above video where he talks about how you should be suuuper emotionally invested to the point of welling up over your game. I totally agree that being this invested in your game will help you through years of development, but… maybe I just don’t have an idea yet I love this much?

Thomas Grip

Designer at Frictional Games who are making SOMA and made Amnesia, Thomas has some great GDC talks, blog posts and tweets.

Why am I following Grip? I didn’t mind Amnesia, I played through maybe a quarter (though I don’t finish many games), but Amnesia tried new things, and that always gets my attention. I was intruiged by their concept of encouraging players to play along with the game, and the ‘faked’ parts of the game mechanics which made the game so scary. Find his stuff below:

https://twitter.com/ThomasGrip

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ThomasGrip/762286/

Here’s his latest GDC talk: Evoking-Emotions-and-Achieving-Success

Jenova Chen

Designer on Journey, Flower and Flow, I was completely taken with Journey and have completed it 3-4 times on a friends PS3 (I’m not a console gamer). It’s rare to get such positive and uplifting feelings from a game these days, especially if your favorite game right now is Dota2, which I play on an almost daily basis. I also liked how minimalist it is, and despite the fact I play a lot of combat games, for the most part I am thinking a lot about non-combative game play designs. In his making-of Journey talks, Jenova references the Hero’s Journey story telling methods a lot, and so I feel the need to (re)read a book I have on that subject.

Jenova doesn’t have much in the way of a blog but he’s done a lot of talks at events like GDC.

https://twitter.com/JenovaChen

G4C14: Jenova Chen / Blank Canvas Designing A New Era of Emotional Storytelling Through Games

Jenova’s company, that game company, has just received $7m in funding for their next title – I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Daniel Pinchbeck

Designer of Dear Esther at The Chinese Room, a game I found almost infuriating to begin with. I had to really force myself through the start of the game without a run or jump button, but once I got to the caves that feeling disappeared and never returned. I think Dear Esther and Journey have somewhat of a cross over in terms of story telling, with Journey telling more with the cut scenes and “paintings”, and Dear Esther telling more via the voice overs. I like both for indie games as neither requires crazy expensive character animation and everything that goes with that.

Daniel’s next game, Everyone’s Gone to Rapture, has gone Playstation only (booo) but its obviously a great move by Sony as I’ll now buy their console just for this game.

Steve Gaynor

Designer and writer on Gone Home, another non-shooter I quite liked. For what I cave-mannishly describe as a bit of a girly story line, I was pretty hooked on finding out what happens (I won’t spoiler it) and I ended up with a really clear picture of the main characters from just a couple photos and a bunch of voice overs and hand written notes. I did kinda speed play through this to just get the story, but as with many of the games above (apart from Journey), I wasn’t a wild fan – I’m more a fan of the designers creating non-traditional games.

Steve did a pretty cool podcast called Tone Control where he interviews other game designers/developers: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/tone-control/id730148800?mt=2

His company, FullBright: http://fullbright.company/

Some great interviews with Steve on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=steve+gaynor (yep I’m this lazy!)

Anyone Else?

Just quickly, I also like to follow these developers, who have made some great games lately:

  • Capy (Sword and Sworcery) ((Below is looking amazing))
  • Klei (Don’t Starve)
  • Bay 12 Games (Dwarf Fortress)
  • Jason Roher (The Castle Doctrine)
  • Probably missing another half dozen names here (to be continued)

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How Will the Oculus Rift Change Game Design?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, as I’m an indie developer that recently got a hold of the first dev kit. What exactly will change in terms of game design and mechanics, or what can we do differently now that the Oculus has arrived? How exactly will immersion and presence affect game design?

I’ll start with outlining what the Oculus gives us that we did not have before.

  1. Increased immersion or “presence” – the feeling that you are inside the environment.

  2. Head tracking in terms of rotation (by actually moving your head) and position (craning your head forward, back, left and right).

  3. Depth perception.

  4. Real world head/limb movement speeds

  5. Orientation issues

Then I’ll end with a few thoughts on some Oculus games and demos.

