Untold Games: 'The rules of VR have yet to be written'

Untold Games: 'The rules of VR have yet to be written'
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

April 7th 2014 at 2:50PM

Indie studio behind award-winning virtual reality adventure game discusses the challenges VR developers face

Video games have been in development for decades and while today’s titles create experiences that the earliest home consoles couldn’t hope to emulate, many of the principles behind their development are the same as those behind the likes of Pong and Space Invaders.

But indie developer Untold Games, the studio behind high-profile VR project Loading Human, believes that virtual reality will play by its own rulebook.

“Virtual reality is a new playground where rules have yet to be written,” says Flavio Parenti, CEO of Untold and co-designer of Loading Human. “Game design in virtual reality has to be rethought, the proportions and speed too. Everything is a new frontier, where creativity and intelligence lead the way.

“And the only way to understand the fundamentals of VR is to proceed inside a headset and try, try, try. It is a physical experience, more than a visual one. This is one of the key aspect of it: you are IN the game, you are not watching it anymore. It is a huge revolution in gaming.”

One of the biggest issues in developing VR games is the ever-present danger of nausea and motion sickness. While refined hardware will help reduce this – developers are already reporting that Oculus’ SDK2 is leaps and bounds less upsetting for players’ stomachs than the original – Untold has found an interesting alternative solution.

“Because we are working with early prototypes, like the DEV KIT1, we had to suffer a huge amount of nausea during the beta testing,” Parenti says. “We’ve discovered a small trick: the only way to alleviate the suffering is taking huge doses of fresh ginger half an hour before testing.”

Virtual reality is a new playground where rules have yet to be written. Everything is a new frontier, where creativity and intelligence lead the way.

Flavio Parenti, Untold Games

With virtual reality games development still in its early stages, there is still a big opportunity for ambitious studios to write that VR rulebook, but Parenti warns that working on the technology now may not reap any rewards in the near future. Given the financial risks involved, developers need to be sure that they’re prepared for a long journey before investing in VR projects.

“There is no market,” he warns, “so you need to be able to develop with your own money and time. This is already a huge barrier for most developers, but in order to follow a dream, you have to believe in it! That’s what we did, we invested our own time and money to develop the proof of concept of Loading Human.” 

NO LONGER NICHE

If no market exists yet, why are Untold and so many other indie studios devoting so much time developing games for a technology that isn’t commercially available yet?

The simple answer is that these studios believe the current VR prototypes are just the beginning of a larger movement – a notion that the recent Facebook acquisition of Oculus and unveiling of Sony’s Project Morpheus lend no small amount of credence to.

“Those are all strong signals that VR is going to be the biggest paradigm shift in entertainment after movies,” says Parenti. “Virtual reality could even change other industry sectors like tourism, or medicine, or real estate. There is a whole world to discover.”

Untold Games director Elisa Di Lorenzo adds: “It shows how it is no longer seen as a niche thing, but that it will really become something accessible to a wide range of users from different backgrounds in the near future.

Facebook very probably sees VR as the next great revolution after the mobile one – which is obviously not only limited to video games – and wants to be on board.

“We obviously don’t know the details of the agreement between Oculus VR and Facebook, but if Oculus is going to keep working in an independent way, we’d be facing the biggest revolution after television and being part of it would be an honour.”

It helps that there is a hugely vocal audience out there hungry for VR experiences, helped considerably by coverage for titles like Loading Human, which won two awards in the Selected Projects competition at last month’s Game Connection America during GDC.

We need high-end PCs to run VR games for now, but with the evolution of mobile technology, in a few years we’ll have high-resolution stereoscopic graphics that can be handled by a simple smartphone.

Elisa Di Lorenzo, Untold Games

The rising awareness of how quickly virtual reality is developing is playing into a broader shift in how consumers engage with their entertainment experiences. And while the VR experience may currently be locked to unfinished hardware tethered to a high-end PC, Di Lorenzo expects it to become accessible on a much wider scale in future.

“Maybe ten years ago, the general public wouldn’t have been ready for VR,” she says. “We’re seeing an ongoing transformation of how people experience games and entertainment in general, and now not only is the technology ready to deliver VR, but people are really ready for it, too.

“We need high-end PCs for now, but with the evolution of mobile technology, in a few years we’ll have high-resolution stereoscopic graphics that can be handled by a simple smartphone.”

There are, of course, other technical barriers that need to be overcome before virtual reality headsets will make it into everyone’s homes. Aside from the aforementioned motion sickness, Untold believes commercial VR headsets much be wireless for improved mobility, offer more ‘natural’ interfaces and increased resolutions, and be less than $200.

“In our opinion, most of those things will be solved with the first generation of mass marketed goggles,” says Di Lorenzo. “And in the next four years, we should see really cheap VR headsets, wireless and with retina-like screens.

No one can ever be 100 per cent sure of anything, but we strongly believe VR is here to stay. It is going to bring something completely new to games. It’s not just a matter of playing the games we’re used to in a different way; it’s the possibility to experience completely new gameplay, a new world of experiences that we really haven’t even imagined yet.”

Parenti agrees: “Headsets will become cheaper and cheaper, and there will be as many headsets as there are now mobile phones. All of them will have different characteristics, and probably there will be a standard ‘marketplace’ where you can get all the games and apps. VR is only the beginning of the gaming revolution.”

Want to get involved in our VR special all this week? Have something to say about virtual reality and what it means for developers? Email James.Batchelor@intentmedia.co.uk to find out how you can take part.