Easter Mini Update & Control Talk
Hello backers, friends and fellow explorers! First and foremost we'd like to once again thank you for your incredible and generous support! Its been an amazing, humbling experience interacting with people who are equally enthusiastic about what we're doing with The Gallery: Six Elements! We hope all of you are having a terrific Easter weekend and getting some well deserved rest.
We've formed many great relationships already during the course of this campaign with both backers and hardware partners at Oculus, Sixense, and Razer. These fine people are not only supportive but have an intense passion for what they do. We feel very fortunate to be developing a game that fully utilizes their revolutionary hardware!
We've got a VERY cool update coming for everyone this week. We can't wait to share!
The Gallery: Six Elements in the Press
We've had a number of great mentions in the press and we'd like to send out our sincere thanks to those who have helped to spread the word.
And for those following Oculus Rift coverage, they recently had a HUGE turnout for GDC and were the talk of the internet! There are far too many stories to link to from that event but the main take away from all of it is...believe the hype!
Hi, everyone! I'm Christopher Roe, the lead programmer for The Gallery: Six Elements. I'd like to take the opportunity now to thank everyone for backing the project on Kickstarter--thank you very much!
I'd planned to post some updates on the dev blog here much sooner than today, but I've been up to my eyebrows working on the game. For instance, I spent the past several days significantly extending the Explorer's ability to interact with the environment, improving our Razer Hydra integration, creating a realistically behaving spray can that paints on other objects in addition to the static world geometry, and rope-and-plank bridges that sway and flex in response to physical forces.
I finally have some time today to spend on a blog post, so I'm going to start by discussing a couple of concerns raised by backers and potential backers about gameplay, controllers, and platform support.
Some of you have expressed reservations that people who aren't using an Oculus Rift headset or the Razer Hydra might be left out in the cold, and have asked to see some mouse/keyboard gameplay. That's my cue to explain our strategy for ensuring that everyone enjoys as full an experience as possible, whether they're using a mouse or a Hydra motion controller.
The Oculus Rift versus conventional monitors
The Gallery: Six Elements grew out of Denny's desire to create a game that would be a compelling, immersive, and enjoyable virtual reality experience. Having many years of experience as a virtual reality enthusiast as well as having backed the Oculus Rift project on Kickstarter, he wanted to make a game that would play to the Rift's strengths. I, on the other hand, didn't even know that the Oculus Rift existed until after he brought me onboard.
I lost my hearing when I was a toddler. My deafness has a side effect where the thought of completely shutting out all environmental awareness for extended periods of time bothers me, so long game sessions on a conventional display would be more comfortable for me. So, those of you who have no plans to acquire a Rift, take heart--the game will still be enjoyable on a regular monitor, and we have no plans to leave any of you out in the cold.
The Razer Hydra
When I first became aware of the Razer Hydra motion controller I had trouble imagining how it would be an improvement over a mouse and keyboard. The short answer to that question is: no, it isn't merely an improvement. It's something else entirely.
The Hydra user experience is very dependent on how deeply it's integrated into the gameplay. If the game's implementation of Hydra support only allows it to be used as a wand, a clumsy gamepad emulator, or a glorified Wiimote/Nunchuk substitute, then it simply doesn't reach its full potential under those input regimes.
If the game is designed to let the device to reach its full potential, on the other hand, then it becomes a completely different experience. Other controller peripherals feel...somehow crippled or inadequate in comparison. I reached this epiphany after ordering a Hydra controller of my own and getting to know it--I bought one with the intent of building support for the Hydra into The Gallery: Six Elements, and while I was writing the integration code and input manager for it, I found myself bursting at the seams with ideas for using it to its fullest potential.
As you've seen in the Hydra gameplay update that Denny posted to the Kickstarter project page a few days ago, being able to directly drive the player's hands with the controllers is pretty cool. As soon as I had a working Hydra input manager driving the Explorer's arms, I was completely, unequivocally, and enthusiastically in love with the Hydra.
