A revamped version of the excellent, mind-bending VR Jam finalist SightLine is heading to IndieGogo next week, we speak to developer Tomáš Mariančík to find out more.
The VR Jam Legacy
It seems like only yesterday I was writing about a VR Jam entrant poised to evolve into a full game, and that’s because it was. Well, here I am again, and this time I’m over the moon to find that another of my personal favourites from the Jam is headed to IndieGogo to raise funds to take that first taster and transform it into a bonafide commercial release.
Of all the creativity that poured forth from the Indiecade / Oculus VR Jam in September last year, SightLine was the one that surprised me the most. What’s more, the game’s ability to then continue to surprise me pretty much constantly throughout meant it left a strong impression long after completing it.
The ability to glance around a game world may not sound like a particularly exciting concept, but as I spend more time using the Oculus Rift to explore games, I realise that a game’s success in VR will depend on how well this mechanic is harnessed. Sightline not only grasped the concept, it took it by the scruff of the neck and twisted it upside down and inside out. Sightline’s central premise stems from musings that have vexed philosophers for centuries, that of our perception of reality. How do we know what we see is really there? What indeed do we mean by ‘really there’? It presents these questions time and again until you realise that the act of searching for the answer actually provides the ability to progress in the game. Traverse a corridor and your way might be blocked, look away and look back and a door has appeared to allow passage. It’s Sightline’s delight at playing with these ideas that mean it’s perfect for VR and marks it as a refreshing gameplay experience full stop.
As Road to VR were such big fans of Sightline, we’ve kept in touch with Tomáš since his VR Jam success and recently received word from him that he was preparing to launch an crowd soucing campaign via Indiegogo to help launch the commercial development of the game. We can now bring you exclusive news that the IndieGogo campaign will launch next week (precise date still to be confirmed) and we feature the campaign video on this very page. Not only that, but Tomáš was kind enough to spare us time to answer our questions on the project’s current state and future. Here are his answers:
Road to VR: Tell us a bit about yourself
Tomáš: Hello, my name is Tomáš Mariančík, but I prefer to go by the nick “Frooxius”. I’m interested in many creative activities and self-educating myself on various topics, one of them being making games. I’ve been making amateur games since I was 12 when I got my first computer (I’m 21 now) among other things and recently I decided I would like to go indie and try to get to a point where I can make games for living.
Road to VR: Would you call yourself a VR Enthusiast? What got you hooked?
Tomáš: I would call myself one now as Oculus was what got me really interested in the field. However I would rather call myself new technology enthusiast as every new experiment and new technology excites me. Even if it ends up being a failure, I’m glad people try doing new things anyway, because there would be no progress otherwise. Road to success is going to be paved with many failures.
Oculus’ KickStarter campaign really caught my attention. The idea of virtual reality fascinated me since I was little, but it was a thing I only knew from sci-fi stories and expensive devices used in research centers and such and a few not very interesting consumer products. Oculus seemed like a promising device that could bring that experience for price I could afford so I grabbed the chance.
Another reason I try these new things is because of my dream to develop games for living so I try to grab the chance to be at the beginning of something that has potential to be big and successful and as a developer and hope that I’ll get lucky myself being one of the first making content for it.
“I try these new things is because of my dream to develop games for living..”
Road to VR: What attracted you to the VR Jam contest?
Tomáš: There were two things. Mainly the possibility of getting some attention to my work as one advice for starting indie developers I read about is to participate in game jams and similar events. Second was a good excuse to do some proper game demo for the Oculus, instead of a small experiments I did before.
Road to VR: What was your inspiration for SightLine? Was there a ‘Eureka!’ moment?
Tomáš: I actually got the basic idea back when I backed the KickStarter campaign over a year ago. I thought that it would be interesting to just change the scenery around the player when he’s not looking, but that was all I thought of at the time.
When I was thinking about what project I could do for the VR jam, I recalled that idea and I guess I got that “eureka” moment, as I came up with various game mechanics and scenes I could base off that basic idea I got back then and the whole game sort of unravelled from that.
Road to VR: How did you approach the project? What processes did you use to prepare and plan?
Tomáš: I just made a document on Google Docs, wrote down everything I thought of and shared it with a guy who did the soundtrack for SightLine so he could provide some criticism and contribute some of his own ideas (for example he came up with the last scene with the mirror and the gate).
I wrote down the scenes and various segments I wanted in the prototype (not all of them made it though) and started working on them, bit by bit. I tried to focus on the essential bits first and add details and polish later if there was time, having a working game was a priority.
Road to VR: How many people were involved in the project?
Tomáš: Apart from me there was Ondrej “Sakabi” Pultar who did the music (look him up on SoundCloud) and contributed some ideas and I got external guy to do the narration: Julian Ceipek. A different guy was doing the voice first, but he poofed away after recording only a few lines so I had to find someone else last minute.
I also used a bunch of creative commons or free-to-use assets – mostly graphics, as I didn’t have time to do all the graphics and I’m not very good at 3D modelling anyway.
Road to VR: What was it like developing a full game in such a compressed time window? How did you survive it?
Tomáš: I wouldn’t call it full game, but it was still very demanding. I didn’t do almost anything else during the 3 weeks, I spent every bit of the day I could working on SightLine. And when it was finally done, I had a lot of catching up in my paying-job-related project which I quite neglected during the VR jam.
Road to VR: What VR specific challenges did you come across and how did you solve them?
