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A Catch Up on Crystal Rift: HTC Vive, Gear VR, Input, Release and More

If there’s something Psytec Games’ Jon Hibbins likes to do as much as developing Crystal Rift it’s surely talking about Crystal Rift. Every time that VRFocus has met with the indie developer over the past 18 months he’s been more than eager to talk about this dungeon crawling experience. His enthusiasm shines through in his ability effortlessly leap from one subject to another, often without a question to bridge the gap. So we know by now that, when it comes to catching up with Hibbins on Crystal Rift’s progress, you can expect to leave no stone unturned.

With that in mind, here’s VRFocus’ latest talk with the developer, touching upon all aspects of its development right now. Hibbins looks at the videogame’s current state, its prospects on each virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), input support and much more. So let’s let him do the talking.

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On Where Crystal Rift is Now

Yeah, we’ve grown. We’re now a team of 5. Of course we’re now on Early Access. I think we’d just about entered early access at Rezzed this year on Steam. So, yeah, we’ve used the funds that we’ve got off that – thank you to anybody that has bought into Crystal Rift so far because you’ve helped us. And, you know, having the early funds helps us invest in the game so we’ve got graphic artists and 3D modellers to create the monsters. We’ve brought quality testers on board to help build and test the maps. We’ve got the voice artist that made the ‘I see you’ [sound effect within the game], now I’ve just engaged him to do over 180 sound effects to add and some voice over work.

We’ve been able to use that cash to spend more on the game and we’re much further along so we’re now well into testing in Act 2 and starting to do some epic End Bosses etc. But that’s the game and that’s how far we’ve come and that’s what we’re selling. And we’re at EGX today, we’ve got a 2 hour queue of probably of probably 100 people to play on 4 HTC Vives. I mean, the HTC Vive’s new. So we’ve got four of those here. You’re playing standing. We’re not giving them the input with the swords because it looks like a real world Gang Beasts when that happens. People like to be quiet creative with their ninja moves and in a very small amount of space.

But I think we’re proving here that you play the Vive in a 2-foot by 2-foot square – maybe 3-foot by 3-foot square – that people are just stood in. And it’s great. It’s like a hybrid for the real, move around the room. So it’s a lot bigger and better and VR’s getting more real, people are actively interested in VR in a different way than they perhaps were 6 months ago.

On Signing Up for HTC Vive Development and How That Influenced Design

We’d always talked about monsters and fighting and, bluntly, the truth is we felt the game was good anyway without it. We didn’t feel it actually needed it, like it would fail if we didn’t have fighting in it or something. As we got further and further into development – having some funds helps because undergoing fighting properly, with AI, with modelled, full-scale monsters, and with elements around that and everything else we needed to invest behind that and we’ve now done that as well.

And the Vive added – when we had the first Vive demo, both me and Nick [Pittom] on the same day, probably about this time at EGX Rezzed. We both came out of that realising that we’ve got over a bump in VR. We’ve got to the point where the optics, the tracking, the quality of the screen and everything was now years ahead of where we thought it would be at this rate and it became more real, more and more evidential that the opportunities were getting bigger. And, you know, personally it became easier for me. I had my heart and soul in the project when it started to put cash in on a bigger scale, it became more real so I wanted to do that.

Nick felt the same. It was like: “This is great, and big and we just want to do it.” And also the game was getting better. Even at that stage people were coming off saying “This is a great game, it would be cool if you could fight monsters.” And we were getting lots of feedback from Early Access. So it just became logical, really, that we would do it and all the sort of numbers came together at the same time and we were having really good conversations with Sony, really good conversations with Oculus and, frankly, OSVR and all these other companies talking to us.

On Expanding Input Support

And all of these conversation were leading us to more and more confidence in not only do we have a great game but we’ve also got the ability to make it better. So most of what we’re doing right now is polishing and improving the content. We’ve just implemented multi-controller support so you can support joypads and foot pedals. Treadmill support’s now implemented and lots more options for stability, lots more like stabilisation cubes and different accessibility options – we had someone in a wheel chair play yesterday and we’ve got some accessibility options for that – which is amazing. The guy absolutely loved it, it’s all amazing stuff.

Crystal Rift screenshot

On Editor Improvements

So now we’re just doing more. The editor’s matured a lot. We’ve implemented copy and paste. We’ve moved things around the map. There’s lots of stuff in the editor that can make you even more creative so we’re working with sort of rougelike pre-set dungeons that can be played and modified. We’re giving more tools to the editors. There’s now 180-ish blocks and each one of those blocks has multiple options like colours or speed etc. We’ve got multiple fireball types, interactions with monsters and shield now which you can charge up in front of you.

On Influences

It’s like, yeah, the game’s got deeper. I know the puzzles, which I’m very excited about, we’ve got them too. We’ve put in more and more references to 80’s classics. There’s a whole level now called ‘The Bog of Eternal Stench’ from the Labyrinth film. I met a guy who was one of the people working on Eye of the Beholder yesterday. He came up and shook my hand and said “You’re doing an amazing job here. It’s great to see this in VR and come back.” And we’ve got those flashbacks to the sewers levels in the Eye of the Beholder and it’s like we’re getting lots of humour in there and I’ve read some of the news scripts that Nick’s been working on.