Immersion

This has been the number one touted advantage of the Rift – you are now IN the game. Big things look big, high things seem high, large drops or valleys look deep, things that are close to you seem closer, and so on. You can’t compare it to a 3D screen, the depth and sense that you are inside an environment is real. In the Oculus, my first thought (inside the Settings Viewer) was “wow, the far corner of this large room is actually quite far away, and this guy is right in my face. That door to my right isn’t *really* there”. That’s quite a thing considering the graphics:

setting viewer

I believe the main benefit of  immersion is it increases the chances for the developer to deliver the expected feeling or emotional response from events happening in-game. For example, fear, awe, danger and scale are all greatly enhanced. So how does this change things? Is the Oculus merely an enhancing effect? Scary games will be scarier, racing games will seem faster, shooters more …shooty? Also what do I mean “merely” increase immersion? I realise immersion can be pretty big for some games, but for the most part I wonder how much better or meaningful will a game be, if its got double the immersion factor, or 10x? So now you’ll feel like you’re really, really, really there! So what? This is something very hard to quantify.

If you play Call of Duty as-is but wearing an Oculus, has anything much changed just because you feel more like you are there? Will you see a fellow soldier die, and instead of chalking him up as another meaningless death, will you feel genuinely bad? I kind of doubt it. You might feel like those mortars are really exploding right next to you, though. Taking this to a (silly) extreme, if you recreated the room you are sitting in now, and had 100% perfect VR and immersion, that would be impressive from a tech standpoint, but as an experience or a game, it is meaningless.

Will the increased immersion effects wear off or is it just novelty value that we will eventually adjust to? Going back to regular games, I remember System Shock 2 scaring the crap out of me when I played it as a kid, and the best horror games these days still manage to do the same, so it didn’t wear off for 2D gaming at least. Considering Dreadhalls (made for Oculus) and forgetting how nauseous this game made me feel, the sense of terror was definitely magnitudes higher than other horror games I’ve played. If I didn’t get used to being scared in old games or movies, then hopefully the immersion effect and enhanced emotional responses on the Oculus won’t wear off either.

Finally while I don’t want to talk at length about it – the potential for significant emotional reactions could swing in a number of ways. I could imagine anything from heart attacks from horror games to people not wanting to play shooters because it feels like they’re actually killing people, to the opposite, where we get even more desensitized to violence. I’ve had dreams that feel so real that I’ll wake up feeling bad that I’ve just cheated on my partner, despite it having never happened. Will the same thing happen when VR gets really real?

Head Tracking

Head tracking feeds into both immersion and game mechanics, being able to move your head around helps immersion, but it also gives us some new tools to play with that were previously not available. In the past we’ve used controllers or the  mouse and keyboard to control both where the player walks and where they look, however this leaves us with little option for finer control of the avatar’s head. The best option is something like Arma/DayZ where you hold Alt to control your head, but this still lacks control for moving your head forwards, backwards, left and right while rotating, and you can’t aim and look at the same time. For most games this fine head control will be unnecessary, but to use DayZ as an example again, even this could benefit if you try and move your head away from a teeth gnashing zombie, or actually shift your head over/under/around objects to search for nearby zombies.

Looking at some amazing VR ground

With the ability to both move and rotate your head in all directions and dimensions, new game mechanics can open up which could involve actions such as:

  • Close and thorough inspection of objects at different distances and angles

  • Complex and fine head movement control – ie looking around inside a cockpit, over an edge, peering around corners, peeking over ledges, ducking, etc. You are no longer restricted to looking straight up or down, either.

  • Head position as a gameplay mechanic – we now have an extra control in addition to gamepad or mouse/keyboard. This could allow more complex games or capitalise on a single mechanic as in Dumpy the Elephant, where you control the Elephants head and attached trunk with your own head movements. In this instance immersion is increased as the trunk feels like an extension of your own head.

  • Social actions, ie – nodding to multiplayer friends in a conversation, nodding in the affirmative instead of hitting the A button to agree with an NPC. These mechanics also increase immersion.

To carry on talking about Dumpy, this is a good example of a game that could have been designed without the Rift, and would have still worked, however with the Rift it reaches a new level because your head movement is linked to the elephants – you are moving your head as if you are an elephant. It gives you an extra hook into the game world that wouldn’t be possible by just swinging your hand/wrist around with a mouse.

