Indie developers talk virtual reality ahead of July’s Develop
With Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Valve’s own experiments reinvigorating interest in virtual reality, much of the conversation at this year’s Develop – taking place July 8–10 in Brighton – will focus on the potential for new gaming experiences using the technology.
And it’s indie developers, according to Sony, who will most benefit from the early rush of enthusiasm as they define the early scene and ‘hit big’ in a space relatively free from competition. But is VR really the golden opportunity that it appears to be?
“There’s probably some truth to Sony’s statement,” says Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, whose Develop talk will focus on the potential dangers of romanticising the realities of indie development. “But I think the truth there is less about the ingenuity of indies and more about the scale of our risk taking. Ultimately, an indie making a VR game isn’t as big a risk as adding VR to Watch Dogs.
“So, yes, I suspect that in the first the year, the cool stuff will be coming from indies, just because we’re able and stupid enough to do it! But the second any of us make any money, that will change very quickly.”
“For Sony specifically,” adds Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Capybara Games, who’s keeping the nature of his talk under wraps for now. “I believe they can’t help but see how Vita is being pushed in the west by smaller teams and ports of great independent titles. They know fostering
Four indie developers set to feature at this year’s Develop tell us about the potential of a VR revolution
that on other new platforms can help to answer the ‘show us the games’ demand all new platforms hear from their players.”
Dlala Studios CEO Anthony James Grand-Scrutton, whose talk will outline the experience of being an indie studio incubated within Microsoft’s Soho-based Lift London, shares Bithell’s mix of enthusiasm and caution.“I’m really torn on the VR issue,” he says. “VR is fantastic, and I think you can make some great creative experiences with it, but until it’s a completely worldwide consumer thing where the majority of gamers are using it, it’s a lot of work to make a game that’s VR compatible. “Unity’s made things easier now – with some tweaks and some exporting, it’s not that bad – but VR is still a separate platform, a separate development cycle. I really hope it’s successful, because there’s some fantastic stuff out there for it, but at the same time, right now it’s not viable for us to look at.” NDreams has taken the opposite stance, focusing its efforts into a VR-centred adventure game for Rift and Morpheus. CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh will be using his Develop session to show a little of the game and talk about the challenges the team has faced designing for it. Understandably, he’s fully invested in VR’s potential for smaller devs.
“We will see, I’m sure, some big triple-A games trying to support VR,” he says. “And they may do that fairly well, but over the next year or two, until the installed base is so massive that the likes of EA and Ubisoft have got their big studios working on it, I think we’ll see
“The cool stuff will be coming from indies, just because we’re able and stupid enough to do it!”
some really talented studios making games that are designed specifically for VR, and built around that.
“The great thing is that, just like the way Steam and PSN works now, you can have games like Thomas Was Alone alongside Call Of Duty. There’s so many different types of games and so many different budget levels of games.” But even O’Luanaigh is keeping his options open, not entirely prepared to commit to a VR-exclusive release. “There’s no reason 99 per cent of our game couldn’t be played on a PS4 with a screen. It won’t be quite as amazing as having VR, it really won’t, but that’s something we’re thinking about at the moment. So I think that’s a big decision devs have to make: at the launch of the hardware, do you support non-VR machines as well, or do you go balls-out VR-only and cross your fingers that there’s enough sales to generate the revenue?”
That’s assuming VR will take root this time around, of course. There have been several false starts over the years as ambition has outstripped technology. But with so many notable developers working on VR projects, have capabilities finally caught up with the vision? “I don’t think there’s anyone in the industry that can say for sure if this VR revolution will stick,” Vella warns, “but after trying demos from the major players, I was pretty much blown away. And if that’s the common experience, then they’re starting off on the right foot.”
Bithell agrees: “It feels like it’s within grasp, and that the problems are solvable – all a Rift is really is a very cleverly repurposed iPhone. It feels good this time, but I’m sure people in the ’80s were saying exactly the same thing!”