ADR1FT © Images courtesy of Three One Zero

Three One Zero

The Future of VR

Last modification: 28 Aug, 2017
Duration
15 mins

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to experience what Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride once did. But thanks to VR, we now have the means to experience the second best thing.

ADR1FT immerses players in the beautiful but lonely atmosphere of space complete with a stunning rotating Earth in the backdrop.

We spoke with Matteo and Jason from Three One Zero about ADR1FT’s challenges and what the future holds for VR.


 
 

 

"You have to throw out the old playbooks and reinvent how things are done for VR. A lot of interesting design challenges in this game that kind of cropped up and no one had the answers for us, we just had to invent a lot of it."

— Matteo Marsala



How was Three One Zero formed?

The studio was formed a couple of years ago by Adam Orth, our creative director, and Omar Aziz, our technical director. Adam and Omar got together and hired another artist on a contract for about 10 weeks. The three of those guys put a prototype together and they shopped that prototype around and that’s how they got a publishing deal. Once the publishing deal was in place, Adam and Omar ended up calling all of us. It was one of those times where you just couldn’t say no- these are the best developers I’ve ever worked with in over twenty years, we’re good friends and the idea to form a company with your friends and live that dream is too enticing to pass up.


What is ADR1FT about?

The story of the game is about the consequences of your actions and ultimate redemption. You play the character of Alex Oshima. She wakes up in a space station and she finds out that the her space station has been destroyed around her and doesn’t know what happened or how she got there. It’s up to her to put the pieces together and find out what level of responsibility she had and then to make good on the mistakes she made.


ADR1FT © Image courtesy of Three One Zero



Was going indie something you all wanted to do?

I think all of us were at different places. For me, it was totally out of the blue, my whole career has been spent working on FPS and when Adam reached out to me, I was with Neversoft and Activision working on a Call of Duty title. I wanted to do something different and depart from FPS and just be able to be involved in a new business and company. Being able to do that with people I know and trust from our years together was just so cool. I remember way back at EA, working on Medal of Honor for all those years was very difficult, it was super time consuming and they were crunching all the time. It was a really hard gig and I remember we would all say things like “If we only had our own studio, we’d do it this way.”

Also, the idea of going indie and being able to build a company worked best for us and the stage that our families are in. We all worked remotely and from home in different cities pretty much. We built ADR1FT on Skype and TeamViewer and a couple of other tools. It’s pretty incredible what we accomplished in the time that we had as a first time indie studio working together but we just kind of built a model that works really well for us. I know that it would not have worked as well if we didn’t have that relationship working with each other in the past. It’s kind of critical for us to have built that trust together and gone through fire together to build that trust today.


As you’re all very experienced with FPS, was it weird to take the shooting out of the equation?

Honestly, after many many years of doing FPS, I just got fatigued. There’s only so many ways you can cut out good guys and bad guys in games. It’s basically a lot of the same mechanics over and over again with different stories laid on top of each other. Sometimes they add some functionality and mechanics in there like multiplayer maps. It’s really a remix of what’s been done before with new content on top of it. For me at least, it got really old and it got hard for me to play FPS anymore unless there’s something really innovative or different about it.

I was pretty burned out from playing FPS just from the art and environmental storytelling side. It was really interesting to me to have a game where the players can really soak in the environment and the storytelling through the environment and the world we’ve created. So many countless hours are given to the environment stories in FPS but you’re constantly running and gunning and you don’t get to really soak up that stuff. It was definitely a challenge for me.


ADR1FT © Image courtesy of Three One Zero



What were the biggest technical challenges in creating ADR1FT?

(Laugh) There were many. Getting the game to meet performance on the spec machine for VR was very challenging. Getting to 90hz for a PC game is hard enough but when you start drawing twice on a HMD and it’s high fidelity, it’s very challenging to maintain 90hz consistently. The last thing you want to do is introduce any judder or any type of lag whatsoever in virtual reality. The consequence is the feeling of motion sickness for the player or as Oculus refers to it, comfort/discomfort. It held challenges for the developers in that you know drawing all that stuff in the world is very costly in addition to a dynamic rotating earth in the background that’s super high-res. There’s a lot of tricks that you have to get down on your LOD system and what type of fidelity you put into what assets and streaming volumes.

Omar really wanted ADR1FT to be a seamless experience so that you can load in the beginning and play up to four hours without experiencing another load so that had all sorts of implications. We basically had to light the entire destroyed space station in one sitting because of the nature of not having loads. These are self-imposed but it definitely made for a better experience overall.


What would you say are the main differences between working in AAA and in your own studio?

