“You are crazy”, this is the sentence I've heard many times around me during the last year. I can't exactly deny that there is a level of craziness in doing this project only by myself, but the project was so cool that I have enjoyed every second I've been developing it.
The project is “Your VR Experience”. In short, it's a project that combines all the fun you have with your friends in Escape Rooms with the virtual technology. Right now, I've just started a crowdfunding campaign to bring this project to the next level.
INCEPTION OF THE IDEA
But let's start from the beginning, how did I get the idea for such project? Just at the start of this year I was working on another VR project that I was finishing so I began to think in my next project. Curiously I wanted to make a game than even my nephews could enjoy. They are twin sisters and they don't like too much gaming, but they liked the last VR game I was about to finish. Somehow I thought how cool it would be the both girls where playing at the same time to the games they wanted to play in VR, moving inside a room with total safety. Then I thought that maybe that was possible. The actual technology of VR was there, also we are in a moment of history where the people is used to create awesome things with game tool editors and share them with their friends (Minecraft, Little Big Planet… just to name a few). So the only thing I had to check is the technology to track the players in real time, was it there?... Yes! it was there!! Thanks to the people Quuppa (http://quuppa.com/) I could get access to the Indoor Positioning System(IPS) that offered a solution for realtime positioning tracking good enough to track the players in real world and update their positions in the virtual world so they can move safely. With all the actors in place, the “only” thing I had to do is to join them.
I'm a game programmer, so, after developing a presentation to show to my closest friends, I started directly with the software (shame on me, I didn't do exhaustive the business plan). But, I had quite a clear picture of the software I wanted to develop. I wanted to develop a software to be used by non-technical people that could allow them to easily create and play multiplayer VR experiences in closed spaces that could range between 100 square meters and 1000 square meters.
So, what is the best design option to make this awesome tool which makes easy for anybody to create almost any kind of multiplayer VR experience? Well, I chose the style the movie editors are using. Movie editors are tools that are usually easy to use for anybody (at least the simple movie editors, not the professionals). Almost anybody who has been recording their kids in the school are used to play around with these kind of tools, so they are comfortable with the way they work. Also it helped that I've been a professional Flash game developer for 8 years and I'm quite used to the concept of using timelines to create games.
Ok, I had a clear picture of what I wanted to design. Time to work.
CHALLENGES I'VE FACED
There had been a thousand of details during the development and as any new software that tries something never seen before I had to face some unique challenges. I'll tell you just the most critical ones.
One of the main issues was: how is it possible to develop and test fast multiplayer VR experiences? Well, sure you know the strategy of divide and conquer. I had to make a tool to create a large range of experiences, even tough, I mainly focused in the most vibrant business of the moment the Escape Rooms.
The Escape Rooms are basically puzzles in closed spaces that after solving them you access to a whole new room with more puzzles. Usually the puzzles of the different rooms are not logically connected or they have just a connection of a story. So, the reality is that, every room is totally independent from the others in the terms of logic. That made a lot easier the development of the tool, in a way, that you could develop and test each individual rooms in a fast way.
It's important to notice, that even if I've tried to do all the possible for the tool to be able to create any kind of experiences, all these experiences are meant to be enjoyed in short sessions. I've not programmed a tool to create long games that could last hundreds of hours. So the experiences you could enjoy here would be played in short sessions like the paintball games with your friends or the also mentioned Escape Rooms.
Another critical thing I wanted to implement was that users could be able to use packets of graphics to create any kind of experience they had in mind. So, in a way, I developed the system similar to the used in the Unity Asset Store, a shop where players could purchase packets of graphics to use them in their experiences. As you can see, I've not invented anything new I've just joined the pieces that were already there.
All I've said looks great, but I also wanted the players to enjoy their creations without having to go to a room to live them for real. So, it's possible to play it locally with your friends at your house thanks to any Bluetooth controller which will replace the functionality of the Indoor Positioning Sensor of updating player's position. It's even possible to play it from your desktop PC and play online with your friends. Although it's not meant to play it like that, because there are a lot better games out there to play it online, at least you got the chance to play it before deciding to go to one of the rooms.
I NEED TO FEEL IT PHYSICALLY
There is a last idea I want to stress out, when I started this project I wanted that the walls and furniture, you could build in the editor, could be touched in real life by the player. That's why if you take a look at the editor everything fits in a matrix.
