These dev blogs originally appeared on VR Focus website.
Dev Blog #1 – Preparing for Kickstarter
We knew that we had to go via the Kickstarter route in order to gain the necessary funding to be able to achieve what we wanted to be able to release for the first version of Radial-G. Kickstarter is a generally obvious choice to do this, we looked at IndieGoGo but felt that the audience wasn’t big enough to allow us to reach the potential number of backers we needed.
We also knew that a lot of projects fail on Kickstarter, especially games related ones, so we had to make sure we were as prepared as possible with all angles covered to give us the greatest chance of success. We carried out a lot of research into what makes a successful Kickstarter campaign and profile but found a lot more information and post-mortems for why campaigns failed. Hopefully we won’t be writing our own one of these further down the line.
One of our main guiding lights in our research into Kickstarter was Thomas Bidaux, of ICO Partners, who studies, data-mines and speaks about crowdsourced funding at various conferences. We learned some important facts about Kickstarter to keep in mind whilst preparing for launch:
a) Only 2 out of 5 games projects are successful
b) As a general rule, if you haven’t received 20% of your goal within the first few days, your campaign will most likely fail
c) Ensure you have built up the PR for the Kickstarter well before the launch, don’t just expect people to stumble across your project
d) Give backers as much information about your development plans and process to build confidence in what you aim to achieve and ultimately, backing you
e) Don’t just propose a concept, build a demo or a prototype and allow people to experience and see for themselves your vision and again, build confidence that you can deliver
So in order to prepare, we had to establish PR channels well in advance and establish connections with relevant websites to produce articles to go live before or at launch, get a demo ready, and build the audience around Kickstarter and raise awareness on the social media channels. Here are the profiles for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and Soundcloud. Part of the outcome of this effort is this blog post you are reading on VRFocus, who we are happy to be able to work with on Radial-G!
The final part of preparation was the Kickstarter campaign content copy, which once drafted, we invited select individuals to review and provide constructive feedback on so we could be sure to have covered all aspects whilst maintaining relevance and structure.
We feel we have covered the main points effectively, such as:
- What the game is
- Why you should back it
- When you can expect to receive it
- How we plan on delivering it
- Where the funding will be spent
Hopefully we will be able to avoid “6. If we fail, what next” but this will be covered in a future post.
Dev Blog #2 - Developing the single-player demo
Through our research into Kickstarter, that I covered in the previous dev blog, we knew we had to provide some tangible evidence that we have the ability to see our proposed plans through development to release, and to help build confidence in the Radial-G game and campaign.
Therefore we started developing the single player demo to give gamers a chance to try out the game and see the level of quality we wanted to achieve as a minimum, as well as build excitement and interest in the title and Kickstarter campaign.
We are a small team with little budget and tight timescales, so in order to release the game to an audience keen to get their hands on polished VR experiences, we had to move quickly and efficiently to build the demo in time for our launch.
We’ve been holding gameplay sessions at a few events and so far have had over 1,000 people try out the single player Radial-G demo and provide invaluable feedback so we can tweak and hone the experience. Gathering feedback is difficult with Oculus Rift titles since for most people, it is their first experience of the hardware so you have to be able to distinguish between the wow factor of VR and genuine feedback on the game itself.
One thing we quickly realised is that, as a single player experience, it’s great racing around the track, improving your lap time and chaining more boosts together to go faster and faster, but ultimately you’re only ever trying to beat yourself. Therefore we developed the web-based global leaderboard feature for the single player demo to give players that immediate feedback in-game to their performance and provide encouragement to keep going and better their lap times. We saw an immediate increase in competitiveness and players were soon trying hard to best themselves and improve their ranking. We wanted to be able to add a ghost feature so that you were racing against the top 10 fastest lap times but ran out of time and budget for development. It’s definitely a feature we will be adding to the main game though once we remember who owns the patent, Atari or SEGA.