Depth Perception

As an elephant, being able to see down your trunk in full 3D adds another level again – with it almost coming out between your eyes. Depth perception is linked to immersion in terms of boosting the effect of being somewhere inside an environment, but could also help players nail the apex of a corner, make contact with a melee swing, and get scared shitless by a monster that’s right in their face.

dumpy

Emotionally, I could see depth being a huge factor as well. Imagine looking at an NPC you’ve grown attached to slipping out of your fingers to their doom, Cliff Hanger style, or being right next to someone who’s hit by a car. Perhaps imagine a Bond moment where a buzzsaw or syringe is approaching your face… Again, for horror games turning around and seeing a monster face-to-face is terrifying as was evidenced when my partner slammed my new Rift into the table after ripping it off her face.

Reactions to other players or NPCs could be amplified if they move right in close to you. An aggressor could scream right into your face, or a love interest could slowly move in. Someone could lean in and whisper into your ear, a zombie could bite your face off, etc.

On a slightly more shallow note – all those fancy special effects and particles are sure gonna look pretty as you move through them!

Real World Movement

Real world head movement may even slightly restrict game design choices (although restriction of choices in art is rarely a bad thing). With the Oculus, you can only turn your head or move the view at a certain speed based on the player’s own neck muscles, or in terms of rollercoaster style games, you can only push different movement speeds in so many directions before making the player sick.

If you’re playing in 1st person, you’ll have to be a creature with a single head, neck and two eyes (sure, it’s not common to be a 10 headed, neckless cyclops or something), so while being an elephant or a Grey alien is doable, being a giraffe might not work quite so well. Also consider something like a bird, which travels horizontally with their body out behind them while the player themselves sits upright in chair. Gravity is working against game design choices like this. However, having played a few space games so far, the effect of being upside down with incorrect gravity isn’t so bad.

We also have to consider restriction of movement. You can’t have an NPC put the player’s avatar in a headlock for example, or restrain their head movement in any way, because the player can simply move their head. If you have the player moving through a very tight space, he can crane his head forward and just move through the geometry. I hear that in some demos, developers have blurred and/or darkened the screen when this happens. Perhaps this is a solution for restricting movement too?

Unexpected movement is another thing to think hard about. This can range from a camera move in a 3rd person game (perhaps the camera moves to avoid a wall or moves for a cut scene) to unexpected movements based on physics . If you play Wingsuit or Warthunder, despite their realistic physics models these games can cause somewhat unexpected up and down movements that causes your stomach to really churn. The more simple and direct the movement, the better, at least with the first dev kit.

Peripheral Movement

In addition to real world movement for the Oculus, peripherals like Razer Hydras can suffer from similar problems where the player attempts to move in a way that isn’t matched 1:1 to the game environment. For example, imagine in-game swinging a huge heavy axe with your nice light Hydras – there will be a mis-match between the speed you can swing in reality vs the game world.

Orientation

When playing normal games on a detached 2D screen, it doesn’t much matter which way you’re facing, which way gravity goes, or how much you spin or flip. However when you are immersed into an environment, these things become an issue for your stomach, and sometimes for immersion. Consider my awesome art below:

oculus orientations

Comparing your sitting position to the type of avatar/orientation. From left to right – elephant, bird, upside down space ship, scuba diver

Whether or not some of these conflicting body/avatar positions are a problem will probably come down to feel. I personally didn’t have a problem with the elephant or space ships, but I did feel odd as a bird. Games like Lunar Flight or other cockpit games on the other hand really feel like they click.

Existing Game Demos

I’m going to end this post with a breakdown of a small selection of games and how they utilize the Rift, as well as some potential problems with some concepts.

Lunar Flight

I think this is the best example so far of a game that uses all of the Oculus’s features to best effect. When DK2 comes out with head position tracking, it will be even more so. Seated in a Lunar Lander, I’m seated as I am in real life, looking out the cockpit of the Lander. I feel like I’m really in the Lander, the scale is perfect, I can judge depth well enough to land on target locations and the interface is designed well. I also like the fact that I have to look around to use the interface, rather than straight ahead, making more use of screen real estate and the Rift. When positional tracking comes out, I’ll be able to lean forward and judge my landings with even more precision, or look around a strut/monitor that’s in the way of my view of the Earth. Can’t wait!

