There’s beauty in the chaos of a startup’s early days when the team decides to roll the dice. For virtual reality entrepreneurs there are some amazing tools which help amplify this mindset, allowing you to move fast and, hopefully, make things. With these tools, a little luck, and a lot of tenacity, our six-month-old VR startup is heading to the Game Developers Conference to present our new game at Valve’s booth.
I’ll tell you how we did it.
We learned that Valve was offering space at its GDC booth for a few VR developers with something new to show. New features on existing games didn’t qualify, so we had only one option: Get our new idea ready for prime time. But we had barely locked our game development document. To be considered for GDC, we had to make a complete demo and show it to Valve… in two weeks.
Our new game, Kiss or Kill, is the first room-scale VR game show. It’s a 1v1 trivia death match with weapons, hi-jinks, and shenanigans. The winner of the game is faced with a big decision: Take the safe route and kiss the loser, or go for double points in a fight to the death. In Kiss or Kill death is permanent. If you lose the fight then your global rank, upgrades, and character are gone forever.
We were confident in the core concept after simulating it in real life, but there’s a big difference between pretending in your office and actually playing the game. To hit the deadline, fast tests and prototyping were mission critical.
Just a year ago, the concept of Kiss or Kill would have required months to translate into something playable. Luckily, amazing tools like VRTK, PlayMaker, and Photon have enabled creators like us to do the formerly impossible, impossibly fast.
VRTK, the Virtual Reality Toolkit, is a collection of foundational VR elements for Unity. Out of the box it provides locomotion, interaction, body physics, buttons and a lot more. It provides most of the elements of ‘reality’. You’d be surprised at how difficult something as seemingly simple as grabbing an object in virtual space can be. With VRTK, it just works. And did I mention that it’s free?
Using VRTK gave us the breathing room to work on more critical elements like the fight mechanics.
PlayMaker allowed us to quickly prototype core gameplay mechanics without needing to code them. Using Play Maker we can understand whether a concept works before spending hours coding it. It’s also a more efficient way to show our developers how something should function. Instead of telling them how a big hammer should function as a weapon, which can be interpreted in a million different ways, we can download a hammer from the Unity Asset store and script its rough functionality within Unity. It is $65 well spent.
Finally, Photon gave us a complete multiplayer package providing everything from logic to servers. Just like with VRTK, if Photon didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist. The months required to stand up servers and code all the logic for multiplayer would have been a showstopper. Photon is free for up to 8,000 monthly active users, then it is tiered pricing for more users.
With the help of these assets (plus, of course, Unity) we had networked players interacting with objects in a scene within hours. Days after committing to a demo date with Valve, we had a rough game. Late into the night we did our first complete playthrough.
It was glorious.
Big risks often have conclusions that come down to the wire, and ours was no different. On the day of the Valve demo, the Steam build wouldn’t run (still not sure why), and the Dropbox file wouldn’t connect (ports blocked at Valve). But finally, all three players were on the set of Kiss or Kill.
The game was a bit clunky. The music manager misbehaved. But the game worked. Valve was excited at what we had made.
And we were invited to GDC.
Thanks to tools like VRTK, PlayMaker, and Photon, and distribution platforms like Steam, development is becoming democratized. The developers creating these assets are ushering in a new era of content creation, helping to lay the foundation for the content studio of the future.
This wealth of resources allowed a six-month-old startup to execute on a previously impossible goal and we are but one example. Ultimately, enabling creators to express their visions in innovative ways is exactly what a new medium is meant to do. Our path to GDC is a step in that direction.