Thunderbird Won’t Release on Oculus Home Because Devs Don’t Want to ‘Dumb-Down’ The Game

by David Jagneaux • February 10th, 2017

Platform exclusivity, project funding, and cross-platform compatibility are hot-button issues in the VR industry. Many developers do their best to bring their games to as many devices as possible, but it doesn’t always work out that way. With the release of the Oculus Touch controllers late last year, we’re getting closer to a world of platform parity between the Rift and Vive, but some differences still exist in terms of how they handle full 360-degree roomscale tracking configurations.

The vast majority of the games on Oculus Home that include support for “experimental” roomscale setups also provide 180 options as well. According to Tony Davidson, founder at Innervision Games and developer of Thunderbird, that 180 tracking setup is the default configuration expected from the folks at Oculus to get your game on the Home Store in the first place, at least for the original launch lineup of titles for Touch.

We’ve asked for clarification from Oculus about whether this forward-facing support is a guideline or a requirement for developers supporting Oculus Touch. Games released after the Touch launch window, such as HordeZ and Unearthed Inc: The Lost Temple as well as some Gallery Apps, for example, only feature 360 support in Oculus Home, but those apps may not get the same level of attention or promotion within the store.

Thunderbird is a slow-paced, puzzle-focused, atmospheric adventure game. It takes heavy inspiration from genre classics like Myst (Obduction is a recent VR game from the creators of Myst, following a similar idea) and infuses those concepts with full roomscale support, requiring players to physically move around and interact with the environment to progress. It truly transports you to a beautiful fantastical world, placing you in the shoes of the game’s intrepid traveler.

We were blown away by the 20-minute introductory experience that lands on Steam today of Thunderbird: The Legend Begins. Naturally, something that requires so much interaction and activity from its users is best played with full 360 tracking and roomscale support.

“Back in the summer [of last year] when Oculus started investing heavily into content that supported motion controllers, we began discussions and working with them on creating a port of Thunderbird for their Touch launch,” explained Davidson in an email to UploadVR. “We spent a good deal of time trying to accommodate them on their default 180′ format requirement for Home but the results were far from ideal…The whole exclusive ordeal with Oculus last summer would have been a big help to our project but we just couldn’t agree with the whole 180′ approach and having us dumb-down our experience for them. After making all of the necessary changes to support a 180′ experience we ended up with a product that we felt was not representative of our vision of VR. There were so many sacrifices made to accommodate it and the end result was not very appealing and was considerably different compared to our original design.”

IronDoor_Thunderbird-Innervision-UploadVR

When Davidson mentions the need to “dumb-down” the game, it is not an exaggeration. Oculus’ sensors might have trouble tracking below your knees in the default 180 arrangement and there are objects you’ve got to pick up off the ground in Thunderbird. One puzzle in particular necessitates 360 movement and they couldn’t figure out an elegant and non-immersion breaking way around that hurdle that retained the quality of the game they wanted to ship.

“We tried very hard to make it work with our project but there were just too many obstacles blocking the way and in the end, we ended up with an experience that we just couldn’t endorse,” wrote Davidson. “For games like wave shooters it makes sense to limit the user to a 180′ format but for something like Thunderbird it’s a much different scenario. One of the key assets in our first chapter is a periscope that requires 360′ interaction and we spent days trying to redesign it so that it would work with a 180′ format but no matter what we tried, nothing worked. It was literally impossible to make a simple 360′ interaction like rotating a periscope functional within a front-facing format. In our case, we would have been forced to eliminate this from the experience entirely which would be a real shame because this is the type of interaction that is so fun to do in VR.”

Periscope_Thunderbird-Innervision-UploadVR

As someone that has used Oculus with Touch in a variety of configurations, I can see why Oculus would prefer developers support the lowest common denominator (which is 180, front-facing tracking) when building apps for Touch. Anyone that has Touch should be able to play a game standing, facing forward, with two sensors since that is the easiest way to set it all up. I’ve expanded that to three or even four sensors personally at times to get a full 360 or roomscale effect, but not everyone with Touch can do that. Two months after release it is still considered an “experimental” arrangement by Oculus. In fact, recent patches have introduced bugs making the tracking even less reliable for some buyers.