The other aspect that we realised during gameplay testing was that not everyone was keen on VR (!?), nor had the necessary hardware to experience it. So we implemented the “2D NOculus Mode” in order to widen the audience and allow more gamers to be able to try and play the demo. This also helped widen the potential audience since it meant that the game demo would run on lower specified PCs, meaning that we could widen the target audience even further still. However our primary aim for the game is for it to operate at a rock solid 60 frames per second, which we have successfully achieved across a variety of hardware, based upon our initial tests. This does cause us some headaches however as capturing high quality 1080p/60fps video takes up a lot of room and takes effort to manipulate plus YouTube hasn’t rolled out full 60fps video support yet.
Now that the demo is released, we are working on updates for it to add support for Mac, Linux and Oculus Rift DK2 headsets, as these should begin to start arriving in the laps of pre-orderers this month. We had to move ahead with DK2 support to make sure everyone had a great game to try out with the new hardware and solve some issues we were having with the Mac client.
In the next blog post, I’ll look at the specifics of designing and developing the game for Oculus Rift & VR from the ground-up, to ensure we make the most compelling, immersive and yet playable game possible!
Dev Blog #3 - VR Design
We designed Radial-G from the start to be a VR game, supporting Oculus Rift (& hopefully Sony Morpheus too in the future) since nothing appealed to us more than a futuristic, arcade racer that was fully immersive. We’ve grown up on F-Zero, wipeout, Quantum Redshift, Extreme-G and other futuristic racers and really felt that VR was the only viable next direction for these games; leading edge technology married to sci-fi makes perfect sense!
However, through our experience of creating serious simulators and working with military-grade VR, we’ve seen the issues arise around simulator sickness when content is not designed first-and-foremost for VR. Like films shot in 2D and converted to 3D for release, the effect is always less convincing than films shot in 3D and directed to take full advantage.
With a high-speed, fast-paced arcade racer, we had to therefore take specific consideration into the design to ensure that we provided a worthwhile, fun and immersive experience without making players immediately reach for a sickbag.
The main aspects of design we factored into the design to reduce can be detailed as below:
- Place the player in a sitting position so they are stable and steady as possible to begin with.
- Place the player in the cockpit, to position them in a situation they would expect to be in.
- Use futuristic, non-real-world environment to help the brain determine the difference between the game and real world.
- The pipe track asset provided a natural, stable element within the game world players could focus on.
- Limited rapid changes in acceleration; despite the inclusion of speed boosts and slow-down gates, the overall difference in the sensation of speed experienced by the player wasn’t huge.
- Being in a ship attached to a pipe meant there was a natural limit to player [camera] movement within the game world.
- Carry out extensive playtest sessions with as many different types of user as possible to measure responses, ability, ease-of-use and any sensations of sickness brought on through play.
So far there have been a couple of other factors in reducing simulator sickness that we haven’t been able to cover, which are detailed below. But out of nearly 1,000, we only witnessed a handful of players showing any signs of ill-effects as a result of playing. However, for the full release, we will be able to include these features within the setup and configuration options since each gamer will have their own PC and Oculus Rift headset, and time to do so.
- Allow configuration for each individual user IPD, lenses
- Ambient temperature of the play space
- Varying age & health status of the player, since it was a public event
The last couple of points will have to covered in the EULA or health and safety information that everyone skips past and agrees to without reading but it will be there!
But we’re looking beyond Oculus Rift VR, something I will cover in the next blog post; Other Platforms and discuss where else we see the game being available to play.
Dev Blog #4 - Other platforms
So we’ve covered previously that first and foremost, we designed Radial-G with the intention of it being a game for Oculus Rift / VR from the beginning but that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking at other platforms to support.
We are obviously aware that the commercial version of Oculus Rift isn’t available nor has it even got a release date yet (at time of writing anyway) and that a relatively small number of people have a DK1 or a DK2 (which should have started shipping to pre-order customers at time of publishing this dev blog) and so, to make a game successful, we have to look at a larger potential audience base of just 100,000. Through playtesting and following VR gaming news, we have also seen a level of apathy or dislike of VR amongst a subset of gamers as well, so we need to appeal to them too.
This is why we developed the game to have a “2D NOculus-mode” (as we call it) available as an option, as well as supporting Oculus Rift VR HMDs. You can try this for yourself in the single player demo that’s available.
