Last night, UK developer NDreams were the subject of a special BAFTA presentation delving deeper into the making of its upcoming virtual reality title The Assembly.
This first-person adventure game puts players in the role of two characters, each with their own agenda, as they investigate what’s really happening in the secret underground facility of The Assembly, a "morally dubious" group of scientists operating outside of the government’s remit.
The game is currently in development for Oculus, Vive and PlayStation VR, and stands to be one of the first fully-fledged, narrative-focused titles released for the new medium.
During the team’s presentations, there were plenty of tips for other virtual reality developers, and we’ve collected the best ones below.
1. Your game needs to run at 90fps
Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO:
"It’s all to do with the latency: the time between you moving your head and the screen catching up. The issue is in most games where you try to hit a framerate of 30fps or perhaps 60fps, if there’s a lot going on, an explosion or something, it lags a bit and that doesn’t really matter. In VR, if it drops below 60 or 90fps – depending on which headset you use – it’s a real problem. It starts making people feel ill.
"So with VR, you have to hit the framerate all the time – and you need to have it nailed at the very beginning. With traditional games development, you fix the framerate right at the end, optimising the hell out of your finished game, but with VR it’s important to have this from the start."
2. Sound should come from everywhere
Matt Simmonds, senior audio designer:
"Audio needs to be in positional 3D. Binaural recording replicates how the human ears hears and positions sound around us. There’s a famous Haircut demo where if you sit facing forwards, you can hear the man cutting hair around you.
"Unfortunately for us in VR, the technology on its own presents a problem because as soon as you turn your head, it sounds like the man has magically jumped around behind you. Positional 3D audio can realistically depict where a sound is within a room. It’s still early technology and can be CPU-intensive. But we’ve found a mix of binaural with traditional 2D and 3D sound works well in a VR environment."
3. Absolutely everything needs to be rendered…
Martin Field, artist:
"There are no shortcuts when you make a world in VR. In film, TV and theatre, the set is always front-facing. Very rarely do we see anything within 180 degrees behind the camera – and if you don’t need to show it, you don’t need to create it. But in VR, players can see everything around them, everything in existence. Everything has to be fully modelled, fully textured. They will look underneath every table, behind every sink, inside every coffee cup."
4. …and it all needs audio, as well
Matt Simmonds, senior audio designer:
"It’s not just graphics that need extra oomph. One of the biggest changes we have to work with in VR is how amplified audio detail has to be. When you have the headset on, players can stick their head inside a fridge – and will expect to hear it working. In VR, the sound for even insignificant things can be just as captivating – it’s not just set dressing any longer."
5. Interior settings work better than exterior
Jackie Tetley, game designer:
"Choosing to base the game in an enclosed environment was partially practical and partially thematic. If you work in game development, you’ll know you face memory and graphics restraints on any devices you’re targeting. Less geometry takes less man-hours to create, and less things being rendered means your game runs quicker. And in VR, you have to render twice, so having an enclosed environment can be a win."
6. Don’t make spectacles the player might miss
"You’re no longer in control of players see. You’re no longer the director of photography. The player is your cameraman. If you want to retain that direction and keep control of your shot, you need to guide the player to frame that shot for you. Guide your player and funnel their vision so the environment leads them to that focal point."
7. Say goodbye to your GUI
"As the player looks around the environment, a series of little icons pop-up. The traditional GUI doesn’t work brilliantly in VR because the things you would usually have on the fringes of the screen would be in the blurrier periphery of your vision. Having floating panes suddenly appearing right in front of your face doesn’t work either. So we’ve introduced a system wherever your gaze rests, an icon will pop up if you can interact with that icon."
8. Keep your movements realistic
"In traditional games, everything’s turned up to 11. In Call of Duty, for example, you’ll find yourself spinning on the spot really fast, running at the speed of Usain Bolt. In Just Cause, you’ll be firing a grappling hook and flying into the air, backflipping and so on. Everything is crazy and full on – but in VR you can’t do that, because it’s like you’re there. And if in real life you were backflipping then suddenly grappling onto the wing of a plane, you’d feel pretty ill.
"In real life, if you were to run at the speed of Usain Bolt, you’d feel very uncomfortable – I mean a lot of us don’t even jog, let alone sprint. You have to be much more realistic, and speeds of rotation have to be much more gentle. You turn everything back down to realistic levels."