What kind of VR game do we want to make? It was now late 2017, and this was the first question the three of us asked ourselves as we kicked off developing the game that would eventually become Thunderballs. Would this be a narrative-heavy adventure? A sensory-overload acid-trip world to explore? A brainy puzzle challenge in line with our past projects like Midnight Madness and Endgame?
Since all three of us were still pretty new to VR, we spent a week (OK, a few weeks :) playing a ton of games to get a sense of what was out there. What games seemed to make the best use of VR as a unique, immersive, interactive, multi-sensory medium? Some games wowed us initially with killer graphics, rich environments, or clever mechanics, but we found that we didn’t always want to go back and play those games again a second time.
For the first and perhaps only time in Megafauna history, all three of us agreed: the coolest elements of the VR games we played were friends and physics. Friends because playing a collaborative game together, like a Rec Room quest or Star Trek, was always more fun than going into a single-player experience.
And physics because of how intense and satisfying it is in VR to have objects whizzing by your head, exploding all around you, and launching away from you. We decided early on that, kind of like how everything in Willy Wonka’s lab was edible, we wanted everything around you to be destructible. Walls, floors, obstacles, and of course, the other players.
[The drill weapon chunking up a wall in a recent version of the game]
So, friends and physics would be the core elements of our game. We would only learn later that making a multiplayer, lag-sensitive, physics-based VR game with tens of thousands of destructible objects was maybe the hardest thing we possibly could have chosen as our first project, but hey...hindsight is always 20/20.
With our fresh Unity subscriptions in place, we started prototyping and playtesting extremely simple multiplayer games. The one we liked the best was just two players on floating platforms firing white marshmallow projectiles at one another. Beat your opponent by destroying their platform before they destroy yours. That super simple concept was enough fun that we decided to make it the foundation of the game.
The first thing we realized is that we needed some mechanics other than just shooting a handheld gun, as fun as that may be. We did rough prototypes of two additional "fixed" weapons. First, a cannon, that could do more damage than the handheld. We tried putting a chair on the cannon so you actually move with the barrel as you aim. This made absolutely no sense, but it was fun, so we kept it. (Although we quickly learned that having the VR player rotate with the barrel made you sick, but moving the player position only did not). Having the chair also let the player feel the recoil as the cannon barrel kicks back on fire - subtle, but cool.
[The final cannon design]
We then added a third weapon, a catapult, that would later become the mortar. The catapult would be the hardest to aim, but also do the most damage of the three weapons. We quickly realized that the fun of the catapult was really limited by not being able to see the impact. So we added a floating monitor and tracking camera that follows the projectile. Again, this made absolutely no sense if we were trying to be realistic, but it was so fun that we agreed we had to keep it.
[The demo video of the early weapon prototypes]
We also liked the options we now had between the handgun, cannon, and catapult and their different balances of damage vs. accuracy vs. mobility. With these three weapons prototyped, and a few stock sound effects thrown in, we were already hooked on the concept. Thunderballs was on its way....
PS: Sign-ups are open for our first access. Check out #announcements in our Discord for recruiting info. Vive/Rift/WMR.
Posts in the series:
Thunderballs VR - #1 - In the Beginning
Thunderballs VR - #2 - Friends and Physics