Robert Yang, creator of Nostrum, a VR Flight game inspired by a viewing of Porco Rosso takes time out of his busy Teaching schedule to answer our questions on his experiences coding for the VR Jam competition.
To say the range themes and styles exhibited in the first ever VR Jam, a call to arms by Oculus Rift manufactorer Oculus VR and IndieCade to develop great VR content in under three weeks, would be a laughable understatement. As I’ve commented before, the sheer breadth of originality on show was eye-popping with almost every finalist offering a completely unique approach to the competition’s minimal brief.
A seasoned modder, Robert Yang received renown with his “Radiator” series of Half Life 2 Mods, non-violent musings on the difficult relationship between two men. Not your average fair then.
Nostrum is another good example of this VR Jam uniqueness. Placing 2nd in the ‘Indiecade Selected Develpers’ group, it’s creator Yang came up with the idea after a viewing of the classic Miyazaki Anime Porco Rosso. After that, his original idea – that of a Lion Simulator (yes really) was shelved in favour of an aeronautical theme instead.
As yet, Nostrum has yet to be released to the public or press – as such I can’t comment on the game itself, but I can include one of the videos released as a milestone midway through the development cycle:
We asked Robert if he’d be good enough to answer a few of our questions on the project and what the future plans are for it.
Road to VR: Tell us a bit about yourself
Robert: I teach video game development in New York City, at Parsons the New School for Design and at NYU Game Center.
Road to VR: Would you call yourself a VR Enthusiast? What got you hooked?
Robert: I wouldn’t call myself a VR enthusiast, no. A lot of VR things make me sick after 10-15 minutes, it often feels like a burden.
Road to VR: What attracted you to the VR Jam contest?
Robert: I was part of the “selected developers” group. Indiecade e-mailed me and it sounded like fun so I said okay.
Road to VR: What was your inspiration for Nostrum? Was there a ‘Eureka!’ moment?
Robert: I was working on a lion simulator for the first week, but I wasn’t sure which direction my prototyping was heading. Then I watched Porco Rosso and realized that a flight simulator was a lot more feasible to do in the time frame, and all the VR flight sims flooding into the space are focusing too much on maneuvering and not much about actually looking around.
Road to VR: How did you approach the project? What processes did you use to prepare and plan?
Robert: First I prototyped basic movement and camera control. Just moving around, in a space, should feel alright and be interesting enough on its own. Then I gradually layered on other systems — world generation, cloud generation, enemy AI, and a simple quest system.
Road to VR: How many people were involved in the project?
Robert: Just me.
Road to VR: What was it like developing a full game in such a compressed time window? How did you survive it?
Robert: I’ve done quite a few jams, so I generally do a good job of scoping my jam games to be pretty small and doable. A general guideline is to take an initial time estimate and multiply that number by 3.
Road to VR: What VR specific challenges did you come across and how did you solve them?
Robert: I chose a very simplified flight control model that does not let you do loops, but it auto-levels the plane. I think rolling the horizon would’ve caused too much VR sickness.
Road to VR: Now that you’ve won the VR Jam, are you planning a full commercial release for Nostrum? If so, when can we expect to see it?
Robert: Maybe in a few months, yeah.
Road to VR: If you had to pick a favourite VR Jam entrant other than yours, what would it be and why?
Robert: Lau’s Virtual Internet Hacker is brilliant. At this phase of VR, half of the appeal is in the performance art.
Road to VR: Is there any advice you’d like to give other developers thinking about working with the Oculus Rift?
Robert: Remember that the Rift is not just a display, it is also a controller.
Thanks to Robert for sparing the time to answer our questions. You can find his Website and Blog here, and we hope to offer some hands-on thoughts for Nostrum once we get hold of some code.