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Making our first indie game - Wats! VR Pest Control

I've just released my first game to market on the Oculus mobile VR store. While it's all still fresh I thought I should write up a quick retrospective on what developing my first indie game was like here a year after finishing Uni.

Lorcan Mc Garry Hunt, Blogger

June 11, 2018

8 Min Read

Lorcan here - the 50% of Birdmask that is programming and 3D art. Having just launched our first game Wats! Vr Pest Control onto the store, there is finally a bit of time, so I thought I would do a write-up to share our experience, as a 2 person startup, of getting a game developed, published and on the Gear marketplace.

Wats began development about ten months ago. I had just completed a BA in Computer Games Arts at UCA, Farnham, and been offered a place on an incubator program that supports post- grads releasing their first game, in exchange for some hours each week as a teaching assistant

Jo had completed a fine art degree at CSM, and having used game engine technology as part of her degree-show, she was keen to collaborate on a project. Initially her involvement was as a casual consultant, but as I hit problems with design and scope, she stepped in to a full designer role, as well as handling all the online and launching stuff.

It's funny, Mac was all the way there back in stress testing, not in the final game though.

As a student I had worked with the HTC Vive and, by chance, around this time mobile VR, like the Gear and Daydream, were just getting motion controller support. I was interested in the possibilities of mobile VR, plus being lower in price and more convenient to use I thought they had the potential for a bigger audience than their PC counterparts.

As I had to replace my very tired iPhone anyway, I decided to invest in a Gear VR headset and a Samsung phone. While I knew developing a game for relatively new tech would involve some extra difficulty in development, I had high hopes it would payoff as being a good way to get some extra visibility for a new studio in a emerging marketplace.

Room Attack
After some initial stress testing to see what the Gear could handle I started developing the first iteration of Wats, then called Room Attack.

It was a month or two into this when we faced our first roadblock as a new developer team. The idea seemed simple enough - a kind of Home Alone style game. You had your room and got points for breaking things and scoring combos. Each time you break stuff, you make noise. Too much noise and the owner runs in - game over! Like I said - sounds simple!

But it wasn’t long before problems began to appear. While I could code each individual system for the game, actually putting all those systems into one functioning and publishable package, that worked together, was just too much for a first release (with one multitasking programmer). You really can’t go too simple for your first game, and even if you can code something, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make it work in the wild.

So Jo and I had to go back to basics to figure out the essentials of what we wanted to do. Enthusiasm for the project was at a low, so we needed to find a way to use what we had so far, but adapt it into something more manageable for the Gear.

We tried to figure out what we wanted for a Gear VR 'experience’ that we didn’t see in other games? The main thing I wanted was for as many objects as possible to be interactive and for them to have a straightforward tactile quality - even if it was just throwing and breaking them. I did not want glass bottles glued to the table. This is Vr you want to pick things up and throw them! With that in mind we decided the main elements our Vr games should have to offer are:
1- Exploring and searching an environment.
2 Aiming / scoring with precision.

After a bit more brainstorming Jo combined these elements together by adding a ‘target’ - rats - into the mix, and we had a new concept. Search/trash the room, find the rats and catch them before they disappear - and if possible add some humor and charm to the mix by adding the colourful character of Mac Kennedy - and make some special interactable objects like the dart board and turntable to give clues to his backstory.

This revised concept worked much better, no conflicting or overly complex scripting systems, just a room full of fun toys, text and a clear objective that worked with the controls.

Development For The Gear
There were some unique quirks to developing for mobile VR compared with PC. Debugging was near impossible on the phone, and testing any changes on the Gear itself was a major time commitment - each test required a new build and upload to the phone. To get around this I would only ever test on the phone after a lot of experimenting on the PC, which required developing some extra PC side inputs to let me test things in the editor, where I could see the error logs.

From this point, development went pretty smoothly. Unity seems to have integrated VR development a bit more than when I started a year ago, but getting the inputs to work was simple enough. With a simple goal in mind I took the rough controls from Room Attack and remade them in a fresh project, with some extra visual flare (the grabbing glove), and then brought over the old assets to work in the new scene.

Since we only had a Gear, the Oculus store was our only option for release, and unlike some other stores, it has curation that we had to pass to get through. This was a risk, but something we had considered and set as a goal when we started development. If we wanted to make games properly we needed to be able to make them well, and getting through Oculus quality control would be a good marker and confidence boost for us, as a studio going onward.

Before submitting our game, we had a good look at all of Oculus requirements - no visual glitches, control standards and so on - and made sure to test for these as best we could on our side. It’s nerve racking putting your first game out there. Going from unfinished prototypes to actually putting something up for sale, wondering if the second it goes on the store everything breaks, someone finds some game breaking bug you never discovered, or someone has some problem you can’t reproduce.

Fortunately we got through the review process with near to no hiccups, and as a note on Oculus they were very thorough with their testing and feedback which put our mind to ease. Within a month of submitting Wats to Oculus, it was ready for release well before our target time and it was out there!

Post Release:
Which brings us up to date. Since its release we’ve managed to shift a few copies through the store, and have been sending out review codes to as many outlets that cover VR games and titles as we can find. Jo and I keep an eye out for any feedback, and for potential errors anyone finds in our game, so we can work on them as soon as possible (So far so good on the error front).

We are both very happy with our release. The feedback we’ve gotten has been mostly positive and the community around the Gear has been fair and constructive. We’ve learnt a lot during Wats development. There are things we are very proud of, things we know to work on, and things we look forward to advancing in our next game. We hope we will be able to start development of our second title before too long and release on the store in the future, once Wats is safe in the water.

For anyone interested in this, and future developments, check out our twitter https://twitter.com/BirdmaskStudio. I try to post images and videos on development and production frequently, so hopefully you will find some interesting insight there.

Thank you for reading and have a good day,

For those that found this interesting and would like to try our game out here's a link to it in the store; https://www.oculus.com/experiences/gear-vr/2789140004436902/

Thank you to anyone that gives it a look and if you buy it please leave it a review since everyone helps our game get out there.

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