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Confessions of an Indie VR Dev

by Scott McCutchen on 08/04/14 08:21:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've grown up with video games. They've been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first gaming console was anIntellivision II, and I was always fascinated by it; flickering lights on a screen that lived in their own digital worlds, separate from ours, but able to be influenced. It was this disparate connection to the virtual world that drew me in. If one could connect to that world and begin to influence it's inner workings, they may be able tocreate all new worlds, entirely of their own design.

It led me to work a lot with computers in my youth, teaching myself programming, networking, and web design. Nothing too serious, I used the skills mostly to chat with my friends via the command line without our teachers noticing. I also built a lot of nonsense on theoriginal Macintoshback in the day when I wasn't using it to playPrince of PersiaorLemmings.

I do recall my first experience with virtual reality, back in 1995 with Nintendo's Virtual Boy. When they released that monster onto the world, our local Blockbuster Video managed to obtain a pair of them for rentals, and we were one of the first to take one home. As an 11 year old kid, this was a big deal for my friends and I. We'd only been able to getMario Tennisto play on it, and as cool as we all wanted it to be, the novelty wore off pretty quickly. We tried so many ways to comfortably play the Virtual Boy, but were ultimately forced to play at the kitchen table, necks craned into the headset. It sucked. Our rental period ended a few days later, and I wouldn't look at virtual reality again for many years.

It's important for me to now place some perspective on how I've come to be where I am today. Because you see, while I still played lots of games between then and now, I had never really thought about creating them. In fact, as I grew older, I had allowed my computer skills to rust as I pursued other interests. Instead, I had turned to being something of an entrepreneur. I openedmy first business, a family skatepark, fresh out of high school at the age of 18. A coupleyears later when that venture failed, I turned to the automotive industry, where I started an online performance auto-parts resale company. Short lived, as I mostly just toured around to car shows and drift racing events and sold no parts. I'd spend time as a freelance auto mechanic and web developer after that, though I'd eventually end up needing to take a job in a warehouse just to pay the bills.

Frontside Skatepark opened in January of 2003
Myself (left) and my friend Ryan, taking a breather from building ramps!
Myself (left) and my friend Ryan, taking a breather from building ramps!

Full disclosure: Today I still work at that warehouse, three years later, shipping tennis balls to country clubs and resorts worldwide.

I've always wanted to be independent. Entrepreneurship has always called to me, at least through my desire to never feel like I was "working", in the general sense of the term. I never wanted to be a slave to the regular 9 to 5, and I'd always preferredto lead instead of follow. I simply dreamed of doingthe work that I was passionate about, and make a decent living doing so.

So I look back at my past, at the attempts I've made to make that dream into a reality, and I knowthey're all failures. Every last one of them. Today I'm 30 years old and broke, living in my mother's basement. I've dropped out of college three times now, to pursue that dream. I have no degree higher than my high school diploma. I surely have no girlfriend, or anything that could be remotely construed as one. I've sacrificed everything in pursuit of that dream, only to fail.

I've had ample time to reflect on this, and I've come to one singular component that all of my failures share: a lack of passion. I realize I was never truly passionate about any of my previous ventures. Sure, I enjoyed skateboarding, and I was even pretty good at it. But at the end of the day I didn't care to own a skatepark or bring skateboarding to new people... I simply wanted to skate all day and not answer to anybody. And that's a truly selfish way to do business, because people aren't buying what you do. They're buying why you do it.

So when good ol' Palmer Lucky gave the world the Oculus Rift I was immediately inspired. I can feel the very gravity of the implications that device has, and it weighs heavy. I felt it in the air of anticipation when I was 11 years old, just before I first tried the Virtual Boy and was so deeply let down. I felt it again when I first saw the Rift, only this time I was convinced. The experience has truly made me believe that virtual reality will change everything we know. Everything we know.From gaming to healthcare to warfare... it all changes. The thought made me so excited that I ordered an early Rift dev kit in July of 2013, as I felt compelled to somehow be a part of this change.

I look forward and see the opportunity to shape the future of virtual reality. There are so many problems to solve in the VR space, so many hurdles to overcome. But more importantly, I see the opportunity to give my 11 year old self something he never had; the ability to connect to that digital world and directly influence it. To create new worlds of my own design, in order to provide others with experiences unlike anything they've ever seen before. To communicate with others on a primordial level through digital presence.

Inspired by this revelation, I've spent the last year honing my skills to bring you one suchexperience. I am not a veteran game developer, and I've never worked in the industry. I do not have extensive schooling, a bunch of indie projects, or a huge amount of networking contacts. I am a nobody, as far as the game industry is concerned. What I do have is a passion for virtual reality; a passion for providing you with an experience unlike any before it. A desire to help shape the future. With any luck I'll have a large enough impact through my work that it might inspire others to build worlds for themselves.

To that end I've createdEndless Reach, an old school arcade shoot 'em up for virtual reality. Shmups are a genre I hold dear to my heart, from my younger years having spent countless hours playingGradiusandR-Type. My desire to help bring one of my favorite genres into the next generation of gaming is what has fueled this project into it's current state, wherethe free demo is now available fordownload from the game'sofficial website.

I've struggled much over this past year to bring this project to fruition. I still have to work my day job, so nearly every waking minute of my spare time (nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays, etc) has been spent expanding mycomputing skills, working onEndless Reach. I've missed out on a lot of living this past year, but Iwouldn't have traded it for anything else on the planet.

This past weekend my artist and I released our firstmajor updatetoEndless Reach, to some minor success. At the time of this writing, it's been three days since that update, and we've seen over 320 downloads and $17 in donations since then. I realize that sounds like pitiful numbers, but for a guy who simply wanted to build a great experience and share it with people, these numbers are extremely validating. We offer the beta demo free for everyone, but to think that some people actually felt our work was good enough to donate their hard earned cash when then they didn't need to, well... I just can't even explain how humbling that is. I can't thank them enough.

I am extremelypumpedto be pioneering virtual reality with so many great gamers and developers. It's an exciting time to be making games, and I cannot wait to see what we can create together as we shape the future of gaming. Just remember: This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom.

- End of line.

Yes I did just make a Tron reference. If you enjoyed this post, maybe you'd like to follow me on Twitter@Soverance! We'd also love a vote forEndless Reachon ourSteam Greenlightpage, and don't forget to check out the demo for yourself on the game'sofficial website!

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