“Thunderbird was originally designed from the ground up as a true room-scale experience with the intention of targeting the various location-based entertainment venues like the VR arcades that are popping up around the globe,” elaborated Davidson. “From the start, our intention with Thunderbird was to create a premium VR experience that showcases the full capabilities of room-scale VR and the Vive allowed us to really make progress in that direction…We personally don’t consider 180′ experiences to be true VR and so we won’t be offering this on Oculus Home. To us, VR is a 360′ experience by default and so we don’t want to dumb the experience down that far. At least not just yet because we really don’t support what Oculus is doing for VR with their default 180′ format.”

HexGate_Thunderbird-Innervision

The version of Thunderbird players will try at home will have teleportation as a way of getting around though, in case your play space isn’t large enough, but if you have the room, you can freely move around just like you would in the large location-based booths they’ve demoed the experience in previously. Davidson’s issue isn’t so much with the existence of 180 tracking. It is just not the type of content he wants to create.

“It’s no secret that Oculus shunned the whole room-scale approach as being nothing more than a ‘niche within a niche, within a niche’ and so, fortunately for us, Valve and HTC had the insight to see its potential and gave us devs the option to create content that was more conducive to what I consider to be true Virtual Reality,” said Davidson. “I guess you could say that I’m a purist at heart because I’m not personally interested in creating or even playing games and watching movies in VR as much as I am in experiencing virtual environments with the same sort of freedom and interaction that we all enjoy in our actual realities…The seated experience is very limiting in terms of what we can offer as developers and the approach of restricting user’s movements to a front-facing format goes directly against our whole concept of VR which I believe, by default, is a 360′ experience.”

If you’ve only got a Rift, but do have the Touch controllers with a 360 setup, you’re not out of luck; Innervision still wants you to enjoy the game. They are still supporting the Oculus SDK through the version that is on Steam, so if you have the appropriate setup with your Rift you should still be able to enjoy it roomscale.

Thunderbird: The Legend Begins is a short, 20-minute interactive adventure (now available on Steam for $5.99) that serves as the foundation for the base game and lore. Longer chapters are expected to release soon episodically. More is coming soon.

Update: The headline of this story was changed at 1:40PM PST 2/10/17 to highlight a different quote and sentiment, but the body of the story is the same.

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  • State of Psychosis

    What the hell are they talking about?
    You can have up to 4 sensors with the rift and the headset on it’s own has 360 degree tracking just with one sensor! If they don’t want to add ways to turn without getting up, they’re going to lose a lot of customers regardless of what platform they choose. Not everyone has a big space for roomscale for god sakes. Any game that has done without that so far has been practically unplayable for most people. You can’t really afford to shut out half your customers in a niche market. Stupid! Every time I’ve played a game that was thoughtless enough to leave out this option, I can’t finish it because I bump into my couch. Get some sense and let people have the option. You can always turn it off by default for god sakes.

    • killdozer

      Rift is not half or market, its less

      • Nicholas

        And Rift with Touch and umpteen sensors to get limited roomscale: much much less than even that.

    • And what the hell are you talking about. You can’t have 360˚ tracking of touch controllers with one sensor. The camera can’t see through your body when you turn around and block its view of the controllers.

      • Kalle

        Read what he wrote again, a little bit slower. He said the headset, not the controllers when he talked about one sensor.

  • NooYawker

    Do they have to make it 180 degree compatible? Can’t they just put a warning that you need full room scale to play? There’s games on steam that won’t work if your play space is too small.
    But I agree no room scale and no touch controllers you’re not getting the true VR experience.

  • Doctor Bambi

    While I’m glad Innervision had to courage to stand up for what they believe in, it always bugs me when people throw around the term “true VR”. That term will forever be a sliding slope. When inside-out tracking comes to market, you’ll get a whole new slew of people calling anything less, “dumbed-down VR”. Same goes for any advancements that come thereafter.

    True VR is here. It’s been here since Rift DK1. If you want to support a headset with a particular feature set, that’s awesome, preach it to the hilltops. But condescending any other headset by using such a term is more hostile than helpful. Sitting, standing 180, and full 360 games will continue to play an important role in the VR industry for many years to come and provide tons of amazing new experiences.

    I hope at some point we can become an industry more interested in helping each other up instead of pushing each other down.

    • Innervision VR

      Not trying to stir the pot here so sorry if it sounds that way. Aside from my personal views, the issue for us is that we just weren’t able to accommodate the 180′ format for the type of experience that we are designing. And believe me, we really tried!

      FYI, from the go we have been targeting the commercial venues that support more expansive tracking volumes and so we designed many of the key interactive elements with that in mind and (unfortunately) can’t be easily converted to work without the full 360′ tracking volume. So, it wasn’t really a choice to exclude these 180′ formats but rather the result of our design choices that we made very early on leading up to the development of this project (back before the Vive was even debuted).