We have smaller budgets, which means we have a much smaller team. Our time at EA was really great. We met a ton of people and it was a huge learning experience but organizations like EA are behemoths. There are so many different layers of management you have to go through in order to make a decision, make a creative call or to give feedback. At Three One Zero, the 6 core members of the team all have a really strong say on what we do and how we do it. We could move quicker than a larger organization because we make decisions faster and it’s really easy to get a few people in the room to make a decision and know that the rest of the group will trust that the decisions we make are valid for the right reasons. Everyone plays their position very well and they just own their work and stuff gets done. There’s a lot of trust and ownership in the team.

When we ran into problems while working on Medal of Honor, they’d say ‘here’s a team of 20 people that will help you with that problem.’ That doesn’t happen at an indie studio.

Inevitably, the extra work that comes out will just fall on the 6 full time members of our studio. Someone will have to figure out how to do it and one or many of us will have to stretch further to get stuff done. You just have to be a lot more creative about how you’re spending your resources on a team. With ADR1FT, we learned how to be more efficient with the preproduction of the game so when we go into full production, we knew what exactly we were making and spent less effort on discovering things in production.


How did you manage to afford making this high quality game with so few people?

We just tried to be smart about keeping the number of assets down but just keeping them at a very high quality. We did things like change up the lighting or the destruction or composition or how a player approaches an area. We tried to do things that had a big visual impact with a low impact on the team.


ADR1FT © Image courtesy of Three One Zero



What would you say are the major differences between playing ADR1FT on VR and non-VR?

It’s pretty dramatic in my opinion. That goes for a lot of different games and I’ve played a lot of games that are kind of both and it’s just a big difference.

When you put a HMD on, it’s telling your eyes and ears that something is happening around you, you’re getting all this feedback that the space you’re in is real. I don’t think that feeling will translate as well through a standard version of the game. On a standard screen, you don’t have the perspective like you do in VR- you can’t look around and take in the scope and scale of what’s around you. It’s very dramatic.


What challenges did the VR component have on production?

There were a lot of technical challenges as well. We were building for a new platform with Oculus. There’s a lot of things that no one has invented before like how do you display information on a HUD in VR? A lot of the stuff was early R&D: what works and what doesn’t work and how close to the players’ eyes could you draw things and how does that work with things that are further in distance? There’s a lot of things to consider when it comes to the type information you have in your helmet and what you want the player to look at.

But I think we made some correct creative decisions about. For example, in VR you have to think: “what does an astronaut have at their disposal?” Their head is inside a helmet that they’re attached to so they could move their body so you have a lot more ability to view more information that’s on the HUD if you just move your head around a little bit inside of the helmet. The HUD is more than just a screen. For example, if you want to see an oxygen meter, you have to move your head down towards the right. If you want to see the map, you have to look down to the left. You have to throw out the old playbooks and reinvent how things are done for VR. A lot of interesting design challenges in this game that kind of cropped up and no one had the answers for us, we just had to invent a lot of it.


ADR1FT © Image courtesy of Three One Zero



Would you say that Three One Zero is a VR studio?

Yeah, you could say that. I don’t think we’d ever rollout non-VR titles. ADR1FT has a non-VR component but as far as our focus right now, it’s purely VR. That’s certainly what we’re most excited about. There’s just too many opportunities to create really cool stuff and innovate in this space. It’s early days and there’s a lot to be learned and a lot to discover. It’d be really interesting to see what people consider to be standard practice in VR in a year from now like how FPS controllers are pretty much defined very well. It’d be interesting to see how different developers are handling discomfort, how they handle controls, and how we communicate controls to the players which I think is one of the biggest challenges. How can you expect a player without gaming experience to do what you want them to do? It’s a great problem or challenge for designers to wrap their head around and come up with interesting solutions.


Do you think VR is a gateway to games for non-traditional gamers?

I think it can be, VR is about the experience and about being able to give people the experiences and being able to give people experiences that they can’t otherwise have whether they’re not in the right location or cost or there’s other reasons. Like going in to space. People can feel what it’s like going into space knowing that they are never going to go into space. The difficulty is getting someone new to gaming into the game and really quickly making the controls and input seem intuitive.

A game we’re working on right now we had considered, some prototypes we’ve talked about, we’re considering different movement schemes of the player where you basically have to use your head and not worry about confusing them with button controls. So really trying to get over that hurdle and making it as simple as possible.


Is VR the future of gaming?

I definitely see opportunities for VR that I haven’t seen in the industry ever. It’s very rare that a major technology shift like this will occur and have such an impact on content creators and developers. I am super excited about companies like The Void and Six Flags are doing like combining VR with actual space.

I am more excited outside of the realm of games and entertainment: how VR will affect our day-to-day lives 15 years from now.


Typical team meeting at Three One Zero (Image courtesy of Three One Zero)


ADR1FT credits:

Sam Bass
Tom Gerber
Jason Barajas
Adam Orth
Omar Aziz
Matteo Marsala



ADR1FT’s launch was brought to you by the dedicated members of Three One Zero with the help of
3ds Max and Maya. Keep current on Three One Zero’s latest VR projects on their website or follow them on Twitter.

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