We talk to E McNeill (real name Ed, known as ‘E’), author of Ciess – recently crowned winner of the Indiecade VR Jam contest. We discuss what the development process was like and of course whether Ciess will see a full commercial release.
VR For Victory!
The first 5 minutes. They are so important. Those first exploratory minutes when the player of a new game is presented with the mechanics to interact with and master it is probably when the majority of players make up their mind whether it’s for them or not. Ciess gives a great first 5 minutes experience. I wrote the following oon Ciess after playtesting (and, as it turned out voting on) the VR Jam finalists in my recent round-up preview:
Seems there are a few developers out there who see VR as the key to unlocking their hacking fantasies, although not the dull, realistic type the wonderfully over the top Hollywood type we’ve all enjoyed and chuckled at over the years.
Ciess is a game of subtlety and beauty and constructed with incredible polish. You’re placed as a construct inside ‘the net’, represented by a neon, wireframe world. Your aim, to rip-off as much money from each node as possible armed with only hacks and viruses. The core mechanic revovles around circumventing the security programs protecting each of these nodes. Select a node of choice and you have to use your limited supply of hacks to overwhelm the node.
I love this game, from it’s brilliant realisation (and sense of place) to the wonderfully elegant control mechanism which just feels right. It has the hallmarks of what makes a great game and I can’t wait to see more of it.
..that overarching positivity continued as I progressed too and, probably above all of the great entrants to the VR Jam contest, it was the one title which felt like a fully formed game.
E’s past work includes such indie favourites as Auralux so he’s certainly no stranger to successful independent game making or creating unusual, abstract titles.
I wrote to E to ask if he’d talk to us about the VR Jam experience and his future plans for Ciess:
Road to VR: Tell us a bit about yourself
McNeill: I’m an indie game developer working from San Diego. I’ve made a lot of games, and I’ve been designing games full-time for about 10 months.
Road to VR: Would you call yourself a VR Enthusiast? What got you hooked?
McNeill: I was an early backer of the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, mostly thanks to the incredible support from figures like Gabe Newell and John Carmack, but I wasn’t a big VR enthusiast beforehand.
Road to VR: What attracted you to the VR Jam contest?
McNeill: It was the perfect opportunity for a small indie to get noticed. It’s hard to commit to a big project, but it’s a lot easier to take off a few weeks for a contest. It also levels the playing field; larger teams with more resources don’t have much of an advantage with such a short time limit.
Road to VR: What was your inspiration for Ciess? Was there a ‘Eureka!’ moment?
McNeill: Most people seem to assume that I was inspired by movies like Johnny Mnemonic or The Lawnmower Man or TRON, but I’ve actually never seen any of them! I’ve already gotten in trouble with that, so I arranged to watch them this week. :) I was more inspired by Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s novels, though I was also just trying to make a good game with my limited 3D art skills.
Road to VR: How did you approach the project? What processes did you use to prepare and plan?
“Most people seem to assume that I was inspired by movies like Johnny Mnemonic or The Lawnmower Man or TRON, but I’ve actually never seen any of them!”
McNeill: I didn’t do much to prepare ahead of time, but I spent the first few days just prototyping the basic structure. Once I knew the basics of what I wanted to make, I wrote a day-by-day schedule of the rest of the jam, and I did my best to stick to it. Despite that effort, I still made some late changes to the design and had to crunch for the final few days.
Road to VR: How many people were involved in the project?
McNeill: It’s just me! Someone sent me a few sci-fi sound files, and I used Creative Commons licensed music, but all the rest was my own work.
Road to VR: What was it like developing a full game in such a compressed time window? How did you survive it?
McNeill: The time limit isn’t so bad if you design around it. One of the reasons I build such an abstract, non-realistic game was because I knew it would be easier to build. It also helped that I loved the whole cyberpunk hacker fantasy, and so I genuinely looked forward to working on it every day.
Road to VR: What VR specific challenges did you come across and how did you solve them?
McNeill: The biggest issue was nausea. Originally, the controls for camera rotation were very slow and gentle, which caused a lot of trouble with nausea. I ended up solving that problem by speeding up the rotation so much that the player’s brain can’t make sense of the movement (and it’s over quicker). I also had to make sure that the player didn’t have to strain their neck too much and that the crosshair was always at an appropriate depth.
Road to VR: What effect do you think winning the contest will have on you?
McNeill: Winning the VR Jam essentially provided the encouragement I needed to continue working on Ciess. If I hadn’t won, I probably would have left the game as a free demo and moved on to other projects.
Road to VR: Now that you’ve won the VR Jam, are you planning a full commercial release for Ciess? If so, when can we expect to see it?
McNeill: Yes, I’m happy to say I am planning a full release for a much-expanded Ciess. I aim to release it alongside the consumer version of the Oculus Rift. If anyone wants to follow the game’s development, sign up for the game’s brand new mailing list!
“..I’m happy to say I am planning a full release for a much-expanded Ciess. I aim to release it alongside the consumer version of the Oculus Rift.
Road to VR: If you had to pick a favourite VR Jam entrant other than yours, what would it be and why?
McNeill: I’d say Private Eye. I loved the idea and the execution was just about perfect, in my opinion. I also want to mention Dreadhalls; although I’m far too wimpy to play it myself, it seemed to have the greatest impression on players.
Road to VR: Is there any advice you’d like to give other developers thinking about working with the Oculus Rift?
McNeill: The Rift comes with a lot of advantages, especially if you’re already comfortable and familiar with 3D game development. I think it’s especially fertile ground for indies. I recently wrote a blog post on that subject.
Road to VR: TRON, Wargames, Hackers or Lawnmower Man?
McNeill: Wargames, since it’s the only one I’ve seen!
Many thanks to E for sparing his time and we wish him the best of luck with Ciess. Hopefully we’ll be revisiting once the commercial release is available. You can find out more about Ciess and E’s other work at his website here and you can sign up to that Ciess Mailing List here.