Hannah Gamiel is a Software Engineer at Cyan and will be at VRDC 2017 to present her talk ‘Obduction’, from 2D to VR: A Postmortem and Lessons Learned, and explore the triumphs and tribulations of the development of ‘Obduction’. Here, Gamiel gives us some information about herself and developing games for VR.
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Tell us about yourself and your work in VR/AR
My name is Hannah Gamiel, and I’m a programmer over at Cyan, Inc. (creators of Myst & Riven), based in Mead, WA. I’ve been working here at Cyan for 5 years and a lead on the Obduction team for the last two.
I’ve helped bring our Desktop (PC & Mac), Vive, Rift, and soon to be PS4, PSVR, and Mac VR versions of Obduction to life, mostly working on major systems programming and audio engineering.
Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC
I’m hoping to talk about the production process from 2D to VR for Obduction, which had its initial 2D release in August 2016 and its initial VR release in the Fall of 2016. This includes sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of our 2D to VR transition.
I think that sharing our development process could help developers who are thinking of doing the same thing to their game(s) learn from our successes and lay out a good foundation for the conversion, while at the same time avoid making the same mistakes we did.
What excites you most about VR/AR?
When it comes to VR/AR, I am most excited about how they’re both becoming more and more accessible to people around the world — especially with mobile VR/AR. The fact that there are some phones out there that can handle running a mobile game with VR support is pretty astounding.
What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR/AR’s potential?
Keeping hardware accessibility in mind, I think that is currently the biggest hurdle that the AR/VR industry faces today — especially VR. Some consumers just can’t yet afford to purchase high-fidelity VR hardware, or hardware needed to support those VR devices. I think we’ll get there some day, but I like where the mobile AR/VR industry is already going in that situation.
How was the transition from developing a 2D game into VR?
Making a 2D game work well (and look good) in VR is a non-trivial process. Thankfully, the transition from developing Obduction from a 2D game into a VR game went smoother than we expected, considering that we built our 2D game with VR system(s) flexibility in mind.
We have a really talented team who were able to think ahead, research well, code quickly, and make smart decisions that would make for a great VR experience on a small budget. With that being said, we still had our fair share of bumps in the road, during and after our initial VR release especially.
For example, Cyan is known for crafting beautiful in-game worlds, but taking that vision from 2D to VR while maintaining the same kind of visual and performance fidelity we expected to have was tough. My talk will go into more detail about that, among other difficulties we encountered, and how we were able to mitigate those issues.
What was the hardest design challenge that you faced during production?
Personally, I think that the hardest design challenge we encountered during the production of Obduction was how we had to design (and market!) our game for two almost completely different audiences: one that has been playing our games since Myst came out, and another that is the emerging VR market.
We have learned over the last 30 years Cyan has been a company and over the past several years of VR research that these two different audiences, with some exceptions, have almost completely different expectations of what our game should look and feel like. We were essentially designing a game for two completely separate generations of people who have vastly different gaming experiences.
I’ll go into this more in my talk, but I think that the best and most satisfying part of this whole challenge was figuring out one of the most important similarities between the two audiences/play-styles that bridged the gap in our 2D & VR release(s) — navigation.
Who knew that our 30-year old point-and-click/node-mode style navigation system that so many of our original fans are greatly familiar with would be one of the most comfortable ways to move around in VR? It’s realizations like that that made this design problem very, very interesting to solve.
Register for VRDC Fall 2017 this September in San Francisco to hear more about developing for VR from Hannah, and join other creators of amazing, immersive experiences at the premier industry event. Gamasutra, VRDC, and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas.