Pastimes For Pirates Developer Diary #1 – In The Beginning

Make [REAL]'s Sam Watts discusses how Pastimes For Pirates came to be in a new dev diary series exclusively for VRFocus.

One page is all it takes – in July 2017, during the Develop: Brighton conference, we met with a variety of virtual reality (VR) platform and hardware companies to discuss our thoughts about what our next videogame title should be. At the time, it was decided that a mobile VR title would be best fitting, to put the studio in a position of gaining invaluable experience designed and developing for mobile and standalone chipsets with the technology moving towards standalone, all-in-one VR headsets.

Pasttimes for Pirates Dev Diary #1A number of one-page proposals were created by our Senior Designer Pete, who joined the Make Real team to create the early prototype for what became Loco Dojo, into a full title in late 2016 through to its release in April 2017. One particular idea struck a chord with the team and ultimately, VR platform holders who encouraged us to flesh it out into a larger concept pitch document.

With continued positive noises, we developed the one-pager into an early mobile VR videogame prototype, incorporating some key mechanisms to showcase the core concept and use of mobile input devices. After the initial review, whilst the feedback was good, we continued to tweak the prototype incorporating suggestions to bolster the desire for funding.

Not Enough DoF

At this stage, being a mobile VR focused title, the title was set around one particular skill-based game and theme, the then working title “Darrrts” should make it clear what that was. However, even after further tweaking and honing of the potential skill mastery and character progression, we felt that the 3DoF input available with current mobile VR devices was holding back the true potential of the title. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending how you look at it, those who we were showing the early prototype to agreed and so we set out to expand the videogame mechanics and scope by moving over to a full, 6DoF VR experience.

Pasttimes for Pirates Dev Diary #1Suddenly we were freed of the input limitations in relation to what we wanted to achieve and a creative burst of ideas waiting in Pete’s head were unleashed, meaning that we went from a simple, single idea to a much larger, social VR title with much more breadth to consider. Of course this meant that the necessary budget required to be able to deliver the idea increased along with the scope, something that those initially interested weren’t willing to continue to support.

New Funding Ventures

Undeterred, we started to look at other avenues of funding for development and reached out to other publishers and platforms we knew were keenly and aggressively pushing VR videogames that didn’t necessarily have the big brand IP behind them but still offered something new and unique with tight, core gameplay loops and aspirations.

In 2017 we’ve seen some funding options dry-up or require much more analysis or consideration, backed up by sales market metrics and analyst projections, compared to the earlier care-free, caution to the wind approach taken before. This is only natural and to be expected with a slowly maturing market (which is also growing at a slower pace than previously predicted) making some publishers more risk adverse and keen to capitalise on themes and genres that are deemed popular with VR gamers.

Pasttimes for Pirates Dev Diary #1XR Indie Pitch

In order to meet new potential funding partners, the Make Real team applied to be considered for XRConnects London 2018, to be selected for the XR Indie Pitch event running on the second day. We also registered for the Speed Match and Pitch & Match systems running alongside the event to widen our opportunities to meet publishers and VR platform holders attending.

Armed with a lovingly written pitchdeck for Pastimes for Pirates, the 3DoF mobile VR prototype was showcased to select attendees for invaluable feedback, as well as the XR Indie Pitch judges and those who had arranged meetings throughout the event. Whilst the meetings were positive, it’s still at an early stage in the process of getting a title funded and so, the outcomes of which will have to wait until another developer diary in the future.

To our surprise we were selected as 3rd place for the XR Indie Pitch, winning $1,000 credit on the Steel Media website network to use at a time more suitable around release. Up against 18 (?) other really strong, more complete VR videogames and experiences, it was a real boost to the team morale to be selected on the back of a placeholder art in an admittedly fairly rough prototype. Massive congratulations to our expo neighbours Shuttershade Studios for taking 1st prize (we really wanted the baseball bat for getting out of Moorgate across London during rush hour) and Groundrunner Trials for their 2nd place – well deserved winners all.

Pasttimes for Pirates Dev Diary #1So now we have validated our idea on paper and in prototype, and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback and noises around our intentions of what we plan to achieve with the full project. We’re positive that the next stages will be successful but we certainly aren’t holding our collective breath. Being veterans of the videogame industry, having worked on both the development and publishing sides, we know how many titles struggle to get funding at all, and even those that do have a high likelihood of being cancelled before seeing the light of day. Now we have to get our heads down into the serious business development process of negotiating contracts, budgets and development timelines, or at least will do once we settle on a publishing partner. Hopefully this will be covered in some detail within the next developer diary, due in a couple of months. Until then, keep your fingers crossed for us!

You can view an interview with Sam Watts discussing Pastimes for Pirates further here.

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