Mario Maker for Wii U. Garry’s Mod for PC. LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation. The list of games and programs that provide an easy-to-use interface to edit and create original (and often silly) experiences is ever expanding. In fact, if you go a few steps further into the realms of RPG Maker and Game Maker, you find programs that have been used to make extremely successful indie games such as To the Moon and Always Sometimes Monsters in the case of RPG Maker, or Hotline Miami and Hyper Light Drifter in the case of Game Maker.
But all of those are for standard, 2D gaming experiences, which is a far cry from VR game development. Unity is far and away the most widely used game engine for VR game creation, along with the likes of Unreal and CRYENGINE. A big part of Unity’s success is the community, its accessibility, and the documentation provided that make it easier to pick up and learn than its competition.
Despite that fact, there is still a large knowledge and skill gap between people that like to play VR games and people that like to make them, a gap that’s defined primarily by education and experience. One of the best ways to start bridging that gap is to just dive in and get started with a program like Unity. Even though it’s so much more accessible to use than some other programs, it does still require programming knowledge, so even then there is a big hurdle to cross. If you’re more interested in just dabbling, having some fun, and seeing if game design is something you’re event remotely interested in, then Modbox from Alientrap could be for you.
Modobx is More Than a Toybox
According to the game’s Steam page, Modbox is a “VR physics sandbox game for the HTC Vive” that lets you “create your own Holodeck experience to play with and to share with others.” We covered the game previously, but it’s undergone so many changes since then it was worth revisiting.
For example, the most recent update that released last week brought a whole slew of changes. The main focus of the update is a new “Game Mode” system. Previously, everything in Modbox existed as a silly experimental sandbox experience that loosely resembled game mechanics, but was quite honestly just a collection of small interactions. This sandbox mode is still the default, but now there are more options and rules to play around with.
For example, you can decide whether or not to enable teleportation movement and eventually systems like health and inventory management will be supported as well. They’ll even let people make custom levels, weapons, and more for multiplayer “deathmatch modes” so the whole game is one giant, customizable, multiplayer server. But that’s just the beginning.
“The tools and options in the last version of Modbox weren’t advanced enough to really create games with,” Lee Vermeulen told me over email. “We need more ways to set logic and set up rules of games. Along with that people need a lot more options to build with – for most players it’s a lot more fun to take modular dungeon/sci-fi ships and throw them together to make something, than to build from scratch with cubes and textures.”
Enabling VR Game Creation
As a result, the development focuses for Alientrap are going to focus primarily on making mod world and resources that players can then go in and create levels and more robust experiences for. Think of it like providing resource packs and enabling creation through creation itself. “We’ve decided to make our focus for Modbox is creating environments for players to play in, rather than just look at,” explained Vermeulen.
One of the biggest hurdles to cross then is the jump from a fun little sandbox to play around in to an actual game development program. According to Vermeulen, they don’t ever intend to fully make that transition because “it would never take the place of Unity,” but they do want to at least “create something is more fun and intuitive to develop in.” Everything from Escape Room style games, to dungeons you explore, and even multiplayer game modes and small VR game experiences will soon be possible.
In fact, the full future vision includes the possibility of “paid mods” that players can actually pay for to download and play, like short games in and of themselves. The idea is that by instituting a pay wall it will drive innovation and higher quality content since a price tag automatically forces people to evaluate what they’re downloading and paying for with a greater eye of scrutiny.
Look at the app store on mobile, for example. All of the best and highest quality titles require you to purchase them – even if it’s only a couple of dollars. But that vision of Modbox’s future relies on companies like Valve to bring back the possibility of paid mods – something that was swiftly removed the last time they tried it.
Soon, the team at Alientrap want to enable more multiplayer features as well. Both in terms of creation and playing content together. It’s still a far cry from truly being a Unity-lite experience, but it’s moving in a defined direction with a clear goal and a well-targeted niche.
Modbox is currently available for download on Steam Early Access for $19.99 on the HTC Vive.