Being able to reach up to my head and pull the trigger to turn on my headlamp was neat. Being able to touch an object and pull the trigger to pick it up was even neater. Before I knew it, I was actually coding routines that allowed items to be passed from one hand to the other as well as being thrown. I set up a table in a grassy field, piled a bunch of rigidbody cubes on it, and found myself grinning like a loon while just picking up cube after cube and throwing them as hard as I could. Yes, I was physically flinging my arms and pressing the trigger to release the cubes, and I kept trying to beat my best throw distance for a good 20 minutes before I realized I was essentially goofing off on the clock. That is what the Hydra brings to the table.
Because the Hydra makes possible a whole another level of complexity and depth in how we interact with virtual worlds that are too good not to use, and because that’ll never happen if you default to implementing it as a half-baked gamepad substitute, the most logical thing to do is to invert the pyramid: build the input scheme around the Hydra’s extended capabilities first, and then implement graceful failbacks for other peripherals.
I also ordered an Xbox 360 gamepad at the same time that I ordered the Hydra. Because The Gallery: Six Elements was conceived of as something that would make great use of the Oculus Rift, allowances must be made for the fact that you can't see a keyboard/mouse while wearing a head mounted display. Now, some people don't have a problem keeping track of where the WASD cluster is on the keyboard by feel, but I'm not one of these people.
So, gamepad support is a must, and on the inverted pyramid, the gamepad comes between the keyboard and the Hydra for one simple reason: button count. If you design the input scheme for the mouse/keyboard first, it's easy to find yourself in a situation where you're using too many keyboard buttons to cleanly map to a gamepad or joystick. You can go from a gamepad to a keyboard easily, but the inverse only applies if you used fewer keyboard buttons than there are buttons on a gamepad.
The things you can do with a Hydra, but not a gamepad, will be unobtrusively replaced with model animations and a little bit of discreet help from the game itself. For example, if you could use the Hydra to physically turn a wheel with your hands, a gamepad-controlled interaction would abstract that into a button press or a trigger pull, and the action would be animated onscreen.
Mouse and keyboard
At the wide top of the inverted pyramid, we have the good old mouse and keyboard setup. I bought a pair of Fang gaming keypads a few years ago for Unreal Tournament 2003 LAN parties because they were much quicker for non-gamer relatives to get to grips with than a laptop or PC keyboard. I dug them out of the closet a while ago because these gaming keypads seemed like they would be easier to manage by feel while wearing a head mounted display.
Just as with the gamepad, the mouse/keyboard input regime will abstract the things that you can do with a Hydra into mouse clicks or button presses, and the interaction effects would be animated onscreen.
Animations cost quite a bit of money to produce and implement, just like sounds and music, and getting this project funded would let us put somebody on animation duty as well as being able to buy them from third parties.
A few people have also inquired about the LEAP Motion, and since my developer kit showed up a few days ago, I figured I'd say a few words about it. I can unequivocally say, after some experimentation, that the LEAP Motion would be a much better fit for a different game.
That said, I like it quite a bit. Its unsuitability for our purposes is not a reflection upon it or anything of the sort--it's a simple matter of using the right tool for the right job.
This one keeps coming up, and in addition to the FAQ we've posted on the Kickstarter project page, I'm going to touch on it briefly here. The one constant we want to apply across all platforms is a consistent, full experience. Even though Unity supports Mac and a bunch of other platforms, the fact remains that there's more to cross-platform support than ticking a checkbox in the build settings dialog. All targeted platforms need to have full support for all of the peripherals we want to support, not just be able to run the game itself.
If this project gets funded, I'll be buying a Mac for testing purposes and installing whatever Linux distro that Unity supports on one of our old boxes. When drivers for all of the supported peripherals are available on all of the platforms that Unity supports, I'll need to test each of them and make sure that they work before we sign off on a non-Windows release.
Denny's got another gameplay update scheduled for the Kickstarter project page next week. I'm particularly excited about this one because it'll feature some of the neat stuff that we've been grinding away at all week, and I can't wait to see it shared with all of you!
Thanks again supporters! And dont forget to spread the word :)
~ Denny, Chris, Matt
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