      It’s just a fact of life that not all games will be able to accommodate the 180′ experience and ours happens to be one of them. The changes required for us to support it would have resulted in a product that didn’t reflect our original vision and the truth is that we lack the resources required to develop and support two separate versions of the same experience because we are just a self-funded father-and-son team. But even if we could, they would still not really be the “same” experience. Hope you understand!

      • Doctor Bambi

        I will say, I’m happy you guys didn’t sacrifice the overall experience just to check the 180′ box. The game looks absolutely gorgeous and thank you for providing a detailed response.

        I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Oculus Home, but it would be great to see this game go there as a gallery app at some point down the road. Obduction has gone that path and I’ve seen the game show up many times in the head banners (if proper exposure was a concern). I’d say let your game design speak for itself, if enough gallery apps are Roomscale only, Oculus won’t be able ignore its importance to developers and users. Then you’re not cutting off a potential revenue stream while also advocating a feature you feel is important.

        Something to consider, wish you guys the best of success no matter what.

        • Innervision VR

          Thank you for the kind words… we really appreciate that!

          I’m not sure what the current policy is with Home these days since I haven’t discussed it with Oculus for many months but if they will allow non-180′ experiences on their store then we’d be happy to submit it to them.

          • lenne 0816

            So hows PS4VR roomscale treating you so far ?

      • Kalle

        Hi, as I read the article the reason is that as a full 360 degree game you will not receive as much attention as if you also released a 180 degree version on Oculus Home and therefore you will not release on that platform.

        So, why not just release the 360 degree version and let the quality of your game talk for itself? A really good game don’t need a store to promote the game, it promotes itself. I would say most of the userbase use a 360 setup anyway. And by the first look of it, it really looks promising, and that it would probably feel better with the Touch than with the Vivesticks due to the hand and finger movements.

        Btw, I think The Gallery – Episode 1: Call of the Starseed did get a lot of attention and it’s a 360 game, It did have an extra mode that redmarked a little area on your teleporter circle to inform your limits if you ran 180degree, and that was it.

    • NooYawker

      It’s a business that’ll never happen. You may have some devs who are passionate about VR but it’s all about profit at the end of the day.

    • Angelo Overmeier

      Yeah it always bugs me too!

      I love seated and I love “roomscale/standing” vr games. They both will be important in getting vr out in the gaming sector. VR is truely amazing but gamers can be lazy sometimes so we need both! I’m currently playing Robinson The Journey and because of the slow and explorational long gameplay I actually love that it’s a seated game.

      At the same time I love to play Arizona Sunshine and be a little more active in a game.

      I really don’t want vr to only go in to to one of those two directions!

    • James Friedman

      Perfect words!

  • Wildattorney

    I’m a Vive owner, but I have to say that a developer’s statement that they won’t release a game on Oculus Home because they do not want to “dumb down” their game carries a little less weight when the game at issue is as poorly reviewed as Thunderbird: The Legend Begins.

    • EY

      Where are you getting that from? There’s only four reviews on Steam, and they’re mostly about length vs price, which unfortunately tends to be a factor of development economics rather than how good (however short) the experience is.

      • Wildattorney

        Where do I get that the game is poorly reviewed? Well, right now there are six reviews. Five are negative and the one that is positive is only “positive” to be sarcastic. The fact is, there is not a single actual positive review of the game. And it’s not only about length (although that is a very legitimate reason to dislike a game) but also because the game is incredibly buggy. So yes, the game is very poorly reviewed. Run, don’t walk away from this game.

    • yag

      They just wanted a bit of PR to make up for the bad reviews. With a nice clickbait on top of that. Thanks UploadVR.

  • VicRooLoo

    Dat clickbait title

  • xxHanoverxx

    I kind of cared until I saw the mostly negative reviews on Steam.

  • AtmosContagion

    Ha. “True VR” and “VR purist” is quite a hilarious claim right now. “True VR” won’t happen until we can eliminate our physical presence completely in exchange for a fully virtual presence via brain computer interfacing. Expanding the amount of real physical space and physical presence needed is much less pure in terms of a “true VR “experience.

  • Roger Anthony Essig

    So does this mean they’ve cancelled their PSVR version? Does sony allow full 360 motion control games that will suffer tracking issues?

    • koenshaku

      Only if you have the curtains sunny day.. No I am kidding they should both be similarly compromised, since they both use camera based sensor technology. PSVR has three times the oculus user base though.

