THE SUPERMARKET CHECKOUT HAS NEVER BEEN SUCH FUN!
For anyone that has used a self-service till in the supermarket, a battle with the technology is a familiar occurrence. With its game, Shooty Fruity, leading VR games developer, nDreams took this scenario to a whole new level.
About Shooty Fruity
A game that would challenge the world’s best multi-tasker, Shooty Fruity is set in a vibrant computer-generated supermarket. You are a shop worker, carrying out your everyday tasks, such as scanning goods, packing produce and serving food in the canteen. But the game isn’t simply an immersive job simulation; you are also tasked with defending yourself and your store from a frenzied onslaught of mutant killer fruit. To do this, you have access to an arsenal of fruit-killing guns and berry-bursting explosives, including revolvers, shotguns, and bomb launchers.
Shooty Fruity is the first VR shoot ‘em up from nDreams, the Farnborough based video games development company. “The starting point for the project came from prototyping a few game play ideas. We liked the idea of creating a game that incorporated the addition of a player having to do something else in addition to shooting. We were also excited at the prospect of working on a VR game that challenged us technically to get the physics right. The Shooty Fruity concept was the one we all loved, so it became the obvious project to be developed further” explains Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams.
To bring the project to market, nDreams brought in Brighton-based Near Light as a partner on the creative development of the game. This collaborative approach led to the development of a visually striking environment, with unique and memorable fruity characters. Unreal and audio middleware were used to create 24 different levels, each with three challenges that require different approaches to beat. Additionally, there was an arsenal of 18 different weapons to unlock.
In addition to the strong visuals, getting the script and the voice character right was crucial. The team wanted to develop a strong and droll personality and after numerous test sessions with voiceover artists, Esther was created.
As the unique ‘shoot and serve’ gameplay requires the player to multi-task throughout the game, it’s only possible to play by using a VR headset with two motion controllers. To maximise access to potential audiences, Shooty Fruity was released on PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
Launched globally in December 2017, the game has received phenomenal reviews, including an 80% metacritic rating. This has been reflected in strong sales figures, especially in North America. “The sales journey for VR games is different to traditional gaming, as they tend to stay around for much longer. With a traditional game, once it leaves the chart it disappears; for VR games, sales are more gradual as new consumers continue to enter the market and purchase headsets – therefore we have a longer sales tail” explains Patrick.
Creating a game for a number of platforms raised several technical challenges, and the team were keen to ensure that the player experience was equally great, regardless of the platform used. In tackling the issue of potential limitations in tracking controllers, the team deliberately limited the player’s need to move around too much; a principle that was central throughout the entire design and development of the game.
To ensure that everyone has a great gaming experience, lots of clever optimisations throughout the artwork and game code were added. Additionally, customisable height was added to take into account that on the PlayStation VR players are split between sitting and standing, as well as giving players of all different heights the chance to play.
Maintaining a high quality graphic experience throughout the game also proved challenging, especially when working to a limited budget. As Ben Hebb and Paul Mottram from Near Light explain; “It’s always a difficult challenge, as we need to ensure that the game does not drop frames, even in the most frantic bits of gameplay with lots of fruit and action happening on screen; not just for certification purposes, but also to ensure the players don’t feel sick. We spend a lot of time monitoring CPU and GPU usage and balancing the load between the two, but some FX can be incredible expensive when you’re rendering the scene twice and have to hit 90Hz.”
Finding the right partner
Many VR projects being undertaken in the UK bring together different partners to collaborate and create truly innovative and successful experiences. For nDreams, working with Near Light was crucial to the development of Shooty Fruity. Patrick notes; “We decided at an early stage to work with a new partner, and we spent a lot of time and effort to ensure that we found the right team with the right working fit. Getting this right was essential; but it did raise some challenges, such as learning to communicate in an effective way, especially given our two companies aren’t geographically close.”
Making the game exciting on a tight budget
Making an expensive, action game on the scale of more traditional gaming is not a viable commercial option for VR games developers. The consumer market for VR games is still relatively small, with a hardware continuing to provide a barrier to uptake. Additionally, the game had to be priced realistically to encourage sales. This led to budgeting challenges for the team who had to balance this against their ambition to create a high quality, fun and engaging game. “We designed the game with a specific budget in mind, but aimed to create the best VR game for the budget and I believe we achieved that” explains Patrick.
“Shooty Fruity has given nDreams a great calling card for the future, demonstrating the calibre of VR gaming that can be produced on a limited budget; as well as highlighting that VR games can be financially viable” notes Patrick. “We continue to see our income grow from the game, which we hope will continue for the next couple of years, with careful management of our price points and promotional periods. We have also been looking at options to develop the game further, including potentially releasing a multi-player arcade version.”
Patrick believes that even through the growth of the VR gaming market has been slower than predicted, there is still a market to tap into and he is optimistic that this will grow over time. “VR hardware is still a barrier to mass adoption; it is expensive as well as being big and clunky to set up and wear. I’m hugely excited by the imminent release of the Oculus Santa Cruz, which has the potential to be a huge game changer in the VR gaming sector.”
This potential increase in hardware sales could spell an exciting few years of opportunity for games developers working in VR gaming, but for this to happen, creative and engaging games need to be produced. Patrick is confident that with the great creative and technical talent out there, there are great possibilities for growth and investment in the sector.
“Having learned from the experience of developing Shooty Fruity, my advice for other developers thinking of working in VR would be to analyse the market and think hard about your budget; don’t try to make something epic as you may not make your money back. Also, don’t forget to speak to other developers; we’re all learning from each other on this exciting new journey!”