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Crystal Rift Dev Talks Square-Based Movement in VR, Level Editing and Horror

With the push to create the most immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences now at an all-time high, you might not think that a videogame that restricts players to move one step at a time in one of four directions would prove to be one of the more comfortable and engulfing titles for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD). But that’s actually what Jon Hibbins’ Crystal Rift is. Despite the stilted movement, Hibbins has created a virtual world that feels surprisingly at home in VR. VRFocus spoke to Hibbins at the recent Bossa VR Meetup to find out more about the title.

In the interview below Hibbins touches on what separates Crystal Rift from other VR titles as well as talking about the upcoming full release.  Crystal Rift recently brought indie developer Nick Pittom on board to aid development. A demo for the title can currently be downloaded from its official website. VRFocus will continue to follow the title going forward, reporting back with any further updates.

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VRFocus: What is Crystal Rift?

John Hibbins: Crystal Rift is inspired by some of the old dungeon crawler games so things like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, that type of game. Personally games that I really loved and wanted to experience in VR and that’s really why it exists. So it’s square-based movement, you press forward and you move forward one step a bit like a chess board, press left and it will strafe to the left one step and you can rotate left and right.

That has a number of advantages in the game actually which, now I understand VR, really matter. It stops motion sickness to an extent because you’re snapping into position all the time. It also means that you can keep your head steady and still play the game. So you don’t have to experience issues if you walk around too much in the game.

VRFocus: So was it a concern for you at the start thinking “I’m not sure if square-based movement is going to fit with that feeling of presence?”

Jon Hibbins: Yes, absolutely. But I actually very quickly realised that it’s actually a really good mechanism. And you can see now we’ve probably got two relatively amateurs, probably first time in VR in front of us, but they both aren’t feeling sick, they’ve enjoyed the experience and that’s really hard to get in VR. I spent a lot of time getting it to 75 Megahertz and optimising the game code to allow really quite big maps you wouldn’t normally be able to do in an editor. Everything’s generated on the fly from the data.

VRFocus: And we’re right in thinking players can use that level editor?

Jon Hibbins: Absolutely. The whole thing’s a level editor and it’s in the game. I made the levels in the Alpha demo and the Beta demo in the game. You press a key and put stuff in front of you and behind you can create a whole game in VR, which is quite cool. In fact it’s so quick for me to do that sometimes I’ve started with a procedurally generated maze and made my own maze, just for me to test and play with ideas, and I can do that really quick so it’s great.

And I really want to build a game where the community can contribute to it so that in VR you can actually play a game and make an editor and give it out for other people to play.

VRFocus: So that’s the future you see for it, as a big, user-generated platform?

Joh Hibbins: Absolutely. I mean it’s what I want and I want to be able to modify games and play with things and most people don’t have the skills required to do that, you know, load up Unity or Unreal Editor and get on with it, whereas I’m doing something that makes it easy for people. And that’s the goal really, to make it easy for people to create their own experiences and share that.

VRFocus: And what are you thinking in terms of release? Are you waiting for the Oculus launch?

Jon Hibbins: That’s a deep question. Yes I am absolutely going to release it as a full game. A proof point for me was how the demo was accepted in the community and the answer is really well. Everybody that demoed it gets it and it works and I enjoy it but other people enjoy it which is a really big proof point. So it will be a game.

I am on a road map that I have drawn to release. I would like to release it earlier than the consumer version of the SDK but, to quote Blizzard, it’s ready when it’s ready. I want it to be a good game, I want it to be a game that people want to play and an experience that is synonymous with a good VR experience. I don’t want to release something that’s too early. I’m very happy with the demo as it is but I know there’s a lot more than I want to do before release.

VRFocus: Is that going to be possible without some sort of funding campaign?

Jon Hibbins: That’s a loaded question as well. No, I’m fortunate enough to have my own money. Literally this morning somebody offered me some cash. I could fund it myself. I do think things need their own legs and a Kickstarter campaign is an opportunity to give it its own legs but I’m undecided really. Do you think I should?

VRFocus: It’s an interesting question. We’ve covered a lot of Kickstarters and it’s very hit and miss.

Jon Hibbins: It doesn’t need that. To get to a commercial release it doesn’t need a lot of cash, being truthful. There are costs of development : licence fees, physical costs of submitting things to Steam or the insurance. There are costs.

VRFocus: How is horror handled?

Jon Hibbins: I’m actually quite upset when it’s determined horror. There’s two things about it, right? I have made it horror, I know I have. I’ve put claustrophobia in, I’ve got sound, I’ve got darkness, I’ve heights, I’ve got big, sharp, dangerous objects trying to kill you. I’ve done that. I know that’s an almighty shock at the start that seems to work very well, even for me after a thousand times, still it works. I close my eyes when I’m developing.

You can turn the scares off, though. But, it needs to be atmospheric otherwise it’s not a game. If you don’t feel in threat when you’re in there than it’s not a game anymore. And it’s hard to make VR games because you can’t do things fast, you’ve got do things at a pace, you’ve got to set those paces, you’ve got to make it a fun experience. And hence a lot of VR demos are experience. So my wife asks me a lot of questions about it: “Are you writing a game or are you writing an experience?” I’m writing a game experience, truthfully.

I want people to play the game, to come away after finishing the three acts, act one being dungeon, and feel that they’ve had a great experience in a game. And that’s not the same as the old games that I play. Titanfall in VR, running 150 miles an hour up walls, it just won’t work. It’s a different type of game and I’m proud of that fact that people like it for its horror, but I hope people see further than that and see it as a game and a great experience as a whole.

VRFocus: You mentioned there that the first act is a dungeon. So the other two acts move outside dungeons?

Jon Hibbins: Being truthful I want to give a big palette for people that are doing the editors. I have a really good plot that’s three acts and a good story line. I’m just discussing and working out the details for monologuing in the game. I’ve tested it on a few people, they really think it’s a good plot. And that story line is intentional to give a great palette for the people that do the creation.