      • Roger Anthony Essig

        you can have more than one camera with rift.

      • Perhaps, however PSVR cameras are usually mounted in front of a TV while Oculus’s demands for of the lowest common denominator of 180˚ is cameras on a desk positioned so that the desk may occlude tracking when you reach down. The average 180˚ PSVR setup may be able to still do the tracking of bending down and picking something up that the developers want.

        • Buddydudeguy

          The Rift is not limited to 180 degrees. The PSVR is.

          • Megäblue

            Are you stupid, they are all 360 experiences

          • Buddydudeguy

            360 my arse. Sure the HMD is tracked 360, the move controllers/ Aim controller is not. Nice try though.

  • Torben Bojer Christensen

    Thank you Innervision, for not compromising your production. VR needs progression not retrogression

  • OkinKun

    What a complete load. This developer is intentionally inconveniencing certain VR users, because they use Oculus. There is absolutely NO functional excuse for not being on Oculus Home. It would take VERY minimal dev time if he already supports Touch.
    He’s doing it purely out of personal preference, and shouldn’t try to excuse it as a technical disagreement about room-scale, that doesn’t even apply.
    With 3 cameras, the Rift is fully capable of not only “360”, but also full room-scale, when setup properly. My setup allows me to fully walk around an 8x8ft area, and even crawl around on the floor. So I’m tired of hearing developers claim they think there are limitations. There are none, and the Touch controllers allow for more advanced vr interactions, while still having lots of physical buttons and a thumbstick. It’s harder to port from Touch to Vive, because you lose buttons and features. lol
    These developers got caught up on the 180 vs 360 bs.. And that shouldn’t even matter anymore. 360 and more works fine on Rift, just design your game for whatever you want to target. There shouldn’t be much need to try to support seated, if you intend to make a room-scale game.

    • LaRocky

      They just want the PR. If 180 vs 360 was truly the concern, they surely wouldn’t be releasing on PSVR.

    • Nicholas

      Yes, because that’s exactly what VR controllers need – more buttons. And what “features” are lost?

      Read the article properly and to the end next time – you can still play it on Rift if you get it off Steam. They simply aren’t releasing it on Oculus Home because of the Oculus tendency to promote 180-degree titles over 360 and roomscale ones.

      • OkinKun

        You won’t know why Touch’s buttons and thumbsticks are important, till you play the right games, I guess. It’s just designed better as a gaming and VR device, more thoughtful to what would be needed for games.

        Also, that’s no longer true anymore, and the developers of this game even admitted it. The developers didn’t realize they were wrong, till they got corrected by this article’s publicity.

  • Bruce Wayne

    VR is so so niche right now, its kinda incredible how many devs are willing to cut down an already miniscule audience even more for their games. Also, I checked the store page on Steam, $6 for a 20 minute experience? Will future experiences cost extra or are you buying the whole thing for $6. Also there are already way too many incomplete games that promise more down the line from devs with no history. VR needs to stop selling me on what might come down the road. Until you can start providing proper meaningful full experiences now, my investment can wait for down the road too.

  • Psycold

    Thanks to the devs for not compromising their vision.

  • DougP

    Re: Rift – 360 degree & roomscale

    I chuckle when I read the Facebook apologists writing:
    “omg… the Rift DOES 360 roomscale perfectly! You just need 4x sensors, some expensive [trial&error] USB extension cables, install a USB add-on card & spend a week or two getting it setup in *experimental* mode – SIMPLE!”
    When….
    They fail to realize that there are only a tiny FRACTION of Rift owners willing/able to do this!

    Here’s the key question –
    How many Rift users are even setup for 360-degree & full roomscale?
    Keep in mind that only some fraction of owners even OWN touch, then a subset of that fraction that even goes beyond 2 sensor (mostly just) 180-degree seated/standing only.

    Supporting Vive – more sold than Rift & 100% have 360-degree (/room-scale) tracking capability & motion controllers
    Supporting Rift – Facing/challenging Facebook’s policies about 180-degree/seated for their storefront & then only potentially selling to a subset of a subset of users?

    It makes sense why devs don’t bother with Rift.

  • Unspoken

    When talking about omitting Oculus release Thunderbird devs did not know that Oculus now allows 360-only experiences

    Thunderbird developer at Reddit:
    “Sorry for the confusion… just now learning about the new policy for Home allowing non-180′ experiences.
    FYI, we did not know this at the time that we made the comments.”