Set in a fantasy world full of magic, quests, interesting characters, and a dash of weirdness, the latest release from Archiact VR brings the hidden object genre to virtual reality. HiddenFortune combines classic puzzle games with episodic adventure elements to create a unique experience exclusively for the Samsung Gear VR with Controller, powered by Oculus. The Archiact team tackled challenges translating mobile gameplay to VR, as well as incorporating brand-new hardware into the core mechanics of the game. The new Gear VR Controller became a crucial factor for the game and a central aspect of the development process.
So strap on your pink polka dot underpants, grab your wands, and dive into our latest Developer Perspectives post with Archiact Senior Producer Ed Lago.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you began developing Hidden Fortune for Oculus.
Ed Lago: I've been working VR for three years. I joined the team at Archiact to lead their new project, Hidden Fortune, as senior producer
After we finished our most recent puzzle game, Waddle Home, we wanted to expand on our knowledge and create something new. Many of the members on our dev team have a lot of experience with hidden object games for mobile, so we started experimenting with that genre in VR—putting a fun twist on a classic game type. Gear VR was the perfect platform for that exploration.
What were you most excited about when designing Hidden Fortune for VR?
EL: Hidden Fortune unfolds through multiple chapters. The idea of creating episodic content was what excited me and the team most. It also let us build upon that initial solid and fun experience, get feedback from players, and iterate to always make a better game.
What challenges arose from developing for VR that you didn’t expect?
EL: The biggest challenge we faced was trying to bring the hidden object genre from the mobile space to VR. In the beginning, we figured that would be a easy task, but we quickly found that even translating a classic genre to VR was harder than it seemed.
We had to forget everything we knew about this genre and figure out what’s fun in VR, pure and simple. The team did a lot of prototypes and playtesting to make sure we had fun, solid gameplay on our hands before moving forward.
How did you adapt your thinking for VR?
EL: Coming from mobile development prior to VR, I had to forget a lot of what I knew about traditional game development—like the way players experience a game on their phones in short sessions on a bus, or waiting in line at a bank. One method I learned is to imagine the game as a 360-degree theater. As developers, we’re the entertainers playing for the audience, creating amazing and fun situations for them to interact with. Looking at your surroundings, how do you feel about each new interaction? How immersive can you make it? Even something simple, like realizing the treasure you’re hunting for is hovering above you, can be a fun experience
If you can make the player forget about their reality even for a few minutes, you’re doing something right.
Can you talk a bit about your development practices related to bringing the world of Hidden Fortune to life with the integration of the Gear VR Controller?
EL: When we learned about the upcoming Gear VR Controller, the design team immediately started brainstorming how we could use this new hardware to improve the core mechanics of the game, and the idea of the wand was always there in our minds.
After getting the controller in our hands, we finally had the chance to see the wand inside the game; we prototyped lots of different ways to use the controller, and did non–stop play–tests to explore how the game felt with the new input.
In the end, we decided to use the controller as a type of hookshot in Chapter One. The player can grab objects, move them around, and interact with the world with a flick of their wrist.
Now, the team and I are doing more prototyping for Chapter Two to make quests and interactions more engaging and immersive when using the controller.
You talk about prototyping and play–testing. Is there a method that works best for you and the team for both prototyping and play—testing? How did you measure fun and when did you know you hit it?
EL: We usually start with a brainstorming session involving the entire team; after that, our designers narrow those ideas down to the features that should be prototyped. We then split the designers and engineers into groups and assign them each to a feature, and they prototype as quickly as possible to get something complete enough for the team to internally play—test.
Since there’s a lot of existing content already built for Hidden Fortune, we repurpose those assets and basic features just to get our prototypes working quickly. The important thing here is to determine if the new feature feels fun and worthy enough to be implemented in the final version of the game. After each sprint, we take a day to invite everyone in the studio to play—test the prototypes, and gather as much feedback as possible.
As for what makes a feature “fun,” we judge that based on the key pillars of the project: in Hidden Fortune’s case, those pillars are Exploration & Discovery, Collecting Secrets & Items, and An Unfolding Story. If the player genuinely feels that sense of joy by discovering something in their environment, or revealing another piece of the narrative puzzle Hidden Fortune tells, we know we’re on the right path.
When you were prototyping for the Controller, were there best practices that you learned that you would be willing to share?
EL: The added dimension of orientation that the Controller brings meant we had to shift our thinking. Right away, we started using the Controller to realistically simulate real–life actions, such as drumming or fishing. The Controller gestures used for these prototypes were designed to mirror actual movements, so that players could interact intuitively and without instruction.
For simplicity’s sake, we isolated the various methods of input to individual features of the Controller: gestures, rotation tracking, swiping on the touchpad, and pressing the touchpad button. It’s easier to teach and learn new methods of control without combinations of buttons and gestures. For example, one prototype used the touchpad exclusively to rotate objects; in another, only the orientation of the Controller was used to drum on objects.
Next, we had to look at our virtual world and make sure that it responded appropriately to the player’s use of the Controller. So, when performing an action such as drumming or throwing an object, we have to go back and adjust the physics settings and audio/visual feedback to make sure your actions feel satisfying and impactful.
How are you gathering feedback from users of Chapter 1?
EL: Our player community has always been an amazing source of feedback for us, especially since many are so passionate about VR and its gaming potential. We like to gather feedback by starting conversations on social media and keeping a close eye on our direct player reviews, but also being present in the online VR community. Some of the best insight we ever get is from VR—related subreddits, where players are honest and don’t hold back about what excites or frustrates them. Additionally, it’s important that we listen to feedback we get from game journalists and YouTube content creators, as each of them offer a unique perspective. Now that Chapter One of Hidden Fortune fully supports the Gear VR Controller, we hope to do some external play-tests to gather even more insight to make the game even better in Chapter Two.
And I couldn’t close this interview without asking about Chapter Two. What cool learnings can you share with our developer community about charming players through character, dialogue and episodic narrative?
EL: When we first began developing Hidden Fortune, the goal was to create a game that made VR feel like magic. However, it didn’t take long for us to realize that it takes more than 360 degrees of immersion to bring that feeling of joy and fantasy that magic and sorcery gives us. The missing link was charm; we needed to fill our virtual world with things that enchanted us, and made us laugh. So we went to work creating just that: bizarre trinkets spinning and floating past the player’s head, hidden easter eggs, even an evil goat wizard.
Best of all, with Chapter One released, we get to take the feedback from our community and use it to make Chapter Two even better. What makes our players laugh? What enchants them? What new and fun VR experiences can we throw them into? Those are some of the questions we’re keeping in mind as we create Chapter Two.
The team and I can’t wait to show everyone the next installment of Hidden Fortune, and I hope you all stay tuned to see what we have up our sleeve!
Thanks for chatting, Ed!