Vir­tual boys


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!”

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