Interview

Six launch game developers discuss their hopes for Samsung's Gear VR

Six launch game developers discuss their hopes for Samsung's Gear VR

Samsung kept us guessing for a long time about just when its Gear VR gaming device would finally hit the shelves, and then all of a sudden it was live and up for sale.

The Gear VR is an important milestone in virtual reality gaming on account of being developed in partnership with Oculus.

Its games share an online store with the dedicated VR system, and represent something of a soft launch for the entire virtual reality gaming world.

Although it can't yet be monetised, a handful of developers were ready and waiting to support the Gear VR from day one, and we've been chatting with them about how things went on launch day, and what the future holds for both Samsung's Note 4-driven HMD, and VR gaming in general.

Paul Colls Creative Director Fierce Kaiju

Co Founder & Creative Director of Fierce Kaiju Ltd. Formerly of The Blast Furnace and Rockstar Games.

It certainly seems like we have a healthy amount of players, and the rating is good too. We've had a number of people get in touch saying how much they're enjoying Viral Lite.

This has come from the press, our peers and the gaming public so overall we're really happy with the reception and we're looking forward to delivering the full title soon.

Virtual reality game Viral Life. Not just a Gear VR launch game, but indie studio Fierce Kaiju's first title.

We believe that Gear VR will perform really well. Now when we say that we talk about Gear VR as an evolving concept, it's perhaps fair to say that this interpretation of Gear VR isn't likely to set the world on fire in terms of sales.Oculus have publicly said that this is not the intention.

Gear VR as a concept, going forwards, is tremendously exciting.
Paul Colls

But Gear VR as a concept, going forwards, is tremendously exciting and it offers a different experience to what we're expecting from the Rift and Morpheus. Being self-contained and free of wires is a big plus, it's mobile at its core which lends itself to pick-up-and-play and simple, snappy gameplay loops. There's every opportunity for the platform to reach an audience beyond the hardcore enthusiasts.

Ensuring that we hit a high and consistent frame rate has been our biggest challenge, and in part this was down to new hardware and SDKs.

Things like this need time to settle down and when you're aiming for launch you have to be pretty flexible due to changes as you go.

You have to roll with the punches and it's not exactly an easy environment, but it's also exciting and we wanted to be in there at the beginning. We feel it's been worth it.

As a team we have experience in focusing our designs around our target platforms, we're really happy with the way Viral turned out. It's a pretty simple concept, but to us that more often than not makes for a more compelling title. Making your game fun has to be the primary goal, with Viral you can pick it up and have a quick blast and then come back for more at your leisure. We think we nailed those things.

We've got some more game concepts that we feel are well suited to mobile VR. If developing those concepts makes creative and financial sense for the team then certainly expect more original content from us on Gear VR in 2015.

Stephane Intissar Founder OZWE Games

Creator of Gear VR launch game Anshar Wars.

It is hard to evaluate the download numbers as of now, since as a developer we don't have access to such info from Oculus. I hope it will be available soon.

However, I can say that Anshar Wars had a very good start. It has 48 ratings as we speak and an average note of 4.5 stars, which is great. Some reviews say that the game is too short, and we agree! We're pushing in more content for the next release, and we're also waiting for the store to add monetization so that we can charge a few dimes for the content.

We've also developped an other game, called VRTillery, which will appear soon on the Oculus Store. We are also looking for investors for more games idea we have.

We believe we've developed a good algorithm for cancelling motion sickness.
Stephane Intissar

In general, we beleve we've developed a good algorithm for cancelling motion sickness, and we want to explore more games where a player can navigate freely in a virtual environment.

Because the Gear VR is the mobile version of the Oculus Rift it has the greatest benefit of being much more simple to use, along with being wireless. I think both products can coexist easily, as I'm an avid phone user as well as a geeky PC user.

So really, it's like comparing playing on a mobile versus playing on a PC; not really worth comparing the two technologies, as they are both gorgeous. However I think Gear VR will focus on casual gaming experiences, while Oculus will focus on games that require a high degree of "presence," such as real world simulation.

In any case, once the Oculus will be available, we will make Anshar Wars compatible with it for sure.

Sergio Hidalgo Designer and Programmer White Door Games

Founder of White Door Games, currently working on VR game Dreadhalls.

Initial feedback has been very positive, and the game rating is quite high. Unfortunately, the Oculus Store doesn't offer download stats to developers yet, so we can't know how many people have played our games.

So far I'd like to continue supporting the Gear VR, but it's very early to know for sure. It depends on how the system grows in the next months, as well as whether I can come out with a new idea for a game that fits well in it.

Performance optimization was the greatest challenge, I think. Making sure the game runs at a stable 60 FPS, for a long enough time, all while keeping good visual quality isn't easy. The other challenge was working on a platform that was constantly evolving, with new SDK versions coming out often during development.

I believe Gear VR is dedicated to a different market segment than VR for PC or consoles, so I don't really see them as direct competitors. As a developer, you might want to support as many of these different systems as you can, to reach the most players.

I'm especially happy at how our game can immerse players in the virtual world, and how the Dreadhalls experience managed to transition pretty well from the original PC version into Gear VR.

Tom Beardsmore Creative Director Coatsink Software

After co-founding Coatsink Software Ltd in 2009, I've worked on over 10 successful mobile (iOS / Android / Windows Phone / Blackberry) game / app projects and (more recently) 3 console (PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Wii U) / PC games and 2 games for Oculus VR / Samsung Gear VR. I'd describe my primary roles as Lead Producer / Creative and Managing Director.