However, we want to look at a wider set of availability options beyond PC, Mac & Linux as well, since as we are currently developing the game using Unity, we have the flexibility and options to output builds on other platforms too. It’s not just a case of spitting out a mobile build by clicking a button, there are obvious technical challenges to overcome and levels of optimisation and alternative control input methods we need to incorporate as well, but the general game design allows us this flexibility.
We’re looking at recent generation tablet devices and high-end smartphones, which have the graphical horsepower and CPU grunt to be able to display the game at the framerates we require, with the level of fidelity from the screen to provide that sensation of speed we love. Due to the relative simplicity of the design, we can offer tilt or touch controls that will not detract from the gaming experience. We are especially excited about potentially being able to release a mobile VR version for up-and-coming headsets such as AlterGaze and VrAse.
Our ultimate goal for releasing the game on other platforms is to release the game on the Sony Morpheus headset with PlayStation 4 support. Again, we can achieve this with Unity and have begun discussions with them and Sony as to how we can achieve this. We expect there to be enough appeal from our Kickstarter backers to be able to fund the development if Sony is not willing to cover the costs of licensing & the dev kit hardware. If they are, then we will spend the additional funds received, that were earmarked for this aspect of development, back into the game towards more content or bringing planned, future features forward for the 1st release. Since we’ve had Shuhei Yoshida play the game and request the Morpheus support, we are now actively working with Sony to bring this stage forwards in our schedules. But we still need to raise enough funds for development and increase our reach within the PS4 gamer community.
All of this is all very well assuming that the Kickstarter campaign is hugely successful, which of course we aim for it to be. However, with years of experience in AAA game development and publishing, we know that things don’t always go according to plan, and so I’ll look at our alternative options we have available to put into action should we need to…
Dev Blog #5 - Beyond Plan-A
Whilst we are confident in succeeding with our Plan A for Radial-G, we wouldn’t be able to back up our claims of having carried out competent levels of research, planning and realistic projections if we didn’t also have a Plan B to fall back on.
As mentioned in the first dev blog post about preparations for Kickstarter, we dismissed IndieGoGo as our primary crowdfunding source but if we do not succeed on Kickstarter, this is where we will relaunch our campaign, albeit with a smaller, narrower focus with less lofty goals. IndieGoGo is growing and there are a number of success stories, so we didn’t want to rule it out completely, especially as it is more gaming specific.
If we went to IndieGoGo, our initial thoughts are that we would only concentrate on the PC, Mac & Linux / Oculus Rift version and drop all plans for mobile or PS4 versions. Although of course we would carry out a period of investigation and feedback amongst our committed Kickstarter backers and judge our options based upon what our community wants to see. If they want a Morpheus edition as their primary desire, then we would realign our development towards that instead.
Being an indie gives us the flexibility and option to amend and mould our development path as time passes based on the most important aspect, community feedback. The greatest appeal of being indie is that we have direct connection to our community and players, something that is generally lost with AAA games titles and the faceless PR marketing machine these titles have. Huge budgets are one thing, but genuine love and interaction is something that money cannot buy.
For those of you thinking negatively, yes there even a Plan C if Plans A and B fail. Plan C would involve Early Access on Steam. The Greenlight campaign is going very well and it looks like we will be greenlit in the end-of-July selection. We could then raise funds this way to help develop the full game.
If Plans A, B and C fail, we have options for typical game investment, with a number of parties interested in the normal manner of investment in return for equity. However this is the route that should be considered the last, final option since we want to remain independent, in control and able to make the game that you, our dedicated & growing fanbase, want us to make.
However, whatever the outcome, whichever plan is the one that is seen through to completion, there will still be the single player demo experience and the one track / one ship multiplayer demo that we are currently developing irrespective of successful crowdsourced funding campaigns. By hook or by crook, Radial-G development *will* be completed and you *will* be able to play the full version soon!
By now we should have a clear indication where the Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight campaigns are headed. My final blog post will cover the post-mortem review of both of these campaigns and their success rates.