NDreams' VP of development Tom Gillo discusses the skills needed to build great games for virtual reality
It’s fair to say that VR is seen by many as the new gold rush; “there’s gold in them there hills!” seems to be the cry of the investment community.
But for all of us who’ve been at the sharp end of VR development over the past 30-plus months, there has been a fast-dawning realisation that – just like gold – mining the best out of VR wasn’t going to be entirely straightforward. We soon discovered VR would test and challenge us in lots of new ways.
As anyone who has tried it will tell you, developing for VR is something of a paradigm shift from “the traditional”. Many of the established gameplay mechanics and techniques that we’ve all come to take for granted no longer apply. The reasons for this are well documented and I’m not going to dwell too deeply on them here. Essentially, a lot of things that players can do (and that we take for granted in non-VR games) can cause simulator sickness and/or break player immersion (or “presence” as it was coined) in VR games. Just try strafing and turning using standard FPS controls in VR if you want to induce nausea.
But hang on a darn moment (spits into spittoon), we’ve been here lots of times before as an industry, haven’t we?
We’re constantly exploring and innovating new ways for players to interact with our entertainment. I’m fortunate enough to have spent a large part of my career working with innovative technologies that challenge established ways of thinking about player interaction. From players using their hands (and bodies) to interact with cameras in EyeToy games or using the much-maligned (but, as it now turns out, essential VR peripheral) PlayStation Move to interact with augmented reality characters and game objects in EyePet and Wonderbook.
As an industry we embrace innovation – just look at how the landscape has evolved over the last 10 or so years; EyeToy, Nintendo Wii, Kinect, Guitar Hero, SingStar have all found enormous popularity with broad, mainstream audiences. Of course, that’s not even mentioning what’s probably the most ubiquitous gaming platform of all time – the one that’s usually no further away than your pocket, the touchscreen-enabled smartphone.
For all of us at the sharp end of VR development, there has been a fast-dawning realisation that mining the best out of VR wasn’t going to be entirely straightforward.
Whilst developing for VR does present us with a new set of challenges to get our collective creative and technical heads around, the approach (for me at least) has actually been the same as when developing for previous new technologies. There’ll be a period of sometimes frustrating (and in VR often nausea-inducing) trial and error – trying out quick ‘n’ dirty prototypes of known genres and mechanics and the obvious low-hanging-fruit ideas that work on paper, but just somehow don’t translate experientially.
You may get lucky and hit on something quickly that is fun and feels right. Most likely though, these initial prototypes won’t be that great and there’ll be some collective head-scratching – but crucially you’ll have learned something on the journey and you’ll apply that learning to the next iteration of prototypes…
Making great games is challenging at the very best of times and both our own and our audiences’ expectations of quality rise continually. Factor into that an ever-evolving technology landscape and it’s evident that tenacity, resilience, strength of purpose and committed attitude are all essential characteristics for modern games developers.
If you don’t enjoy a little chaos or are intimidated by tackling the unknown, get irritated by moving goal posts or get too exasperated by infant technologies that just won’t behave, then working in VR probably isn’t for you.
So, what do I look for when I’m hiring new people to join NDreams? The same thing I’ve always looked for: intrepid adventurers. People who embrace the challenge of conquering the unthinkable, are unfazed by the seemingly impossible, who thrive in adversity, who revel in solving the unsolvable, who exude can-do attitude.
Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside many people who exemplify such qualities – and it’s not by chance; our industry attracts many passionate pioneers who collectively strive to develop new technologies that in turn unlock creative and innovative ways of engaging and entertaining players. People who make the impossible possible and turn dreams into (virtual) reality.
If you don’t enjoy a little chaos or are intimidated by tackling the unknown, get irritated by moving goal posts or get too exasperated by infant technologies that just won’t behave, then working in VR probably isn’t for you. But then again working in videogame development in any capacity probably isn’t for you then either. You see, just like the 19th Century gold miners who rushed to find riches and glory in them there hills, you need to have the right constitution to succeed in this business.