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oculus rift

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How We Cracked Our VR Experience

Screenshot from Prototype of Circuit Rider

Screenshot from Prototype of Circuit Rider

This article might feel a bit premature as we are right in the middle of crunch time for our VR project Circuit Rider and there are still a million things that need to be done, but on the other hand it might be the perfect time to write this.

A couple of days ago I had a meeting with one of our programmers, David Wyand about the state of the portion of the game he was working on. Since starting the experience at the end of October, we’ve had countless of conversations about what Circuit Rider will feel like and how much fun it would actually be to play.

The problem with making it fun hinges around the fact that the experience is actually two games in one. Essentially while the viewer is playing Circuit Rider they get hacked out to another level where they discover something much darker and mysterious is happening. To uncover this mystery, they must unlock memories by uncovering objects that are littered out in the level. That essentially means that we are trying to build two different games in one experience and in some way tie them together so that it feels cohesive.

Even though the team and I had spent a lot of time hammering out the script, something still felt off about the Circuit Rider portion of the experience. It felt boring, disconnected, and ultimately wasn’t fun. I’m using the word fun here a lot because the initial idea from Ayal Senior was that the viewer was addicted to playing Circuit Rider. Therefore, we couldn’t just tell the player that they were feeling this, we had to find a way to make this in the game so the viewer actually feels it.

Thus, up to this last conversation there was still a disconnect. We talked about making the game more challenging, but then we needed to teach the viewer how to play it and we didn’t think that had enough time or resources to do that. Also, we didn’t know for sure if that would even solve the problem if we put the remaining time into developing that mechanic.

What we eventually came around to is the fact that as you are moving down the track, and killing drones, you are supposed to be “lighting up the circuit” and thus making the AI of Circuit Rider more intelligent. We cast a terrific voice actor named Ed Robinson for the voice of the AI and it was important that the viewer hear those lines and not be completely distracted by game play. Because we had spent so much time talking about how to make the game fun, we actually forgot the actual point of the narrative was to hear the AI in order to connect the experience to the puzzle game.

This was a genuine eureka moment for us as we took a hard look at what we making and realized the audience for the game would be people who are looking for a narrative experience, and not a shooter game. Thus, we changed the game mechanics immediately to put the narrative as the focus. In play testing the experience yesterday, I could finally see and feel something that I hadn’t felt in the past few months. Cohesiveness, fun, and synergy.

I have learned from making Circuit Rider that knowing who your audience is plays a major role in what you develop. Coming from a film making background I’ve always wanted to infuse a story into our gaming experiences, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to balance. The takeaway here is to be honest and truthful about what you are making and ultimately who you are making it for. This helped us crack our VR game and I’m sure if you follow this advice while in development, it can help you develop something that works with your goals as well.

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Why It’s Hard for Me to be Cynical about the Future of VR

Small Wonders VR Exhibition at the AGO

Small Wonders VR Exhibition at the AGO

For the past couple years I’ve had the opportunity to walk people through their first VR experiences. Some of these projects were mine some were others, however based on their reactions it very hard for me to feel cynical about virtual reality. Don’t get me wrong, I think cynicism and is criticism very healthy and necessary but it sometimes hard for me to digest some of the articles that I have come across which have put a spotlight on the negative aspects of this growing medium. For example, this one from CNET that waxes poetic about how unimpressed they’ve been with the state of VR after all the hype that happened over the past year and the lack luster announcements at CES 2017.

So I ask myself, is VR a fad just like 3D TV’s? Is the cost of current VR headsets (Oculus, Vive, PSVR) too expensive for it to catch on? In contrast Samsung revealed their sales numbers last week for their Gear VR product and to date they have sold 5 million units. From a content creators perspective, these are very encouraging numbers and I can only see these t numbers getting bigger and bigger.

However, the truth is I don’t know where everything is going to go. If you read posts on Reddit, The Verge, Engadget etc. you will undoubtedly sway from one opinion to another. So what I’ve had to come to come to grips with is every ecosystem is fragile and it could grow or die at any time, which is the nature of things.

That said, I feel lucky. I feel lucky to be living at a time when there is another computing revolution and I get to experience first hand as I’m old enough and wise enough to respect and acknowledge what is happening. I also feel lucky because I’ve had the opportunity to watch people experience VR for the first time and be completely amazed by the technology. In the past six months alone I have worked at the Toronto Public Library and the AGO in positions where I’m teaching and demonstrating the tech to the general public. I’ve shown VR to people of all ages and the results are always the same. They come away inspired and in awe of what they’ve just witnessed.

VR is a fast moving technology and as a creator I want to keep moving with it. I’m currently on my third VR project and I’m loving every minute of it, even if I can’t see the sustainability yet. However, what I do know in my heart is that I will keep growing and evolving as an artist and storyteller there is nothing to be cynical about that.

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