First, I thought in using cardboard boxes of 30x30x30 centimeters with velcro to build a experience. That would mean that it could be quite time consuming to create the experiences, but maybe some players would pay this premium experience at a reasonable price.
Later I discovered that the MIT had develop this kind of technology and that my software was ready to make a room size version of their technology. I thought the people most interested to do this huge investment would be the amusement parks. It would be extremely cool that some famous amusement parks had this kind of technology where to live adventures in far away galaxies ;)
BUSINESS PLAN MADE BY A GAME PROGRAMMER
Remember the business plan? It's still not properly done. Just I made a short video of how this project could work. What can I say? Doing everything by myself it's extremely hard and I'm far from being an expert in many fields. The world is really complex and all it's about assembling the right team of experts to face this huge challenges.
So, instead of re-inventing the wheel, I've just take as a reference the same business model that Google Play or Apple Store have. Mainly because they are the ones in which I've been working the last 8 years.
WHAT WENT WRONG
There are more stories, usually the bad ones make you the stronger impact, like the nightmare of renting to real state agents (nasty people some of them) a warehouse big enough to develop this project without being broke in two months (I've done all this with my own lifetime savings). Or the lack of support and the problems from the Indoor Positioning System company which provides the hardware. Also it has been specially painful, the lack of support I have faced when I tried to get professionals involved in this project. Or even the people around me that try to push me out of this project… sad stories that I hope one day will forget if this project goes on.
Let's forget the bad, let's focus on the good things, there have been good things, mainly I have enjoyed like never I did before of developing a project in which I really believe. A project I really feel proud of.
THE MAIN OTHER PLAYERS IN ARCADE VR ROOMS
Luckily I'm not alone in trying to bring these kind of experiences to the players.
- The main player right now is Modal VR (http://www.modalvr.com/) who offers a current tracking positioning system of 10 milliseconds, Holy Crap!! That's freaking awesome!! Right now the Quuppa technology of IPS that I'm using only offers 100 milliseconds at best. Also, behind this project there are a big names in the game industry like Nolan Bushnell. It will be a huge success for sure.
- This German company Fraunhofer IIS (http://www.iis.fraunhofer.de/en/ff/lok/proj/holodeck.html) is investing hard to create the Holodeck technology. Right now they are covering an area of 1,400 square meters and using Unity a their main tool to create content, so they are on the right track for the hundreds of thousands of Unity developers to join their train.
- Another awesome important player is Zero Latency (https://www.zerolatencyvr.com/) who are successfully creating a franchise around the world. Recently they are bringing their technology to Orlando, USA (http://tinyurl.com/zu9eq4m). Other places where you can enjoy their awesome VR room size games are Tokyo, and, of course, their mother land, Australia.
- Of course, I can't forget about The Void (https://thevoid.com/). In order to explain it, this one is the Ferrari of the VR room size experiences. They have an agreement with IMAX to bring this incredible service to all the IMAX around the world. I really want to live this one.
It's important to notice that the software I've developed is independent from the realtime tracking technology (IPS), so it can work with any of the mentioned technologies I've just tell you about.
So, what does my project offer than the previous ones don't? That you can play what you want to play. Maybe you are not up to kill zombies or battle some random monster (don't get me wrong I love killing monsters in videogames)... maybe you just want to build the village were you were born and take a peaceful walk... maybe you want to spend a good time with your friends solving riddles in a friendly environment like the way you do in Escape Rooms... maybe you want to enjoy with your friends in the virtual set of one of your favorites shows or movies, maybe even you want to replay one scene of these shows or movies… maybe you want to feel love not war.
VR is totally different, it's not about offering the same games as his brothers in desktop gaming. They are doing a great job with awesome games that you can play for hundreds of hours. For me VR is about to feel, to emotionally connect with your friends, to move freely not in an extremely confined space of the living room, but to wonder safely in a total different reality, to be fully immersed, to live touching experiences, to live the experiences you really want to live and share with your friends and family.
CALL FOR ARMS
Well, that's all I can tell you right now, it's more than possible that if you check the project you will feel that it looks less professional than what you are used to see in these promotional videos. It's more than possible than you think I can't deliver. But, the thing is that I'm not selling smoke, you can get right now the editor and the mobile application in Your VR Experience website and test it by yourself and there are a large collections of tutorials like this one to show you how the tool works.
Of course, I really need a lot, a LOT of help. I'm alone in this project. I want to create a team to fully deliver everything to you. I hope that in one way or another you could help me to complete this project.