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The First Four Months – Year-End Thoughts

It’s the dawn of 2019 and a good time for reflection. Back in August shortly after receiving my Quest I began to finally work on a project dear to my heart for so many years now already.

The Eternals was an adventure game I always wanted to make but I had to realize I could never finish it: too ambitious, too big with way to sophisticated graphics. I got the first scene done which was actually only the prologue. But I learned so much from it and my love for puzzles never died.

Three years later VR now changed everything for me. Room-scale VR is simply the perfect setup for escape room style games and I hope there will be many to come. One twist that always bothered me was locomotion. To me teleportation (as the only means) or stick movement kills the immersion. Escape rooms are about walking and discovering and finding objects, clues and hidden passages. So that gave birth to my non-euclidean endless walking project.

Around a month ago, I still feel that moment after hours in front of the PC, at midnight, I was close to shutting the whole project down. I would claim I am not the worst developer out there, but the technical problems seemed so insurmountable, the vision too bold, and the project again maybe too big to ever finish. Deja Vu.

The next morning I had a sudden insight that resolved so many issues at once and propelled the project from a pure playground to something astonishing. I even find myself playing for longer periods of time just because of the effect of being able to actually walk inside of an endless virtual environment.

My last blog post was about play area detection and compared to today so much has happened and evolved in this regard. Looking at the statistics, they slowly start to add up:

  • 252 commits since 25. August 2019
  • 14.7 gb project repository size (50 gb when checked out)

Here a short list of the most important things that happened the last month:

  • Seamless, artifact free VR transitions between rooms back and forth
  • Automatic back-portals and one-way portals
  • Portal support through existing walls (simple geometry, complex to come later)
  • Dramatic performance gains of 400+% and much more potential ahead
  • Object transitions between rooms with full physics support
  • Object grabbing, using and throwing
  • Automatic intro and outro rooms
  • Text and variable binding support
  • Programmatic build pipeline
  • Menu UI, following player
  • Additional maze pieces
  • Padding settings and visualization
  • Guns and bullet hell logic
  • Scenery support
  • Death and repositioning
  • Music
  • Detecting changed boundaries at runtime
  • Extensive debug tools
  • Way too many purchases on the Asset Store during Black Friday
  • and tons of internal fixes, refactorings and enhancements

What does all that mean though? Is there a game? Something to show? Not yet. But hopefully by the end of January there will be a Sidequest version that everyone can try out. It won’t be a fully fledged escape room. More a technical demo for early feedback and to establish the production pipeline for constant updates.

But to make it fun, I want to include at least some small room. And to show the tech I figured why not create one additional experience where you have to run through a police training course and shoot targets in record time? I have the maze generator and physics support. The rest is rather easy. And my early tests show: it’s hella cool.

There are two big goals directly afterwards:

  • A real escape room based on the pyramid of Giza
  • A way for anybody else to contribute escape room experiences

The first goal will really help me to get everything in shape but the second one could potentially be huge. An escape room platform. If you have followed earlier blog posts about the tile map editor, build tools and programmatic descriptive levels, you might have seen that one coming. I see huge potential in this and it would give artists and creatives around the world a platform to create without having to solve the hard problems.

I believe by now that this niche of room scale endless walkers is some sort of protected island that is not super easy to replicate. There are two other VR projects out there which can pull this off, because getting this technology right in my eyes is simply long and hard work, for which not a lot of google-able reference material exists.

Closing this review, I am super positive looking into 2020. There is so much happening in VR right now, technology has advanced so much and Sidequest has become such an amazing platform for authors before going through the hassles with Oculus Store and the likes. Let’s make it truly awesome.

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