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Dinosaurs and development tools: Crytek's VR journey

"We believe VR is here to stay and it will transform the way we experience new media"

Crytek's virtual reality demonstration nearly made me fall over. I don't mean that in a hyperbolic, metaphorical way, when I was ziplining up a vertical cliff and a pterodactyl threw a rock into my face I physically lurched, looked down at my feet and felt my legs wobble as my brain struggled to reconcile the rocky abyss it was seeing and the solid ground it could feel.

And that was my first experience of Crytek's consumer foray in the VR world, Robinson: The Journey. It's an exploring adventure packed with Jurassic monsters, but it's also a standard bearer for Crytek's CryEngine, which already supports VR. We spoke to David Bowman, director of production at Crytek, for a quick catch up on the company's efforts in this emerging market.

Q: Why did Crytek feel it was important to enter the virtual reality arena?

David Bowman:With the progress in technology and massive investments into the sector, we believe VR is here to stay and it will transform the way we experience new media. VR is the bleeding edge of technology and therefore it maps to our company culture and our focus.

"VR is the bleeding edge of technology and therefore it maps to our company culture and our focus"

Furthermore, for 15 years we have been building tools and an engine for actually primarily creating worlds. Since the beginning of Far Cry, we've built wide and expansive worlds and we pushed it even further with Crysis. We have always been about immersion and immersive worlds, which is a big part of VR as well.

Q: Was there demand from CryEngine developers for VR support?

David Bowman:We were approached by many of our existing engine licensees, as well as potential new licensees who were excited by the prospect of developing for the emerging VR headsets. The number of requests has continued to increase as more people begin to understand the potential of this generation of VR, and as we've announced our projects and engine support.

Q: Is there pressure for internal VR projects like Robinson: The Journey to lead the way in terms of VR production values?

David Bowman:Crytek is famous for constantly pushing what is possible on each platform that we support. Robinson: The Journey will demonstrate that CryEngine excels at rich environments and incredibly detailed experiences while also showing why we are so incredibly excited by developing VR games. This isn't exactly a feeling of pressure; it's the natural result of having powerful tools, incredibly talented developers, and a new medium in which to express ourselves.

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Q: There are a lot of devices at the moment, what are the challenges in terms of supporting them all? How do you prioritize?

David Bowman:We formed a strong working relationship with Oculus and Sony very quickly based on the projects that we wanted to do. Since we are an engine and a technology company as well as a game development studio, we knew we wanted to support as many of the HMDs, input devices, and the hardware needed to power them as possible, so our engine support started with the premise that we would be integrating all viable hardware solutions over time. As I said, Oculus and Sony were driven by projects, and then we started looking at HTC Vive because they have a great HMD as well. We're working with a variety of input device manufactures, while designing our game projects to allow for more than one input device to work.

Q: Who do you see as the initial VR audience and how do you see that evolving over time?

David Bowman:By definition early adopters will be the initial audience. They are the people who have been waiting for quite some time to have good experiences in VR available to them at a price that is in the same ballpark as other gaming expenses. Of course there are non-gaming experiences and uses that will further push the hardware forward since VR is going to change the way many people view data-architects, doctors, and many other professionals who need to have detailed views at both the intimate level and the grand scale level. Hardware prices will drop over time and become much more powerful.

"Whichever company creates the content that gets those early adopters excited enough to share the experience with friends will go on to be connected with this chapter of game history forever"

It is important though, that there are some great initial experiences for those early adopters so they feel they've spent their money wisely and they share their HMD with their friends and get the 'That's cool!' response. Since VR must be experienced to really be understood, this early group is going to be very important as they will influence their friends and families.

Q: Given that there's been no price, official release date or sense of the cost of games announced, why have so many companies decided to embrace VR, in your opinion?

David Bowman:We started on our VR journey purely to support it as a technology, but as soon as our developers (myself included) actually experienced what we could do with this generation of hardware, we knew that we could finally start to tell stories and give experiences which we've been unable to achieve before.

Whichever company creates the content that gets those early adopters excited enough to share the experience with friends will go on to be connected with this chapter of game history forever. There are professional pride and financial benefits to be gained. We know the general price range of the technology, and know that it will progress quickly in power. We all want to learn how to be the best VR developers possible quickly to meet that growth curve.

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Latest comments (3)

Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.A year ago
They deserve to be successful with that attitude.
While it's possible to get a sense of presence from surprisingly little resolution graphical fidelity is going to drive VR. When you walk around inside games you spend far longer going over and examining things.
Some believe VR requires one Killer app/Must have game like a Wii Sports to really launch. Let's hope Robinson: The journey is the one.

I got to try our ROVR platform being used at Senate House this week, as featured in this report:

http://tonic-agency.com/videos/BBCNewsArmy.mp4

In this initial version the army are using 360 video to give students a better feel for army life. I was curious to see how they had integrated the locomotion platform with an assault course. At a technical level it simply ends the experience early if you don't run fast enough between obstacles but that isn't how it feels. The overall effect is very impressive.
Up until now I've been a little scornful of the term VR being used for 360 video but this has made me realise that when done well many unexpected things are possible.
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Richard Pygott Level Designer A year ago
they have to make VR so that it doesnt induce motion sickness, I believe this to be the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome before anything else that is released to the mass consumer.
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.A year ago
I agree and think it can be made acceptable for most people. It'll never be perfect for everyone because some get ill just looking at a TV.
Much of that is due to the HMD design, such as frame rate, smear and tracking latency. The ski goggle style can be more immersive but risks nausea, while peripheral view of the real world can help some. However, some people can ignore a visual-vestibular mismatch and others will never be able to and will have to match their view and actions 1:1. Game developers also have to be considerate but that's nothing new. TV and film directors could make you sick too if they're not careful. Variable focus of the sort Magic Leap are hoping to develop could help.
What I do know is that a well crafted VR experience is already far less likely to make me ill than playing a game on an XBox.
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