Agharta Studio Talks Dragons, Pucks and the Future of VR

Agharta Studio has seemingly come from nowhere to take a commanding place as a voice of indie development for virtual reality (VR) videogames. With two successful technical demonstrations under their belt and available for gamers and VR enthusiasts around the world to try in the comfort of their own homes, Agharta Studio are looking to expand their horizons. VRFocus recently presented the team with a series of questions regarding their successes and the stumbling blocks they’ve faced along the way, as well as the direction they intend to travel in the future.

Agharta Studio is very keen to push VR as a new platform for videogame experiences, but is well aware of the technology’s application in other fields. Below the studio discusses this, along with their intentions for future applications coming from their studio. VRFocus will keep you updated with all the latest developments from Agharta Studio.

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VRFocus: What was it that made you decide to make the jump from mobile development to virtual reality (VR)?

Agharta Studio: Some of us are long time VR enthusiasts. When Oculus unveiled the Rift, we decided to get our hands on a development kit. By the beginning of summer 2013, we were porting Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe‘s engine on PC, after trying the early demos, our valiant programmer thought he would integrate VR support in a short time. Thanks to the Rift’s well written SDK, a few days later we were blown away by how immersive the game felt and we decided to offer VR support for the game if we had enough money to fund it.

We decided to enter the VRJam 2013 contest in August together with our artists friends at BlackMuffin Studio. We knew that we wanted to design a game that would focus on the head-set’s abilities. It was a very refreshing experience, the 3 weeks timeframe was quite short but seeing the other teams going on with their projects was very motivating. By the end of these 3 weeks, we released Epic Dragon VR, the first game we designed especially for VR.

VRFocus: Agharta Studio currently has two playable VR experiences available – EpicDragon VR and Shufflepunk Cantina Deluxe – why did you choose to make these titles publicly available?

Agharta Studio: We thought that this is the right time to experiment and share the results with others VR users. Designing for VR is a vast new field to explore and everybody is very curious about what the others tried.

On the other hand, VR is making the gamer’s websites headlines often, we would like to grab the interest of players through our VR games.

VRFocus: What lessons were learned in the development of these titles for VR and how will you build upon them?

Agharta Studio: We learn a few tricks while working on Shufflepuck. Some things we thought would work did not (lateral movements) and other worked well (particles and static gaming). Shufflepuck is the ideal first experience as designers and players. It’s static game allows for an immersive experience without gamepad rotation (this is what makes most people sick in our opinion). Recently, we improved the VR demo with a well integrated user interface. One of the most crucial design aspect of VR is getting the UIs right, they’re usually cluttered with text and you must take a lot of time to calibrate the UI element’s depth right to minimise eyestrain.

We also learned a lot from Epic Dragon, from fine tuning the use of head movements as a means of control to designing menus and UIs that could be commanded by head movements only. We also learned that sound is a crucial feedback in VR and it has to be closely related to gameplay events to offer the player an acceptable level of awareness of his/her surroundings.

VRFocus: Can you tell us a little about Agharta Studio’s first VR retail product?

Agharta Studio: There are good chances that Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe will be our first full VR retail product. We are also secretly working on a game concept soon to be announced, exploring other areas of what VR has to offer in terms of storytelling and ease of interactions.

VRFocus: When can we expect to hear more about the product?

Agharta Studio: We work fast and we are very motivated to get this done as soon as possible, the only thing we need is Shufflepuck gaining recognition and selling enough so we can support a qualitative VR port.

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VRFocus: All eyes are currently on Oculus VR and the forthcoming launch of their headset – do you see Oculus Rift achieving the lofty goals that have been set for it?

Agharta Studio: We are confident in Oculus’ future and the future of VR in general. We are demonstrating the Rift at tech events, at our humble level, and are always amazed by the general public’s reaction.

Even non-gamers get very exited by the potential VR offers once they tested the Oculus Rift DK1. Most people are asking for the release date right after they put the headset down. This really is something worth calling “next gen” for once, as it open a wide new world of potentials and room for new game genres not seen yet.

VRFocus: If Oculus Rift is as big a success as we hope there are likely to be many competitors entering the VR headset market. Do you see this as a potential hazard for consumer perception of VR?

Agharta Studio: We think that once an household name like Oculus has set the bar, at the price they have in mind, any inferior product will fail to meet consumer expectations and won’t be viable. There might be a few competitors with equivalent products at some point but there is a tendency of standardisation in games.

Unless one of the big console brands offers a superior device supporting only its own standard, it is likely that VR software will be compatible with several headsets. These will have roughly the same specifications, until a new generation of VR devices gets released.

VRFocus: We’re likely to see VR headsets coming to consoles in the future. Would Agharta Studio be interested in supporting them?

Agharta Studio: We love playing games on consoles, way more plug and play than a PC.

Did you mention PS4…? We are definitely in!

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VRFocus: Do you see VR having applications outside of videogames?

Agharta Studio: Most of the applications of VR seem to be outside videogames. From architectural visualisation and virtual presence to interactive content display, there is a wide range of applications VR could be used for.

VRFocus: Where do you see the future of VR heading?

Agharta Studio: It is hard to speculate on such a new and innovative technology. There are several ways VR could take. One might be a convergence between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality devices in the near future, allowing for less invasive and easier to wear headsets. Another direction could be very invasive and immersive devices as in the dream of some gamers.

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