Once pre-production has been completed on a game, the next major milestone is the development of an Alpha build of the game. This is no different when developing a VR title. An alpha build of the game should show the core gameplay elements, albeit in an early, rough state. The art quality of an alpha build is typically better than a prototype, and the gameplay is refined and further polished. In most cases, multiple alpha builds will be created.
Alpha builds are often used to offer what has become known as Early Access builds, where gamers can help fund the game's development by getting an early version of the game to play. This type of monetization runs the risk of turning away gamers if the alpha is of poor quality, but it can also end up being a huge benefit to the studio if it catches on with gamers. The popular 7 Days to Die game is a great example of an Alpha or Early Access game making a huge splash.
The VR Pipeline
Building a VR game is really no different than building a traditional screen-based game when it comes to having a solid pipeline. A good pipeline can make the difference between a successful game and a sustainable studio. In this episode of VRGO, the team at Rocket 5 Studios and I discuss the pipeline of a small 2-person shop such as theirs. While smaller studios won't need to invest heavily in their pipeline at first, making an effort to put a scalable pipeline in place will help smaller indie teams to grow both in the size of their studio and projects, as well as in their ability to produce better and more complex games.
Some of the key benefits of a good pipeline include:
- Ensuring on-time delivery of assets during production, as well as the final game.
- Maintaining a chain of asset ownership through asset management systems.
- Being flexible enough to deal with unexpected changes, but being rigid enough to support a smooth development process.
- Avoiding hidden or unexpected costs.
- Tools that work well together.
When developing for VR titles, the pipeline must include regular VR testing on all supported platforms, as well as asset validation to ensure all art assets and design decisions do not have a negative impact on performance or other VR-related issues such as simulation sickness. A good early VR testing setup can be used in the pipeline as early as during asset creation with some of the plugins already available for Maya. You can see a good one in action in Daryl's Journey to VR video on this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u76q0ifAEw
VRGO Episode 3
We hope you enjoy this week's episode below. Be sure to tune in November 22 at 11 AM EST for the next episode!