Working with Virtual Worlds: nDreams Dev Diary #1

There are many development studios that are adding virtual reality (VR) compatibility to their existing projects or state that they are ‘excited’ for the potential of the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, amongst other head-mounted displays (HMDs), but very few have committed themselves fully. nDreams are not about to shy away from their dedication to the technology however, with the studio now fully addressing the potential of this new wave of VR with a title built-up from the ground for the immersion-centric hardware.

Over the next few weeks VRFocus will play host to nDreams’ Jackie Tetley, Senior Designer on an as-yet-unannounced VR title that will be revealed at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, June 2014. Below follows the story of nDreams’ decision to work with VR and the challenges they have faced in doing so, in the words of the studio itself.

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Jackie Tetley, nDreams: The day that the first Oculus Rift headset arrived in the office last year saw a mass desk exodus as the team wrestled over who would have the next turn.

There had been a mix of excitement and scepticism, but the moment the hardware was settled on my head and I looked around, I was sold. The potential was clear and from that moment on we were all desperate to develop something for VR.

This enthusiasm led to our prototype SkyDIEving demo, which gave us rapid insight into what worked (hurtling face first towards the ground at a high speed!) and what didn’t (taking camera control away from the player with a 180 rotation – believe me, not advisable!).

We then started to plan Project A (we’ll reveal the actual name at E3), an immersive, narrative-led, puzzle/adventure/exploration game. The feeling VR gives you of being right there, in the middle of it all, led to our decision to focus on a game that would envelop the player both visually and narratively, thrusting the player into a world and a story and letting them discover both.

After excessive design enthusiasm had been reigned in to a more realistic level (shame on production for wanting a game that could actually be made!), we prototyped a range of mechanics we thought would work well with VR, ultimately focusing in on a core fun set of gameplay elements.

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We have been hard at work on Project A for a few months now, but our current focus is on the game’s E3 debut. Everything is in a very rough state at the moment, but the next few weeks will see everything come together, as environment and object art is incorporated, dialogue is recorded (farewell semi-painful placeholder acting from the team), scripting refined, menus polished, code augmented, audio added and everything iterated to the nth degree.

I’ll leave you with one of the many joys I experience with VR. During project reviews, I find myself pointing things out in the level to other people while wearing the headset. That may not sound particularly exciting but it’s because I imagine they can see what I see, that they are there standing next to me, that if I gesture towards something, they can look where I am pointing. I entirely forget I am wearing a headset and feel as if I am right there, in the world. It’s one of the many reasons that VR is and will be transforming gaming!

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This article is the first in a series of developer diaries from independent British videogame developer nDreams. Senior Designer Jackie Tetley will be recording the company’s journey as they work on the E3 demo for their first VR adventure title as well as revealing insights into the videogame’s progress, pitfalls and triumphs.

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