I’ve had people ask me (especially in the past few months):
“Hey – why did you stop working on your VR game?”
If you’re one of those folks wondering the same thing, or someone who happened here because they’re curious about indie game development and my personal journey, read on.
First, let’s talk GameDev:
You know how EVERY blog, tutorial, or piece of advice tells developers the same thing?
“When you start out, don’t jump into a complicated and difficult project. Do something simple!!”
Well, we didn’t do that. I started working with Unity in early 2016. I got good…FAST. When I got my hands on the Vive later that year, it didn’t take long before I was creating VR projects – just seeing what I could do with the hardware.
We dreamed of how incredible it would be to play some of our favorite games – “The Legend of Zelda,” “Chrono Trigger,” “Final Fantasy,” etc. in VR: swinging the swords, casting spells, exploring worlds. Rather than make something simple, we wanted to make a medieval combat adventure. IT was all we could think about – and so we started a HUGE project that would eventually become Sellsword VR.
Second, we have to get technical:
2016 was the ‘Wild Wild West’ days of VR – major studios panned it as a fad, so indies were scrambling to fill the void. There was little to no documentation – each company was racing to be the killer app, and nobody shared code. One open source project, the Virtual Reality Toolkit (VRTK for short), was available for anyone to use – and it was full featured and robust. I downloaded it, and had no trouble adapting it to do the things we wanted in VR.
We designed Sellsword VR around VRTK – its capabilities and its limitations. VRTK was integrated into every interaction. It worked beautifully. We created ways to gather motion control data, controller velocity, and anything VRTK could tell us about player presence – and designed a combat system unlike any other. Everyone else was doing “wiggle swords” with simple hitbox checks; we used real physics and treated a sword like the complex weapon it was. We integrated Inverse Kinematics and ragdoll physics into our AI, and designed a combat system that rewarded the player for cunning moves like tripping, shoving, or forcing an opponent to let down his guard. It was wild – and we knew we had something special.
Fast forward a year – just 4 months after Sellsword VR released into Early Access. The VR industry tanked. What was set to be a multi-billion dollar money-printing machine suddenly went silent. Investment dried up, some great studios who bet big on VR went under, awesome projects went dark. We didn’t care – our game was a spare time endeavor that cost us nothing but time. We could keep going with no risk.
A few weeks later, the deathblow: VRTK’s lead developer decided it was time to end the project. Valve and Oculus were still moving full steam ahead (pun intended) on new hardware. Every update to SteamVR / OpenVR or Oculus Toolkit broke VRTK, and there just weren’t enough folks left in the VRTK community to fix it.
So here’s why we stalled:
We were faced with a dilemma – we had a game built around 3rd party software that suddenly had to be removed. I had just finished the new AI system, which ran 10 times better than the asset store system we bought and used in the demo. The demise of VRTK meant REWRITING all of that code, along with every existing system in the game to use the new OpenVR standards (that were still evolving). I’m the only programmer in our group, so I set about trying…and quickly realized I just didn’t have the skills required. I needed to learn more about C# and OpenVR before I could take on the task.
While I was bogged down learning how to recode our entire project, the world moved on. Josh and Ashley got new jobs, which meant less free time for them to work on SVR. A computer crash claimed 2 of Josh’s incredible levels and knocked the wind out of his sails, too.
Fast forward to today: I’ve got the skills, but gamers understandably lost interest in our game and faith in our team. There just isn’t enough interest in the game to justify the amount of time required to re-code it.
In learning more about C#, I ended up coding the entire engine for another title we’d been talking about. With so much built and ready to use, we made the decision to move forward with THAT project for the time being. I’ll start talking about that project in devlogs soon.
Will we come back to SVR? DEFINITELY. It’s a passion project for us, and something that sparked our GameDev journey. A few titles have come out with better melee combat, but I’ll never forget something people kept telling us at PAX West in 2017. People would come to play our game after demoing “Skyrim VR” – and shake my hand telling me that our combat was cleaner and more fun. Skyrim is one of my favorite games of all time, and this was a huge compliment…one I’ll never forget.
Someday, when Emerald Beast is our full-time jobs, we’ll have time to finish what we started.
For now, enjoy what I consider a “technical demo” with about an hour of gameplay, with a reduced price to reflect the amount of content. Oh – and buckle up…we’re just getting started. The project that came out of my year of “training??” It’s AWESOME – I can’t wait for you all to see it.