This week Swedish developer Quixel is set to release its debut virtual reality (VR) experience Homebound for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. A sci-fi adventure where players find themselves in space about to go through an astronauts worst nightmare, crashing into the Earth, they have to deal with a series of catastrophic events to survive. VRFocus sat down with developer Wiktor Öhman to discuss the title and its development.
How did Homebound initially come about?
“Well I was working on the environment’s, the main one of Homebound. I was creating that mainly as a marketing thing for Quixel and our tools, the textures and so on. But midway through creating that we were talking about how cool it would be to actually be able to explore it, its in space floating around just looking at things inspecting the materials and stuff up close.
“I had never developed for VR at all, or any games at all, or any scripting in my life. But shortly after I got started, being able to open doors and basic stuff like that, we realised it would be a really really cool experience, an actual proper experience with a story and so on, so it escalated very quickly from a showcase, fly through environment, to a proper experience and just went from there. And I’ve been developing for 8 months now. I’m the only person working on the game.”
What was the inspiration behind Homebound?
“The actual art style was inspired by real life such as NASA and Space X, the first they made was the chair, one of the chairs in one of the pods, that’s heavily inspired by Space X. It started out heavily inspired by Space X and then I just sort of mishmashed Space X with NASA and hard sci-fi stuff, and that laid the foundation for the art style. We’ve kept that throughout, even the later environments in the game.
“The actual gameplay narrative, most people say is heavily inspired by Gravity, but I never intended to do that it sort of just happened because it’s the same concept, I totally see where it comes from.”
What influenced your choice of platform support?
We were granted the Vive by Epic and their development grants, and that’s also the reason we chose to develop on Unreal Engine.
Is Homebound a short VR experience or a fully fledged videogame?
“It’s an experience that’s as long as we could make it for several reasons. It’s not a full game if you’re referring to a six or ten hour game, it’s more of an experience around thirty minutes or so. And the reason we kept it at that length was it just became too intense to keep it longer, there’s a lot of stuff happening all the time it’s going to be quite overwhelming with flashing lights and zero gravity, 360-degree freedom, there’s just so much going on all the time. And I noticed that if I played for longer than that, uninterrupted, I didn’t feel very well and most people have said the same, so I decided to keep it at a short but sweet length at around 30 minutes, which is also a good time for a casual pick up and play, when you just want to play some cool VR or want to show your friends, it’s a perfect length for an experience.”
Is there anything you’ve not included, that originally you wanted to?
“Regarding things that I wanted in but isn’t it, I can’t say what it is but there is something we’ve been wanting to get in since the beginning, that we’re still trying to get in which’ll be awesome, if I say so myself, but unfortunately I can’t mention what it is if we can’t get it in by release.
“We’ve got more in than we anticipated and that we planned for, it hasn’t been a matter of cutting content, it’s been like ‘yeah we should totally add this’, it’s been a very creative and inspiring experience to develop the game.”
How did you handle the control mechanics for Homebound, any issues with simulator sickness?
“We have a couple of different ways to control, you can use game pad or motion controls. You have an assisted turn system – its a seated experience – so if you look far enough to the left or right the camera sort of assists you in looking further to the left or right than you actually do. You use the triggers to go forwards and backwards, strafe left and right, you ascend and descend, both on the gamepad or motion controllers.
“I personally didn’t feel motion sickness nor did the in house testers. Once we started getting testers in, a couple of hundred testers, we started getting a high frequency of reports of motion sickness which was interesting, because its kind of hard to trouble shoot and test it since you don’t feel the symptoms yourself. So we had to make tweaks and we had to make a build and send it and get reports and adjust according to that. But the originally intended navigation control/layout is pretty much the same as before, its just been very very tweaked. We noticed that moving quickly, when your not moving yourself is a pretty big source of motion sickness so we we had to find a sweet spot for the speed.”
Are you planning to develop further VR projects?
“We definitely hope to be creating more, this is sort of testing the waters to see how it works. We’ve all developed games before, but this is the first time we’ve developed an indie game, this is an experiment we’re doing.”