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How a life at Pixar and Bungie prepped one developer to work in VR

We have a chat with VR developer and Pixar/Bungie veteran Tom Sanocki about making compelling VR stories.

Despite all the progress that’s been made, virtual reality is still a huge open field for development, with potential for new discoveries around every corner. With the second standalone Virtual Reality Developers Conference coming up, we decided to talk to Reaping Rewards developer Tom Sanocki about his work in the field and what he’s learned making narrative VR experiences. 

If you’re just getting started in VR, or are getting ready for VRDC (where Sanocki will be giving a talk on Reaping Rewards) you can watch our full conversation with Sanocki up above. If you’re working on your own VR project right now, here are a few key takeaways from our chat. 

Non-technical perspective in VR

One of the more interesting parts of our discussion with Sanocki was how designers who aren’t technically inclined can be vital to the VR design process. Sanocki’s company is also developing a VR animation tool called the Limitless Creative Environment. It’s a method that lets animators manipulate virtual reality scenes by using VR hand controllers, instead of 2D interfaces like what you see in most game engines. 

According to Sanocki, tools like the Creative Environment will help broaden the groups of people making VR games, which will help pave the way for more design innovations. In particular, Sanocki says the Creative Environment’s target audience right now is 2D artists not familiar with 3D animation yet, to help them bring their artistic style to VR. 

Inspirations from Pixar

Sanocki’s past at Pixar, where he both made character tools and helped create characters that would appear in the popular films, also helped his team create the right aesthetic for Reaping Rewards. In particular, Sanocki drew on his lessons from Up, one of Pixar’s more emotionally fraught films, to find the right aesthetic between a realist and cartoon aesthetic. 

Making good VR “easter eggs”

Lastly, we talked to Sanocki about the unexpected movements and interactions that players can do in a VR game. While some of his answers were fairly familiar to VR vets (do user testing, see what they want to interact with and decide to fill in an interaction with it), we were intrigued by his thoughts about how you tell a player not to do a specific interaction. These solutions can range from the simple (having arms phase out in a puff of smoke if you put them through a bed) or more terminal (triggering a game over if the player intentionally shoots a friendly character). 

For more developer insight, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary. 

Gamasutra and VRDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas

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