The Gallery Greenlit & Valve VR Experience!
The Gallery: Six Elements is GREENLIT!!!
Securing a title on the Steam digital marketplace is a bit like receiving a golden ticket from Willy Wonka. What wonderful mysteries lay beyond those doors? When we visited Steam Dev Days 2 weeks ago, we half expected Gabe Newell himself to be handing out shinny green tickets to the crowd. That wasn't to be the case sadly.
Upon our return from Dev Days, to our utter shock and eye wetting surprise, on Tuesday the 21st The Gallery: Six Elements was officially Greenlit by Steam and the community! With Valve's new focus on Virtual Reality, having the assurance that The Gallery: Six Elements will be in a prime marketplace in support of future VR hardware on launch day is a huge relief and a tremendous honor.
This was a huge milestone for us and we have all of you to thank for our ongoing success and growth!
The Gallery Press Event
We had a terrific press event recently at Lefty's restaurant (big thanks for playing host Lefty's!). The local media, the public, members of city council and Innovation Island came for a visit. We demoed our recent Alpha to as many people as we could turn over in the short time we were there, enjoying lots of smiles in the process! Sharing the experience with others was a blast!
The Gallery Welcomes to Joel Green!
This past December we had the privilege of welcoming a new member to the team by the name of Joel Green. Joel has a pedigree in the videogame industry that we are truly humbled by and he has already made terrific contributions to the project. Here's a few words from Joel himself:
"Well the rumors are true... I'm the new Audio Lead on The Gallery: Six Elements. I'm very excited to be working on this ground breaking project, so I thought I'd write a post to introduce myself and talk a bit about what I'll be doing here.
I've spent most of my career working as an audio designer at Bioware Edmonton on the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series ™. I absolutely loved my time there, but in 2012 my wife and I packed up and left for the West Coast of Canada in search of new inspiration and adventure. I've found it in Cloudhead, The Gallery, and the new frontier of VR audio.
Like all other aspects of game development, sound in virtual reality is an open book. Some things seem obvious (binaural audio through real time HRTF simulations), while others are tricky (how does head tracking work with stereo speakers? Hint: Not well...). I'm now knee deep in this stuff, and as a technical audio designer I really couldn't be happier. In addition to the technical side of things, I'll also be handling the sound design and music aspects of The Gallery (though other talented people will likely help with composition). Immersion and atmosphere are my number one goals here, so expect a world that sounds as rich and authentic as it looks.
I'll be doing a lot of original recordings for The Gallery, and I'm planning on posting some of the raw material here occasionally to give a peek behind the game audio curtain. Stay tuned for that, and thank you for supporting Cloudhead in our endeavor to blaze trails."
Beta Production Begins!
After completing our tech demo for Oculus Share (Airworld Demo) we switched gears and released our Alpha for The Exploration School this past December. During Alpha production we tackled a number of hard VR specific challenges and the Alpha ended up landing much closer to a soft Beta in the end. With over 45 minutes of gameplay, the Alpha demonstrated a number of groundbreaking VR game mechanics in a warehouse, sewer and cave environment (as well as our easter-egg DungeonMan game!). We had some terrific reactions and feedback from that Alpha and it was an incredibly informative experience for the whole team!
Now that we have our main team assembled (Christopher Roe, Paul White, Matt Lyon, Dan Taylor, Joel Green, Denny Unger) and after taking lessons learned from the Alpha, we've begun Beta production on the primary release. As we move through Beta we will be sharing details of the development at www.thegallerygame.com as well as offering closed Beta samplings to supporters as they are made available.
"Seated" VR Challenges
As many of you know, The Gallery: Six Elements aims to support both seated and options for standing gameplay. A significant challenge to anyone working on first person, body persistent, VR experiences is tackling comfortable locomotion and rotation when using mouse and or gamepads. Turning ones physical body around is extremely comfortable in VR (and we will continue to push those interactions with STEM) but with Oculus's focus on seated experiences, "comfort control" during rotation via gamepad (analog rotation) is incredibly important. Although many people seem to either acclimate or have a high tolerance to analog based stick rotations in VR, a healthy minority find the experience disorienting, some to the point of general nausea. The issue boils down to a somewhat subjective sense of an appropriate rotation speed and metering that out in a way that circumvents the vestibular disconnect between what the eyes see and what the body feels.
One of the reasons we haven't rolled out full gamepad integration yet hinges on the work we are doing right now in this area. Cockpit based experiences in VR tend to be the most comfortable, because a user can visually latch onto a stable frame of reference but unless we all plan on walking around with cockpits on our heads (or other visual gimmicks) , that's not a viable solution to first person experiences. We've taken lessons learned over the last year and applied them to a number of experimental gamepad focused rotational control schemes, which we are pleased to say show a lot of promise. We feel that we've landed on a solution (and or hybrid of solutions) which makes rotation on gamepads for first person experiences extremely comfortable to a broad audience.
We hope to demonstrate our advances in this area for both gamepad and motion control schemes at this years GDC in March. We will also be making an effort to recruit pre-Beta testers as we move closer to that goal.