On Working With Nick Pittom

I’m just so lucky to have Nick on board as well. I can’t tell you how well Nick and I work together. We’re really good friends, we’ve got this complete opposite perspective that perfectly fits in the middle. We’re very professional and we deliver constant updates and deliver a quality product and we don’t get crashes and things like that.

I’m incredibly proud, honestly. I feel like we’re helping a lot of other people with some of the lessons I’ve learnt. There’s a lot to learn about game dev design, the business side, the raising funds. It’s been a baptism of fire, but it’s been an awesome journey and as a studio now we’re getting more and more confident as a studio and the team we’re building around that.

On a (Potential) Sequel

And we want to do more IP – Crystal Rift 2 is obviously something if it justifies it we’d like to do multiplayer where you pick your class and you work as a team. We’d like to do more stuff that we just couldn’t do because we just don’t have the cash flow or the team. But we’re looking at our own IP and growing the team.

On First-Time Reactions

It’s like, standing in the queue,  meeting people before they’ve ever gone on VR,  never ever done anything and they’re a bit disdained about it or don’t really get it from the screenshots and them coming of and coming up to me and saying “Ah! That was just incredible! It was awesome! It was amazing!” and suddenly getting that ‘it’s real, it’s the future and I believe in it’. And it’s just an amazing experience, that.

Crystal Rift screenshot

On HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift

The Oculus guys are absolutely fantastic. We’ve spent some time at Facebook, we’ve spent some time with them. They’re really good guys and they’re very, very professional. They’ve been very open with the questions that we’ve had, they’ve been very supportive with hardware. And, honestly? Everybody’s really busy. Everybody’s doing it. They’re making it happen, so they’re professionally getting on with it, delivering, doing the right things, saying the right things to us as well, preparing for store launch and making sure that everybody’s on the same page.

It’s tough right now. We’re in that final sprint of it being hard to get the SDKs out on time and there’s driven consumers where we’ve got real consumers who want a quality product now. There’s a drive now, we are in that sprint, that final push where we want quality, we want good content. And I’m pleased, personally to see a move to make sure that there’s great content and there’s great deliverables on the headset which just make it more real. Consumer announcements like Gear VR having Netflix on it, actually doing those deals takes time and energy and it’s great to see.

You say I’ve switched to HTC Vive but I’m a fan of all of the headsets and I think they’re all amazing. You know, bring it on, bring more headsets, more competition because without the competition there won’t be enough drive for innovation and we want innovation and we want inability and we want good content.

Some people would never ever buy anything from Sony for whatever reason. So it’s fine there are alternatives and becomes more real and more practical to be in the home every day and that is what we want to see. If you’re a true believer in VR as the future and have seen some of the reactions to the amazing things you can do in VR, there’s a real medium shift completely now and people are getting it, they’re going to buy it.

On Oculus Touch Support

Yes, were absolutely supporting Oculus Touch. We’ve got the support. I’ve spent time with the Oculus Touch myself. It’s incredible. They’re very good. They’re comparable to the HTC ones but both are different and they’re very, very good and they do the same thing. We’re absolutely supporting that and you can already use them. We’re not quite at the point where we’ve done it. So we’re just choosing our priorities as Oculus is slightly further down the line. We might seem a little bit more focused on HTC just because they’re going to be slightly earlier.

But we’re not taking away from Oculus, we absolutely believe in what they’re doing. We going to be on their opening store, we’re doing everything we can to be there. We’ve signed a contract, got the agreement and we are supporting as best as we can.

On the Gear VR Version

I don’t know. When it comes push to shove, the market space hasn’t matured or is big enough yet and releasing early into a space like that is a lot of energy. It’s a lot of work for something that is not that much return. And it felt like until we’ve got the game done we’re just going to do something that was a bit too alpha-y, a bit too early. We could release today but it would be a ‘lite’ version of the game. And I don’t really want to do that, I want to release the full thing. It’s not that we’d do it injustice, it’s great, the Gear VR. It’s just when it came to the days of pushing the button I felt more like ‘let’s do this properly rather than try and do a lite version and do a shorter experience’.

I’d rather have the game on there. A lot of people ask about it and quite rightly because it is a great experience on the Gear VR. It’s also hard because there are some things about the Gear VR that put me off slightly as well. I don’t like not being able to lean over the pits in the game. It’s great, Crystal Rift’s great in the Gear VR, but not being able to turn around corners and look into pits with positional tracking takes something away that’s special, and I don’t really want to lower the experience. I’d rather get positional tracking in it at some point and do it then. Or just get further along and do it at a different time set.

I’m very eager to get it on the Gear VR, I do want to do it. It’s just the timing, really.