Climax Studios on the VR conundrums that don't come up in conventional games development
Gunning for realism
Still not convinced that virtual reality gaming is the next big thing?
Well, that's fair enough, given that we're still waiting for its official arrival. But if you sneak a peek behind the curtain of the games development world you might see just how close and exciting this new realm of immersive gaming really is.
Studios of all sizes have their eyes firmly fixed on gaming face wear, whether it's a dedicated system like the Oculus Rift, or a smartphone case like the the Samsung Gear VR.
Devs such as Climax Studios are preparing to take us to new heights of gaming wonder, quite literally in the case of the forthcoming Bandix Six.Chocks away
The game's associate producer Maria Novisova has been in command of Climax's new venture into VR gaming, and explains what it takes to really go immersive.
"We were excited about the opportunity to make a brand new game on a brand new platform," she begins. "A chance to create new IP in virtual reality is a game changer and at the same time it's a huge challenge both technically and from a design perspective."
This new IP is Bandit Six for the Gear VR (initially), which we've had our eye on for some time. It puts players in the precarious chair of a Lancaster Bomber's rear gunner. You might have seen similar titles before, but this time you really get to feel the vertigo, and the wind in your bushy moustache.
"A lot of people in the studio, including Simon [Gardner] our CEO, are sort of obsessed with WW2 and everything related to it," Maria explains about the game's origins.
"Obsessed to the point where we had times when one of the guys on the team would point out that the engine shape on one of the planes doesn't match the real thing, and that was a crisis that had to be addressed as soon as humanly possible for everyone's sake."
Virtual reality is all about immersion, and the levels of detail Maria is talking about is a major factor in achieving that. When the player takes full control of the game's 'camera', for want of a better word, everything has to look spot on or the illusion is easily broken.Building the world around you
"In Bandit Six you're manning the tail gun of a Lancaster while tracking and shooting down waves of attacking enemies," Maria continues. "So essentially you're static, while the environment around you constantly changes. There has to be something to see on your right and left. If you turn around, there has to be something there to provide context and carry on the immersion.
"This poses some interesting performance questions. Like what happens to an enemy plane once it goes over your head? It can't just disappear off the screen. We had to find answers to all kind of questions that we hadn't come across in conventional games development."
And it's not just the gameplay. VR devs are finding they have to rethink a lot of aspects of their work. Parts of the gaming experience that have never required much in the way of consideration are suddenly potential stumbling blocks for players.Interfacing with immersion
"The user interface was also interesting to work on as we had to figure out how to represent and contextualise information that would normally be displayed in two dimensions, but are now in a 3D space," Maria explains.
"This is how the hangar was born. I love this bit of Bandit Six. You can literally look around a huge hangar with a Lancaster in it while listening to some airfield noise in the background. And this is the place where you can browse all the missions and upgrade your weapons, pick-ups and armour. It's a menu that lives on its own."
Bandit Six has been built with the first real commercial VR system to hit the shelves in mind, the Samsung Gear VR. It's been a challenge for Maria and her team to take Climax Studios toward the exciting VR platform for the first time, but she says it's a direction they'll continue to move in.
"We have a bunch of interesting ideas that are being discussed at the moment and a new game in development," she concludes. "Let's just say that we are fully equipped to use all the know-how we got on Bandit Six and take VR gaming to the next level.
"The studio has a number of active projects that are in development, from original IP, licenses like Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China and of course we can't wait to get our hands on more VR related stuff. The team is growing and it looks like it's going to be a busy year for us."