Valve Steam Dev Days
The Gallery team was incredibly fortunate to receive an invite to Valve's Steam Dev Days event where we took in talks and mingled with other developers (Valve did an amazing job with this event!!!). As many of you now know, Valve has a deeply focused eye on the virtual reality prize and they spent a full day on the subject. Not only does Valve believe in the viability of VR, they believe it will radically change the entertainment industry by the end of 2015. Oculus VR was there in force as well and Palmer did an energetic talk on VR's challenges and promise. Perhaps our biggest takeaway from the conference was the sense that we were on the precipice of a very important transition in human history.
While there, we had the opportunity to speak with Michael Abrash, Joe Ludwig and Doug Church personally about VR, the industry and the challenges of developing for hardware that isn't yet on market. We were very pleasantly surprised to learn that this group of innovators knew about The Gallery: Six Elements and our unique approach to the project. We can't thank them enough for being so generous with their time!
I had a great talk with Michael Abrash about the low hanging fruit of VR experiences and the sense of responsibility VR developers should consider when making content for the format. The more refined the hardware becomes, the more sophisticated developers become with these tools, the more likely it will be that we can inflict strong psychological responses in our users. Its a weighty topic that isn't getting much attention right now but there is a real sense that if we're not careful as developers, we could potentially damage those who are susceptible. During demo's of The Gallery we've seen a wide range of emotional reactions, ranging from pure joy to something bordering on an out of body experience. For this reason we've been carefully considering key game moments and their impact on players. Having been involved with the technology from its early beginnings its definitely a topic that we no longer take lightly. It is likely that VR will eventually demand a new type of ratings system with strict warnings about the content involved. There is no comparative to this format and I think developers have a responsibility to consider the deeper potential implications of their work.
There was also a distinct sense that because of the bleeding edge nature of VR's rebirth, that the current hardware leaders had most but not all of the answers. Modern VR developers are pioneers in the truest sense of the word and there's a collective struggling happening to get our heads around the landscape as quickly as possible before it reaches mass market. And as we move through this somewhat chaotic unknown, there is a necessary synergy developing between VR software developers and VR hardware makers. And there are important lessons being brought back from the VR wilderness which can and should be shared to avoid stumbling into the void as much as possible.
Stumbling into the void or not, it's such an exciting time to be a developer in this space!
Valve's Magical VR Demo
To prove out to developers what the ultimate end-game might look like in the very near future, Valve offered an incredible 30 minute demo of their internal VR hardware at Dev Days. We were lucky enough to try it out (thanks to Joe Ludwig!).
We were ushered into a bright room covered in printed tracking targets. On the floor was an orange throw rug roughly 8ft by 4ft and this represented a sort of "safe volume" of space that users could physically walk around in. The headset form-factor was close to the Oculus but it differed in a few respects. Custom cut lenses accommodated two 1080p panels (one per eye in portrait format) and a small camera sat atop the headset itself (not shown below).
After mounting the headset the immediate clarity of the image was apparent. Some very minor screen door was still visible but it was muted to the point that most consumers would probably look past it. The second impression was low persistence on the panels and as a result, throwing your head left to right rapidly did not cause any blurring or smearing of the image. These two qualities definitely helped with the feeling of presence but it was the third feature that completely sold it, and that was complete 360 degree, volumetric positional tracking. Having the ability to physically walk around the scene, albeit in a small 8X4ft area, and to crouch or even lay on the floor (which I did!) was a powerful experience and showcased the true endgame for virtual reality in an undeniable way. It would be VERY easy to imagine a scenario where just as today we have living room space dedicated to Wii or Kinect, that users could simply section off a small piece of carpet to walk around on. Throw some form of edge detection into the mix by augmentation or physical floor strips, which keeps players within safe boundaries and VR would definitely match its long held promise.
A number of experiences were presented, including a walk-around of a portal turret under construction, and a transcendental on-rails experience but by far my favorite and most powerful experience with Valve's headset was laying on the floor next to a futuristic reactor pit. I stretched out on the floor propping my head up on my arm and peering over into the pit below, the sense of presence was truly a watershed moment and my mind was immediately filled with images of perching players on virtual beds in kingdoms far, far away. This also illustrated to me the importance of supporting (as best as possible) a wide range of potential positional solutions in VR. We are on the cusp of giving players true positional freedom within a limited volume, very much like a Holideck in your living room. Sixense STEM holds some promise here in the short term and although there are challenges yet to overcome, we are convinced that volumetric positional tracking will become the standard, the new normal. Perhaps not immediately but certainly within less than 3 years.
On the surface, Valve's endgame seemed to elude to a specific kind of consumer experience. Offer users a living room component with enough juice to power a VR experience (Steambox), offer them a viable input device (Steam controller) and tie it together with an HMD that allows some latitude for volumetric positional tracking. There is a rich potential for both sit-down and stand-up VR experiences as the technology evolves, that much is clear and The Gallery: Six Elements will be well positioned to be one of the first games to attempt to support both.
Worts and all!
Until next time!
-The Gallery Team