Lunar Flight Link

Dumpy the Elephant

The number one thing that separates this game from others is that you move your head to control the elephant’s head and trunk. That, coupled with the immersion gives you a pretty solid feeling of being an elephant despite the cartoony graphics. I’m a huge fan of the art style, and its great to see people using non-realistic graphics so soon. Amazingly, considering the amount of head movement involved, I never get nauseous.

Dumpy Link

Ambient Flight

I like the concept for this game, and it looks amazing, and a flying game for the Rift is just a no-brainer. However I feel a big disconnect being seated upright myself, vs horizontal as the bird avatar. Funnily enough though, I didn’t get this with Dumpy. I feel that this game might also benefit a huge amount from something like the Stem controller, where you’d need to spread your arms out to fly and maneuver, maybe even flap them like wings. The main benefit to this game is the immersion of the Rift, where you feel like you are in the air. This game may also cross the line a little between an experience and game, where (at least currently) there are no challenges or goals of any kind. Once you’ve played this once, you’ll possibly never replay again, but with so many experiences to be had on the Rift, I think this might be quite common. I suppose you may return to it just to chill out and fly around.

Ambient Flight Link

DreadHalls

With the first dev kit, I universally dislike all FPS’s because it induces the worst nausea for me. However I’ve seen a few let’s plays and my friends had a go and they were all fine. Hopefully DK2 solves this for everyone and most game types. Having said that, Dreadhall’s use of the Oculus makes great use of real world movement, as you can’t look left and right any faster than your head will allow, and positional tracking will be amazing for peeking around corners. Monsters can feel like they are right behind you, and you can’t pull a superhuman turn/run backwards to see. This game and perhaps the horror genre feels like the easiest to link immersion to a better game, as being immersed in a scary environment elevates the terror by such a degree. A very real problem with the sheer terror factor for this game is that I don’t actually want to play it. This is something I’ve seen and heard in other reviews/youtube playthroughs as well – there might be a limit to how much you can handle while playing a good, immersive Oculus game! Just imagine we reach an Exorcism of Emily Rose level of terror in VR, yikes! At the same time, who can pass up trying something that someone tells you is too scary?

Don’t play it here(!)

Conclusion

The future of game design with the Rift is quite an unknown – we still have such a small number of demos available, most of them just bite sized experiences, so its hard to judge yet what a fully developed Oculus game will be like with the consumer version. Here’s to hoping that what we get isn’t mostly “what we have now, plus a Rift on your face”. Games like Lunar Flight, Dumpy the Elephant and Dread Halls are some great steps forward, and I think the technology will really make developers dream big and try things that haven’t been done before.

For Rift experiences, I’m also looking forward to everything from 360 degree videos to sunny beach simulators, to dioramas like Blocked In.

Thanks for reading, very keen to hear people’s opinions on how the Oculus will change game design, how immersion will affect how games are made, how I said a stupid thing, or any other comments you have!

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Subreddit Effect on Game Sales

sales increase subreddit

Sales from a mention on /whoadude subreddit

The above is a rather nice result from being on /whoadude for only 2 days! I know, its not staggering sales, but I just thought I’d post this up as what I think is an interesting example of what some small marketing efforts can yield. The owner of the subreddit /whoadude emailed me and mentioned he was going to feature the game, and that if I could provide some promo codes, that would draw even more attention. A free app service of some kind on twitter picked it up and tweeted it as well, so hard to know if that also had an effect.

I had no idea reddit even had these kinds of ‘header’ posts, but /whoadude has one, its just a small line of text which said “App feature, Unknown Orbit” or something along those lines. Check it out here. The owner changes it every couple of days to something he think his audience will like, and I can somewhat see the link between his audience and my game :) I might have to have a second attempt at getting my game in front of an astronomy kind of audience, as surely they would love the game?

So all I had to do was write in /whoadude asking people to message me if they wanted a free code, and that was it. Sales stayed quite “high”(er!) all month!

The 5 star ratings continue to flood in, and when I get quite good effects from small marketing efforts like this, it is encouraging, so as soon as I get a spare moment, I’ll be adding a couple of new planets to the game. Will see how sales increase once there’s more to do within the game, different environments, challenges, etc. Hopefully it wont be too long!

Cheers!
Jay