With virtual reality (VR) technology in its infancy, it takes a certain amount of bravery to commit to developing a full blown videogame for head-mounted displays (HMD). Many developers have instead opted for experiences that place players in a world to try an capture the much-sought sense of presence. Fireproof Games isn’t interested in that. The developer behind the popular The Room series wants to bring a full videogame to Samsung’s Gear VR HMD and it’s willing to tackle VR’s limitations ‘head-on- in order to do it.
VRFocus spoke to Fireproof Games’ Barry Meade at this year’s EGX about Omega Agent, the upcoming jetpacked-based exploration title for Gear VR. In the interview below, Meade talks about developing for the recently-revealed HMD, the limitations of working with mobile and the chances of seeing the title pop up elsewhere in the future. VRFocus will continue to follow Omega Agent, reporting back with all the latest updates on the title’s development.
VRFocus: What is Omega Agent?
Barry Meade: The story behind the game is a kind of 60’s Bond style, super spy training game. At the moment you basically teach people how to use a jetpack, but that’s just the back story. The real meat of the game is we wanted to find a way to have players explore a VR world in an interesting way and also to give them the power to do it themselves because we noticed a lot of the demos that we’ve seen and heard about are all on-rails or all very linear. So we wanted to sort of open that up more and do an open world and break out of that sort of thing.
So it’s a lot harder, what we’re trying to do, because there’s more challenges with giving people perfect freedom in the VR world. But the idea of it was is that VR itself is so special that we wanted to make a game where the design didn’t get in the way of the VR. Because the VR is the star the flying around the city is really the main draw for the game and we basically tried to create a game that allows the player to move around the world in an interesting way.
VRFocus: So why decide to go with VR?
Barry Meade: We basically were at GDC this year. We were invited by Oculus to have a look at Gear VR and we just thought it was a great device and we got very excited about that because it’s potentially a lot more of a consumer focused device than the Oculus Rift which is for PC gamers like us, whereas with Gear VR their plan is to just get it into people’s hands and let people play with it. It’s a lot easier to do that with a wireless mobile VR experience than it is with a PC networked wired experience.
There was also the love of the device. We had a go on the device and thought ‘this is really, really good’. So it’s just an experiment, we don’t know it’s going to go, we don’t know how it’s going to be received, we don’t know if it’s going to sell anything. But we just wanted to do something in VR and we didn’t really know how to do it on PC and Oculus because we’re a small company and we don’t have the resources to do a titanic graphical experiences. So we went for something much more simple and direct that we hope celebrates VR rather than trying to do anything too clever.
VRFocus: So it’s running on Oculus Rift here. Could we see it release on the platform after Gear VR?
Barry Meade: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. We’re certainly keeping it in mind anyway. If it goes well and people like the game, and you know actually coming to Eurogamer is one of those forums the helps us decide how this is going to go so it’s really interesting to watch people playing for that reason.
VRFocus: How have you found developing on Oculus compared to Gear VR?
Barry Meade: Well this game was purpose built for Gear VR so it’s very mobile-focused. It’s running on Oculus now but it’s identical to the Gear VR version in every way from framerate to resolution to content to everything about it. This is the Gear VR version, we’re just using the Oculus goggles on PC because we haven’t got enough dev kits to go around. Technically we can’t show the dev kit off in public so we’ve had to use the Oculus.
So you could argue it’s a joint development anyway, right? Because we’re using Unity and Unity allows us to do PC version fairly easily without too much effort. So yeah, that’s kind of what it is and we would like to see it on platforms for sure.
VRFocus: How is development on Gear VR going? It’s clearly a powerful device if you’re able now show this running on PC and have them as comparable experiences.
Barry Meade: Well there’s still huge limitations. A mobile device can’t push the polys and just doesn’t have the number crunching aspect of PCs so in that respect it’s drastically different. It’s much more like developing for an old-style console. I mean to us, having been doing it for many many years, we actually quite enjoy the limitations of the hardware and enjoy the fact that you can’t do too much with it. Because it allows us to then get creative with how to push up against those boundaries and how to subvert them in a way.
And so for instance, doing an open world city-based game on VR, everyone said we were crazy to do it. So that’s a sign maybe. We wanted to do something a bit difficult and a bit different to what everyone else is doing, and we’re doing something we were kind of told not to do in a way. Find a way to make a proper game out of VR instead of just the VR experience like everyone else is doing. We wanted to do something that actually feels and looks and plays like a videogame.
VRFocus: What are the challenges you’ve encountered trying to make this into a full game instead of an experience?
Barrey Meade: I think we push up again the hardware limits a lot more than other people do. Because it’s open world, because of the nature and the freedom of the game. I mean we’re really making the hardware scream to make this game. So we’re in this ironic situation where the strength of the game is also its weakness, because it makes our life a lot more difficult. Because you just have to imagine, it’s a mobile device, it’s a very powerful mobile device, but it’s never going to be as powerful as an average PC so we just have to work around that. And that’s why we’re coming up with a game idea and a world that just really suits the strengths and weaknesses of the Gear VR hardware.
VRFocus: So what kind of content can we expect in terms of length and variety?
Barry Meade: We don’t actually know that fully yet, because it’s still an experiment really. We always approach our videogames as experiments in that we have some ideas, see if they work. If they don’t we change them and take them out, try something else, try something new. So whenever we’re developing a game we don’t really know what the shape of it will look like at the end because we come at it from the approach that game ideas should be based on how good it is to play and how good it feels to play.
So we always sort of make it up as we go along, I suppose you could say. And then what that allows us to do it make the right decisions for the game instead of saying to ourselves ‘well we have this awesome idea, let’s make only that idea’. Instead we start off with something simple and we just play with it and see what ideas are suggested by the software itself. Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying we don’t know exactly what content will be in there but the stuff you see in the demo today which has some exploration stuff, physics based puzzle stuff and also a little bit of shooting, that’s pretty much going to be the core of the game. A mixture of all of those things. We want to make it a lot about exploration and moving through the VR world, making that interesting for people.
VRFocus: When we previewed the title in Germany, it made us quite motion sick. Is that something that you’re finding in-house and addressing?
Barry Meade: We found it. We knew even before we started it that that was going to be the case and we weren’t intimidated by that. So yeah, we’re in the situation like everyone else is where a lot of our team can’t play VR for too long. So that’s kind of an interesting challenge but that’s good. It keeps us conscious of that all the time. So what we’re trying to do with the game is that we’re going to put in options for the player themselves, where they can switch on aids that will reduce the motion sickness.
So I don’t get motion sick so I’ll play it full fat but others – I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s like a grid system in the sky. So all of these things are like aids you can turn on to help with the motion sickness and that’s something we want to pay a lot of attention to in the future now. We want to make as many people as possible able to play the game so we’re going to do all we can to make that just as enjoyable for everybody. But the nature of VR is that if you play it for too long you will get sick anyway. So there’s only so much we can do to help people.
And like I said, we purposefully chose a game idea that was going to run head-long into these problems. But we thought that’s a challenge and we like that challenge so we’re going to give it a go and see what happens.
VRFocus: So are we thinking near launch for Gear VR?
Barry Meade: Launch-ish. Again, we haven’t fully finalised that. I mean the launch itself, the dates are known but there’s still some bits of it that are up in the air. So it’s unknown exactly when the date is but it will hopefully be by the end of the year is when we’re trying to get it out for.
VRFocus: Other headsets? Project Morpheus?
Barry Meade: Yeah, if it works and the audience likes it enough then any platform we can.