Responses to Esper have been limited (understandably), but positive so far. Most of the feedback we've received has been on Twitter or through people's uploads on YouTube, and it's all been great. We don't have any download figures yet though.

And we're very pleased with the voice actor's performance! Besides that, we're quite happy with how different the game feels compared to other VR titles.

Still, we certainly plan to support Gear VR with any future VR games we develop, provided it proves to be a successful platform, of course. I think it's certainly a competitor, and the technology behind it is extremely impressive. Also, being mobile (and wireless), it has obvious benefits to travellers and those who don't like lugging a laptop and a load of cables around with them.

Esper is Coatsink's first-person VR puzzle game, set in 1975.

Designing for VR is always challenging, but optimising the game for mobile was definitely the most challenging aspect. Having a game run at 60 FPS on mobile was difficult enough, but having it render twice was really tough (one for each eye). Oculus are fantastic to work with though. The publishing side was totally painless.

Eric Froemling Developer

Ex-Pixar animator, now indie game developer working on Oculus VR launch title BombSquad.

http://www.froemling.net

It’s still very early, so it’s hard to say how things are going just yet. I’m just now starting to see BombSquad VR showing up on my score server, and I’ve read a few nice call-outs for it in reddit Gear VR reviews which is a nice start.

Of course, these circumstances are unique in that it's hard to tell if a positive response is due to the game itself or simply the euphoria of people trying VR for the first time.

I can’t pretend to know how the market dynamics will work out once we're past the ‘early adopter’ phase, but I do see the portability and simplicity of Gear VR as a major differentiating factor. The fact that it's so easy to bring along to work, parties, and so forth means this is going to be the first VR experience for a lot of people, and the fact that you can just grab it and go sit on the couch or lay in bed gives it a certain casual appeal.

I would consider releasing more games on the Gear VR on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether a game works well in VR, but I would lean towards ‘yes’ at this point.

There was a significant time investment learning the ropes with the mobile SDK (especially with it still being under development) and integrating VR into my engine, but now that those pieces are in place I don’t think I would develop a 3D game without at least considering a VR version.

For me as a developer it was interesting to see its appeal suddenly materialize the moment the Oculus storefront was switched on; up until that point it was a neat piece of hardware that I could make sing by throwing funky shell commands at it, but suddenly it felt like a cohesive little self-contained world I could kick back and explore.

Working with the Oculus folks and getting the game on the store has been a breeze
Eric Froemling

It’ll be interesting to see how things evolve and how that simplicity and portability stacks up against the extra power of the alternatives.

For me, the biggest challenge was adapting the content of the game to feel natural in VR while keeping it consistent with the original non-VR version. It was surprising how much trial and error this process took. This involved things such as cutting out camera movement, finding good places in 3D space to hang interface elements, and selectively resizing or adding depth to UI elements to make them more readable. It took some time, but it was a great learning experience too.

I really like the ‘feel’ that VR brings to BombSquad. Even though the game was not originally designed for VR, having the game play out in three dimensional space in front of you makes it feel more tangible; like a tabletop game where the pieces just happen to be moving themselves around. My mind almost starts to lump the experience in with pinball or other physical games, as opposed to video games, which I find quite fascinating.

Working with the Oculus folks and getting the game on the store has been a breeze. It’s not a fully automated process yet and involves sending them a folder full of assets, but it’s gone smoothly from my perspective. They’ve also been great about offering constructive feedback on the game.

Guy Bendov CEO Side-kick Games

CEO, Side-kick Games, makers of Mini Ninjas Adventures for Kinect, Dr. Jolt, Romans from Mars and other exciting games.

http://www.sidekick.co.il

Initial reviews of Romans from Mars 360 are excellent, with some reviewers saying the the game was "perfect for VR". Players told us this is a "real VR game" that provides deep gameplay and not just gimmicky fun. Romans from Mars was adapted to VR from an original mobile game, and we're very happy with how it turned out.

Gear VR is high-end hardware that provides a premium experience.
Guy Bendov

Gear VR is high-end hardware that provides a premium experience, and all that at an accessible price point and a very friendly form. It's a great example of personal VR for the mass market. There are other devices, with lesser experience at a lower price point and different levels of comfort. There will be a place for a few devices, exactly like there's a place for game consoles, PC, high-end handhelds, tablets and phones.

The Gear VR, unlike the Oculus Rift or Morpheus, is commercial now and offers a great experience. I already see game and non-game companies switching from other VR platforms to use it. We're working on a few titles for personal VR devices, and in addition we're helping a few developers and publishers to get into the VR market.

Everything is new, so it takes a lot of time to understand what works and what doesn't work in VR. Movement, controls, menus and many visual elements need to be adapted, rewired or redone to work in a prefect VR experience. Add to that a technology that's evolving as you develop your game and you've got a challenging production across the board.

What we put a lot of effort into was the controls, as our goal was that players will be able to play with only the touchpad on the side of the device. 

Total immersion in the new Romans from Mars world is really important to us. Players immediately feel part of the world and want to play with and shoot objects the are not part of the gameplay. Beyond the core game, players feel they are in a new playful environment, a sandbox, a physical world and want to test what happens when they mess around with it. I think that's magic.

Once the game was ready, the team at Oculus helped us with constant reviews and finally helped us with the publishing process, being one of the first games on the platform.

Yes. Spanner's his real name. And, yes, he's heard that joke before.

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