Image courtesy of Team Storm VR

Developing up a Storm

Storm VR

Last modification: 11 Oct, 2017
Duration
7 mins

Storm VR takes you through a deadly, but stunning snowstorm because extreme storms are better experienced indoors.

We talked to developers, Team Storm VR about the challenges in developing for VR and whether Early Access was beneficial. 


 


What is Storm VR about?

Storm is a game of two parts. Firstly, there’s the practical side of the game: survival. Throughout the five episodes, you’re going to be subjected to extreme conditions over and over, and you’ll need to think fast and interact with the environment around you to survive them. Secondly, there’s the narrative. Storm is about identity and about finding your destiny. I wrote the script for Storm like a screenplay, it’s essentially a psychological thriller - except you play it with your hands. In the first episode, the story is only a light thread, but it will become more of the focus in episode 2, which we are working on now.


Why did you decide to make Storm VR episodic?  

The Snowstorm episode was shaped by some discussions I had early on with the guys at UNIT9, who are my partners in this project. We debate VR a lot, what we like, what we think works and where we think VR is at right now especially with Yates and Piero. It is a platform that still has a lot of first-time users. We realized that we all really like short experiences, while a lot of the AAA games coming out right now are often games that were created for traditional gaming platforms, and require a major investment in terms of time.

But to be honest, there was also a practical side to the decision. Storm is a learning process, while VR is rapidly changing. So I felt like releasing this game in steps would be good. It would mean we wouldn’t build it all in one chunk, and so I’d be able to react to reviews from players, to thing we as a team learn along the way, and to changes in the VR space itself.


© 2013 Autodesk 


What was the team like developing for Storm VR?

Storm started as an idea I had but my brain works best when I am discussing things or debating them. As I developed the idea and went into production, friends and colleagues joined the project whenever we needed something done. It’s very much a team effort. I don’t have a traditional game production team, unfortunately, and all the people who helped have a day job, just like me. We do this in our spare time, whenever we can. The day to day work on Storm is being managed by a small core team of four, myself, Andrej, Jakub, and Yates. But there’s quite a few satellites orbiting our little ‘planet’, depending on what we need, and if they have free time. So it’s a shapeshifting team.


Was this your first VR project? What did you learn from development?  

I have been almost exclusively specialized in VR for the past three years, but mostly, I work for commercial clients at the more experimental side of advertising. UNIT9 has completed over 60 VR projects to date - a real range from 360 films to full game-engine based projects. So all our experienced combined in VR is commissioned work. With Storm, we really wanted to create something outside of the bounds of a brand or a campaign message - and let it expand outwards.

The process of making Storm taught me many things. I could write you a book! But one thing stands out for me, which is that it is difficult to be the first. We initially finished Storm just before Vive and then Oculus released hand controllers. It was bad timing, or maybe bad research on my part. We had to basically re-build the game’s interactions from scratch to take into account the physical hand interactions. It’s a totally different ballgame. In the first version, we had all interactions animated; you’d just point and click a button - and the interaction would happen automatically. In the second, things like picking a car-lock, or sliding open the doors of the shed - or even juggling a pair of rocks that you find on the ground, those are now physics based, built from scratch. It took a while for us to do all of that work, and it really pushed back the project’s launch date, unfortunately. At the same time, it was worth the wait. The interactions feel really powerful, even when they are often quite mundane.


Image courtesy of Team Storm VR 


What other kinds of problems do you encounter in developing for VR?  

One interesting challenge was mapping out the interactions and making it a good balance. We wanted to create a level the average player can finish in about 20 to 30 mins. Not too long, because people who aren’t big into gaming might get too frustrated, and yet, if it’s too short it’s not as fun for gamers. Finding this balance was quite tricky. We literally got angry reviews from both sides, with experienced gamers finding it ‘way too easy’ and people with less gaming experience getting stuck.

Another problem we had was optimizing for a VR headset. Naturally, you design your levels on a desktop and don’t have to worry about squeezing 90 fps per eyeball out of your processor. But once things are running in Unreal, in a headset, with our dynamic weather setup, the process to optimize our scene was pretty brutal. We had to cut a lot out, and find every possible trick to get a balance between the visual look I wanted, and making it run well on all supported systems.


Was putting the game out on Early Access beneficial? What did you learn?  

We spent a lot longer in early access than we planned to. But, it has helped us a lot to have that option. We used Steam Early Access as a place to push regular updates of the game, while we were building it. And the feedback we got absolutely influenced our approach, and sometimes even changed the direction we were taking. The engagement of the gaming community was really something quite amazing - we got a lot of great feedback from people, as well as some really harsh criticism. I feel like there’s people on Steam who care deeply about the community they are a part of.


Image courtesy of Team Storm VR 


What advice do you have for others starting out in VR?  

Don’t rush to market. We really wanted to take our time with Storm, and polish it. But it’s hard to be patient when you see great new content being published every day. It makes you feel like you’re losing a race! But I think this is a bad attitude to take, and it’s a short-term strategy. I think your launch schedule should depend on your own project, and your project only. Not everyone else. Not being ‘first’.

Another bit of advice is on writing. Writing your story is half the job, but figuring that story out as you go is twice the work. Don’t get carried away with the technology. Start by writing it, from start to finish and think about how that story is going to be told. 

Next, work on the look of your game in actual 3D software. Concept art is great but before you get too deep into details like the interactions, or the technology, you need to know what your game will look like.



Team Storm VR uses 3ds Max and MayaBrave the storm on Steam.

Tags
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • VR
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