“I didn’t do almost anything else during the 3 weeks, I spent every bit of the day I could working on SightLine..”
Tomáš: I can’t really think of any major VR challenge that would hinder the development (there were a few non-VR ones). One thing I found was this glitch with the mirror where the grass on the terrain in the reflection rendered differently for each eye, but that happened only sometimes and I haven’t yet had chance to look why it happens.
I ran into a few performance problems that caused the FPS to drop with the last scene with a mirror, but I just decreased the complexity of the scene which solved the problem. I have plans for many more puzzles involving mirrors, cameras and other stuff that requires extra cameras that render to a texture, so I think that can be a bit of challenge when working on the full version, but I will also have more time to plan things accordingly.
Road to VR: What effect do you think winning the contest will have on you?
Tomáš: I don’t know. This is the second game jam I participated in, the first one being the CREATE game jam by OUYA, where I managed to get into finale, but didn’t win any award and it did very little for me – most of the focus seems to be always on the winners, so unfortunately the game prototype I developed was put to the rest as I was unable to devote much time to it and work on things that I get paid for instead.
I can only say what effect I would like it to have: help to start my indie game development career, launch successful crowd funding campaign and actually be able to devote much more of my time creating stuff.
Road to VR: If you had to pick a favourite VR Jam entrant other than yours, what would it be and why?
Tomáš: I can’t pick just one! I don’t think I could be a judge as many of the experiences were really good quality and each one was quite unique. It’s like picking between blueberries and strawberries: I just love eating both.
I really enjoyed Chicken Walk or Dragon for putting me in the (virtual) body of some non-human creature which was really cool experience. I loved jumping off the cliffs in the SnowDrift. I chuckled several times during Private Eye every time I found same free/CC graphic asset I used in SightLine and of course the idea was quite neat. I enjoyed Polyrider, as one of things that excites me about Oculus is just swirling through the scenery at fast pace and I found Ocuzilla very funny, just going around and nomming things. Gator Time had very odd indie feel in it that reminded me of some click-n-point adventure games I played years ago. Oh and I also loved flying around in GravWing.
I only played a fraction of the entries though, I hope I’ll get some time to try out some more.
Road to VR: Is there any advice you’d like to give other developers thinking about working with the Oculus Rift?
Tomáš: Go for it! :3 I myself find developing with Rift much more fun. Looking even at simple scenery made in a few minutes totally transfers the feel of it.
Road to VR: You’re now heading into an IndieGogo campaign. Can you tell us your hopes for Sight Line should you succeed?
Tomáš: My hope is always to create unique experience which will bring something new to the table and that people will enjoy playing. In the long term, I would like SightLine to be the beginning of several instalments of games I have planned, linked by story, but with completely different gameplay.
I’ve been making games since I got my first computer when I was 12, but it was always a hobby. One that I am really passionate about, because I love creating things, but never find enough time. It’s quite difficult to get people’s attention when you’re new, you just have to keep trying, but with SightLine, I feel I’m onto something, so my biggest hope right now is that it’ll actually succeed and that I’ll be able to devote my time creating something people like.
“It’s quite difficult to get people’s attention when you’re new, you just have to keep trying..”
Road to VR: SightLine made a compelling VR demo, but how do you expand on that in order to deliver a fully-fledged commercial game?
Tomáš: I’ve spent last few months preparing the full game conceptually. One part is a proper sci-fi story, which will explain rationally why is the world behaving in such surreal way and the second part are the experiences, environments and puzzles themselves.
There will be more puzzles and adventures build around things escaping your gaze, also with use of various items like hand mirror, flashlight, binoculars or remote camera. Things involving movable lights. Even some battle scenes – imagine a monster, that you kill, but that will be alive each time you look at it again. If you’re not careful with where you look, you’ll run out of bullets before you solve the puzzle.
There are also other mechanics planned, that won’t be simple can see / can’t see, but it will involve the angle and tilt of your head relative to certain objects. A lot of the puzzles are going to be surprises, that will be best experienced first.
The experiences will be bound by the overall story though, which will take place at Helios a huge city inside of the Sun, which was built for a certain reason related to the odd behavior of the world and will be explained with proper scientific (but fictional) reasoning :)
Road to VR: Will you consider enlisting extra support to assist development? What areas in particular would you look to staff-up?
Tomáš: That’s actually one of the reasons I’m doing the campaign, I can’t do everything myself and I’m not that proficient in all areas anyway. I plan to work with good graphic artists to create unique and original visuals for the game (prototype used a lot of 3rd party assets and some simple graphics I made myself). I’ll also need voice actors to give life to the characters and the narrator of the game.
Road to VR: How long do you estimate before a full release of Sight Line is available? Will you be releasing early access versions prior to a successful IGG campaign?
Tomáš: My estimate is about 8 months, but if it needs a little more time, I’ll give it some more. There will be frequent releases of alpha version of all backers, but with spoiler warning for those, who want to enjoy it as full complete experience. But people who want to play early, watch it grow and help with feedback are very welcome.
Road to VR: Might you also consider pursuing Steam Greenlight as a platform to expand Sight Line’s audience?
Tomáš: Once the game is done (or at least considerable chunk of it to show people) I’ll be definitely putting it on Greenlight.
Our thanks to Tomáš for sparing the time to talk to us and we wish him the best of luck with the IndieGogo campaign. We’ll of course update you once we have a precise launch date and we’ll hopefully have some more snippets of information soon too. In the mean time, check out the website here.