Neil Campbell is the founder of Viewpoint Games, a company that specialises in developing titles specifically for Oculus Rift technology.
Neil will be in attendance at next week's Creative England Live event where he'll be showcasing his debut Oculus Rift game, the colouful racer VR Karts. Before then however, we caught up with Neil to discuss the difficulties of developing a game for a brand new medium, working with Creative England and what 2015 holds for their company...
Tell us a bit about your company and how you started out…
Myself and my colleague Neil Wigfield formed Viewpoint Games having experienced using an Oculus Rift and realising the huge potential that Virtual Reality has to offer gaming.
Viewpoint Games is dedicated to developing Virtual Reality software. We were formed in September 2014. Both of us left our previous games industry jobs having obtained a combined experience of 30 years in the industry.
What was it about Oculus Rift technology that made you want to go into this arena?
Having played demos on the first Oculus Rift development kit (DK1), it was clear that this was the next big leap in games. To actually be in the game rather than ‘spectating’ opens up a whole world of potential game design possibilities.
What do you have to consider when creating a game for Oculus Rift?
You have to consider at all times that the player is interacting with the world from a different perspective. For us, as we’re developing a racing game, one of the main concerns is that the player doesn’t feel any disorientation or discomfort when driving. The main aspect to consider in order to counteract this is that the player needs to be in control at all times.
As this is such a new area of gaming, the old standards and methodologies of game design is being re-written for Virtual Reality.
What are the most noticeable differences in the way a player interacts with a VR game and how do you accommodate that?
The main difference is that you have less control on what the player views in the game. They have full 360 degree orientation and therefore the game needs to be designed to accommodate this. If the player looks behind them, there needs to be something there!
Another difference is that because the player is in the world, as game developers you have to be mindful what you do to the player. Everything feels so much more real so spinning the player around or removing the floor below them is not appropriate as it may have been for a character in a traditional videogame.
Is playtesting more important when developing a VR game?
It's not more important – it's different in that you have to test different aspects of the game. Being able to test with VR hardware is vital if you’re building a game designed for VR. The experience is so different that testing with hardware is the only way to get a true feel of how your game plays.
What difficulties do you face when developing a VR game and how have you overcome them?
Frame-rate is key for a comfortable VR experience. Traditional games can get away with the odd frame drop but with VR games, you will feel the change in frame-rate immediately breaking the illusion of being in a virtual world.
As we are developing whilst all the VR hardware is still in development, we have to adapt our game quickly to take advantage of new features that the updated hardware offers.
This is quite a new technology - what do you think are the most common misconceptions about it?
New players playing VR games don’t immediately grasp the fact that you are truly immersed in the game. The times we’ve demoed to the public, we’ve had to remind them that they can look all around rather than just directly in front of them as you would in a traditional videogame.
A lot of people feel that the new wave of VR hardware is another technology gimmick whereas we truly believe that VR is here to stay in one form or another.
VR is a very flexible technology that has many applications beyond gaming which proves to us that this is just the start of a new way for consumers to interact.
Tell us a bit about your debut game VR Karts - has this been long in gestation?
VR Karts is a fun and approachable online kart racing game designed from the ground up for the new generation of VR hardware. VR Karts will allow the player to jump in and compete against other racing opponents from around the world.
The game has been in development since a little after we started the company last September and already, we have had great feedback having demoed to over 1000 people at exhibitions such as Backspace in Leamington Spa and Comic Con in Birmingham.
What were the main inspirations behind the game?
Having prototyped a few rough ideas of different genres, we settled on an arcade racing game as we felt it was the most immediate and approachable type of game that would showcase VR.
The initial prototype for VR Karts was the most enjoyable to play and therefore we could easily see the potential it had even in its most basic form.
The technology you use opens you up to a whole world of gameplay - what made you choose to develop a racing game?
Having been a fan of driving games on older consoles, we felt that stripping the racing game back to its foundations would be a compelling Virtual Reality experience especially considering the player would be sat on the race track!
We felt that a VR kart racing game gave the player a different perspective of something very familiar as they could take racing lines, view other cars next to them or even use their rear-view mirrors!
What sets VR Karts apart from other racing games on the market?
The obvious aspect is that players really are racing against opponents on the track and not watching others on the TV. That combined with the sense of speed and immersion within the world makes this game stand out from the other more traditional racing games on the market.
As VR Karts is set in a cartoon world, it is designed to appeal to all ages rather than one specific demographic like other driving games.
How did you get involved with Creative England?
We have former colleagues who have gone through the Creative England process in order to develop their own new games so entering the process felt less daunting for us.
The application process was very simple as we felt like they understood our desire to be one of the first UK studios to dedicate their talent to VR development.
What did the funding you received from Creative England allow you to achieve?
The funding allowed us to speed up the formation of Viewpoint Games as well as gain valuable connections to the wider UK development scene. Creative England also presented us opportunities to attend conferences and exhibitions in order to promote both VR Karts and Viewpoint Games.
In your opinion, what are the key factors of developing a successful game?
It’s actually pretty simple to make a game. The challenge is to make a game that’s fun and engaging for others.
The key is to rapidly prototype, iterate and test in order to see what works and what doesn’t in a very short space of time.
What does 2015 hold for Viewpoint Games?
We are planning on releasing an early access Beta of the game during the first quarter of 2015 with a fully-featured release of VR Karts towards the end of the year.
In addition, we want to continue promoting and showcasing VR Karts to the public as well as demonstrate the huge potential for Virtual Reality in general as very few people have been given access to any VR hardware including the Oculus Rift.
Viewpoint Games will be at Creative England Live in Central London on January 20th 2015.
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