VR Jam winner Lau Korsgaard talks to Road to VR about KnapNok Games‘ Virtual Internet Hacker, a VR fueled homage to the 90s hacker movie.
Anyone of my generation who is also a geek is unlikely to have escaped the cyberpunk ‘revolution’ of the 90s and its garish celebrations in the media of the time. Movies like Hackers and Jonny Mnemonic were examples of Hollywood’s occasional attempts to ‘sex up’ the world of computer ‘cracking’ (‘hacking’ is generally regarded as a term describing hurried or ad-hoc programming styles). It’s fairly obvious the reality of computer related subterfuge is pretty tedious stuff, so when Hollywood rides the Zeitgeist in order to cash-in, it uses a certain shorthand. Typing 3 lines can gain you entry to the pentagon and one punch of the enter key bring down a government and usher forth spectacular 3D visuals on a text-only terminal. Ridiculous, but done right and it can be very cool.
Virtual Internet Hacker, which was one of two grand prize winners in the recent VR Jam, takes this premise and devises gameplay to encapsulate it. Type random words, interspersed with the space bar and glance towards the next target. Yet another example then of VR bringing to life a million thitysomething gamers around the world.
Developer Lau Korsgaard was kind enough to spare us some time to talk about how Virtual Internet Hacker came to be.
Road to VR: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Lau: Hey I am Lau Korsgaard. I am game designer in KnapNok Games, a small independent games studio working on weird party games; we just released a game for Wii U. On top of that, I’m involved in Copenhagen Game Collective, a game design collective where we do lots of fun experiments with games and host events and exhibitions.
Road to VR: Would you call yourself a VR Enthusiast? What got you hooked?
Lau: I would call myself a new interface Enthusiast. I love messing around with wii-motes, Kinect, move controllers, balance board, leap motion, dance pads and whatever we have seen of new controllers the last couple of years. VR is just another interface that is super interesting to explore.
I would call myself a new interface Enthusiast.
Road to VR: What attracted you to the VR Jam contest?
Lau: I have had all these ideas for fun experiments you could do with the Rift so I basically just needed a push.
Road to VR: What was your inspiration for Virtual Internet Hacker? Was there a ‘Eureka!’ moment?
Lau: The inspiration is all these cool hacker and virtual reality movies we saw in the 90s. I guess our ‘Eureka’ moment was when we figured out the controls. We all know hacking involves typing fast on your keyboard, but the goggles make it pretty difficult to type anything meaningful. We found this dynamic of hitting any button to build up potential speed and then hitting spacebar to launch yourself in the direction you look. This played really well, but more importantly, it looks really impressive.
Road To VR: How did you approach the project? What processes did you use to prepare and plan?
Lau: Seriously, we made the poster before we started to code. That is always a good plan.
Road to VR: How many people were involved in the project?
Lau: Sebbe Selvig coded, Simon Nielsen did the art and I… I guess I came up with the idea.
Road to VR: What was it like developing a full game in such a compressed time window? How did you survive it?
Lau: There is a really nice gamejam scene in the Nordic region with excellent jams such as Nordic game jam, Exile and No More Sweden. We have been going to many of those for years now. The premise in those jams is often 48 hours of development time so in that perspective, 3 weeks was way too much time. The way we handled that was to make the poster in the beginning of the project and then do all the jamming in the last few days.
Road to VR: What VR specific challenges did you come across and how did you solve them?
Lau: Technologically it is pretty simple what we do. I think conceptually it was interesting to try to make a VR game that was great for spectators as well. One thing we did was to only show the visual hacking “feedback” on the left eye. This makes it more visually interesting for spectators to watch on a secondary screen while the player will see it as semi transparent noise.
Road to VR: After your success in the VR Jam, are you planning a full commercial release for Virtual Internet Hacker? If so, when can we expect to see it?
Lau: Ha ha I don’t know. There is lots of stuff I would like to do with this game, if people seem to like it we might try to do it.
Road to VR: If you had to pick a favourite JR Jam entrant other than yours, what would it be and why?
Lau: Oh that is hard; there is so much good stuff. I would say that people should really check out Private Eye. You are a private detective and you are stalking a building block and trying to solve a murder. It shows in a really promising way how to make narrative content without including awkward FPS movement controls
Road to VR: Is there any advice you’d like to give other developers thinking about working with the Oculus Rift?
Lau: Yeah, don’t copy FPS movement controls! I feel it is like trying to make a platformer for Kinect: In theory it would be awesome but it plays really badly. There are so many other possible ways of moving yourself, ride a vehicle, auto run, shoot yourself in the direction you look, tilt the world, whatever or just be grounded.
Our thanks to Lau for sparing his time our congratulations on winning the VR Jam and we look forward to seeing what KnapNok games come up with in the future. You can try Virtual Internet Hackers for yourselves here.