Multiplayer VR games are hitting the Oculus store full throttle. RUSH is an exhilarating VR experience that rivals the real thing and an application that has pushed the bounds of mobile VR via interesting design, locomotion, VoIP and multiplayer technologies.
We recently had a chance to chat with The Binary Mill’s Director Ingmar Lak and Creative Director, Dan Prati about their experience developing a multiplayer game for Gear VR. Check out our latest Developer Perspective below!
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Why did you decide to develop RUSH as a multiplayer game for VR?
Dan: We started with discussions, and looked at what was already being done in VR. This insight started to form our ideas of what we felt worked and didn’t work in VR compared to 2D games. Then, we spent a lot of time building various prototypes to experiment with various game mechanics and types of motion. Once we started, we began to realize that there are so many new ways to do things - it’s been very exciting. We originally had a much more gentle, slower-paced game in mind, but as we developed further, we found the high-speed racing really fun and decided to go in that direction.
Ingmar: As for multiplayer, besides adding the extra depth that only other players can bring to a game, multiplayer adds another layer of reality to the experience. Seeing player’s avatars move in lifelike ways thanks to head tracking as well as actually being able to chat via VOIP adds extra layers of realism that really help to create a convincing VR experience. Furthermore, multiplayer adds longevity to any game long after the single-player content has been consumed.
How did you adapt your thinking for VR?
Dan: While we had a good idea of what we wanted to do in VR and ways to utilize its unique features, it’s not until we actually tried our game in VR that we began to realize all the differences to 2D game development! We started by playing various games and demos, to get a feel for VR before we started. Ultimately, a lot of it really came down to prototyping, iteration, and getting a feel for what works and what doesn't.
Ingmar: Many traditional game design techniques aren’t suited to VR. The one thing we have to constantly remind ourselves is that there’s only ever one perspective - that of the player. We can’t ever control the camera or what the player exactly sees as they have complete control at all times. Often we’ll brainstorm an idea and realize that where we’ve ended up stopped being viable three steps ago for VR. So, that is a constant challenge - understanding the difference of VR and really doubling down on what it’s strengths are. We see presence as the biggest strength in VR. So, we really try and create interesting experiences around that. What would be cool to see and experience first hand? What are the things you wish you could do but can’t in reality due to whatever reason?
Dan: Also, some of us here are very prone to motion sickness. We spent a lot of time on the movement and controls and also level design, trying to minimize the effect and create a fairly comfortable experience despite the high speeds the player avatar is moving at.
What were you most excited about when designing RUSH for VR?
Ingmar: Definitely to chase that thrill - to see how close we could get to creating the disconnect from actual reality in VR. Feeling that sense of speed was really important to us.
Dan: While its probably an already overused word when talking about VR, I think 'experience' really is what makes VR so exciting! Its one thing to play a game about jumping off a cliff and flying down a valley, but it’s another thing entirely to do it in VR, where the sense of scale and being surrounded by the environment is something you just don't get on a TV screen or computer monitor. The first time you put a VR headset on, you realise that its not just another upgrade, but a genuinely different way to experience games, and I find that immensely exciting! We’re really looking forward to designing new ways to play and interact - it’s a whole new frontier!
What were some of the challenges you encountered when creating RUSH?
Ingmar: Getting the sense of speed right took a while. Scale, among other things, was a big factor. If a player is flying through the air at 200km/h but there’s nothing around them to convey that sense of speed, then it doesn’t even feel like they’re moving at all. After we tried this, we placed them into a scene with rocks, rivers, waterfalls etc. With these objects added, there’s at least detectable movement, but we found there was still no feeling of real speed, even though we’re flying at 200km/h+. We discovered that even though we had objects in the scene, there was still no way to determine how big the rocks, rivers and waterfalls actually were. Since those organic elements come in all shapes and sizes, there’s still no actual reference for the player to determine scale. After this learning, we started introducing some relatable items for scale - houses, train tracks, hot air balloons, biplanes etc. These were objects that everyone knows the size of. And just like that, there was relatable scale and the sense of speed could be felt.
Can you talk a bit about your development practices related to bringing the multiplayer co-op & VOIP features to RUSH?
Dan: While we already had a good idea of the multiplayer features we wanted, we also felt it was important to integrate Oculus’ social and connectivity features, so that players would have an 'expected' experience when using multiplayer. Using Oculus' plugins for Parties and VOIP took a lot of the work off our team, and the ability to synchronously launch a group of people into a multiplayer game is fantastic!
What tool would you say was most essential to you throughout the development process?
Dan: Unity3D, without question - Unity and Oculus’ integrated support for VR made the process extremely straightforward, and being able to build directly to a test device at any time made rapid iteration easy. As much as that might sound like a sales pitch or a scripted comment, it’s just true! All you have to do is tick 'VR supported' in the Unity build settings and it just works - we were surprised it was so simple, and worked exactly as expected straight out of the box. Being able to just hit 'play' with a Rift headset connected makes testing and debugging really easy too.
What made you start really believing in VR’s potential and move your studio to have a dedicated team to work on VR projects?
Ingmar: We’ve always believed in the potential of VR. Most of the team here backed the very first Rift Kickstarter and are proud owners of DK1s. Even back then it was clear that VR was real and that there were very exciting times ahead. However, as with any emerging new market, development is fraught with risk due to uncharted waters, specifically as to how to use VR correctly, as well as only having a small market to sell to. This is the reason our first VR project was somewhat of a port, allowing us to focus on the VR aspects of the experience instead of having to worry too much about content. Now that the market is becoming more established, we can take bigger risks with original IP specifically created for VR as we did with RUSH.
What drove the launch of a new sequel to GC3 (SWAT Academy) and developing for new hardware with the Gear VR controller?
Ingmar: With SWAT, we really wanted to focus on taking the core formula of GC3VR and expand upon it with the lessons learnt. We added controlled locomotion, new game modes and of course, support for the new Gear VR controller. In our opinion, hand controls in VR really take the experience to the next level - it enhances presence in such an intuitive way as hand-control is totally instinctive. Furthermore, it offers greater control and accuracy in most situations, especially in a shooter such as SWAT. We’ve since been able to revisit GC3VR and implement many of the enhancements developed for SWAT, including support for the Gear VR controller.
How do you plan to move from mobile VR to Rift with GC3 and SWAT Academy?
Ingmar: Having a pedigree in mobile development really helped us with Gear VR development. Being driven by a mobile device, targeting 60fps per eye, it helps if you’re familiar with mobile hardware’s strengths and weaknesses to really wring every bit of performance out of the devices. As an added bonus, code ends up being very efficient and thus moving onto Rift which is driven by far more powerful PCs opens up a world of new possibilities. We’re really able to turn the ‘candy’ up to 11 and still run extremely well on moderately low-end systems. The added precision of Touch controllers is also fantastic bonus as is the addition of a second controller.
What’s next for The Binary Mill?
Ingmar: We’re always listening to players’ feedback. So, ongoing support is always a big point for us. Patching and making existing games better - we just completed work on adding Gear VR controller support for Gun Club 3 VR for example, so there’s always plenty to do to support existing games as well.
Ingmar: As for what’s next, we have literally dozens of prototypes that we play around with internally, trying to learn more about what works and what doesn’t in VR. We also have a couple of projects that we’re actually developing, including titles for the Rift, but we’re not able to share anything on those just yet.
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Thanks for taking time to chat with us Dan and Ingmar! We’re looking forward to learning more about those projects soon.