Developer Blog – Starting Over.

By | April 4, 2016

It’s been awhile since the preceding Developer Blog post, or even a screenshot was posted. This is not by chance. The frequency of Developer Blog posts correlated to the game’s forward progress. Recently development has come to a screeching halt.

The game, PilotThings, was being built as a VR title. VR development presents unique and often unanticipated challenges. Developers are witnessing the demise, daily, of once tried and true practices. What worked for 2D no longer works for 3D. PilotThings is a case study of the challenges inherent in the emerging VR paradigm.

At first glance, a casual flight sim like PilotThings seems like a perfect fit for VR. Who wouldn’t want to fly unfettered around a beautiful tropical island? Unfortunately, flying around a built-for-mobile (low poly) island isn’t as immersive as one might hope. A lot of this has to do with the lack of visual cues that give VR its immersive qualities. One such visual cue is parallax; the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer. As one moves further from the observed object/objects, as is necessitated by flying away, the apparent displacement is made less significant. The effect of parallax is less noticeable. 

More important is stereoscopic depth. 3D is only fun if something is flying at your face. It’s less fun if you’re flying your face away from anything and everything as you take flight. PilotThings’ VR effects were most successful when a player decided to land and explore and wander through the tropical underbrush. Unfortunately this was antithetical to the game’s objectives.

And then there’s the controls. The PilotThings jetpack stage necessitated a bluetooth controller to guide your avatar. When playtesting, however, nobody seemed able to compensate for the freedom VR provides. The issue is that mobile VR allows for 360 degrees of view. This means that you can turn your head and body in the opposite direction of your avatar’s body! Playtesters would invariably fly their avatar body one way and look in the other, making it impossible for them to reach their targets. You could limit the degree to which players could turn their avatar’s head, but that solution presents additional problems. Moreover, it doesn’t entirely solve the original issue. The sense of the orientation of your avatar’s body just isn’t persistent. Any amount of IRL head/avatar body misalignment has game wrecking/immersion defeating consequences.

I’ve since come up with some fixes. Unfortunately they are so drastic as to necessitate an entirely new game. It will still involve flying, but you will only fly in a single direction in third person; think trench run. This will eliminate the need for players to look around and potentially face the wrong way. Trench run also provides opportunities for players to experience stereoscopic depth. And to keep things humming along at 60 fps, I’ve overhauled the art design to be retro futuristic; again, think trench run.

Below is another sneak peek at the game’s main character. I’ve been experimenting with Substance Painter (check out tomorrow’s Tutorial Tuesday for a brief semi-pro tip) and I’m liking the results!



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