Epic Games recently hosted a VR Jam during FMX 2016 in Stuttgart, Germany. The goal of the event was to highlight the innovation and creative exploration of FMX by inviting five talented teams of students and young professionals from throughout Europe to learn more about Unreal Engine, navigate the challenges brought on by content development in virtual reality and to explore their technical and creative skills within the fixed time limit and rules set of the VR Jam.
After participating in a half-day, VR-focused Masterclass on UE4 designed and delivered by Epic’s Luis Cataldi, the teams were given the rest of the week to work on an original project as they were issued the theme for the VR Jam - “What Moves You?” The theme was designed to allow the teams to tackle the challenges of locomotion in VR by inventing a movement mechanic that worked (and wouldn’t make the judges sick) and/or to emphasize the immersive nature of VR by delivering a moving (as in emotionally compelling) experience. Specifically, the teams were asked to think about what moved them as content designers and to develop something that would accentuate the newfound aspects of virtual reality that are moving content development forward.
While the Masterclass certainly prepared the teams with the must-know information, several Epic engineers were on-site to assist with the development of the projects by answering questions, talking techniques and otherwise offering their knowledge and expertise to the teams throughout the duration of the event. Beyond the chance to connect and collaborate on VR content development during FMX, one team was ultimately determined to be the winner by judges Kim Libreri (CTO, Epic Games), Nick Whiting (Epic Games) and Duncan Burbage (The Third Floor) and awarded a Vive Pre Development Kit to each team member via the Unreal Engine Dev Grants program.
While there could only be one official winner, all of the teams gained valuable experience during the event and they were eager to share their backgrounds and project details with the Unreal development community. The winning project, Orb Hunter, was selected by the judges for having the most engaging experience overall as it delivered clearly-defined objectives, accessible gameplay and a rich atmosphere that leverage VR to enhance the immersion of the environments.
Check out descriptions of Orb Hunter and all of the projects (including team member bios) below and stay tuned to the UnrealEngine.com for a special behind-the-scenes video profiling the event in the coming weeks.
TEAM 1 - DENMARK
Eduardo is a visual thinker with entrepreneurial flair and strong international experience, working across interactives, digital and print. Last year, he co-founded Decochon, a boutique studio for games, film and VR, where he is Creative Director responsible for all front-end design.
Jan-Marc is Co-Founder and Technical Director of Decochon, a boutique studio for games, film and VR, where he is responsible for all back-end design. Combining formal education with years of practice-based experience and research, he has delivered successful projects for clients across urban planning, retail and entertainment industries.
Morten Dalgaard Andersen
Animator of the inanimate and recent graduate from The Animation Workshop, Morten is curious and eager to learn new skills while being genuinely interested in what animation and interactive media can become. He directed the mobile game "Lost Tracks" in 2015 and has since interned with Aardman Animations and freelanced. Currently, Morten is working on "Nothing Happens", a short film and VR project, with Uri and Michelle Kranot at The Animation Workshop.
Game Title: The Space Between
Based on the theme "What Moves You," we explored the literal sense of jumping between objects in motion. For visual style, we make an imaginative world that combines the supplied assets in new ways, since creativity is something that moves us personally. Finally, the game is set in space since it is still something very hard to experience. The goal, in our space, is balance. Each planet has two colours; a target and a base color. There are Sheep Living in this planets, each sheep can be either, Red, Green or Blue (primary additive colours). When you send a red sheep into a planet, it will add red into the its own color. You can Match the Target and the Base color of each planet by adding or subtracting sheep from the planets. Once the Match is done the planet will achieve enlightenment.
Designing for VR proved to be the bigger part of the challenge, and before we started, we were unsure whether putting the player in space would cause motion sickness or not. We worked around motion sickness by placing constant static reference in front of the viewer to always give them some visual clues when traveling. At first we wanted the player to travel in all directions, but because this turned out to be somewhat disorientating, we decided to limit the places the player could go by placing all planets at the same height.
TEAM 2 - FRANCE
My name is Maïté Vandewalle,I am a Belgian student currently in the fourth year of the french school Supinfogame RUBIKA. I specialise in the creation of game art and am particularly fond of 3D modelling, sculpting and also painting. I've been drawing ever since I was a child, inspired by the comics my parents would bring home. But videogames have become a major passion ever since I got to hold a Nintendo 64 controller for the first time in my childhood: In the future, my aim is to perfect my skill as a 3D character and environment artist and develop a strong individual style.
Next to my studies, I started working on Unreal Engine 4 ever since it was released. I made some prototypes and participated in many game jams. For example, the game "Who Must Die" made for the Epic November Jam 2015, which will be published this year. I'm interested in the technical art part of game development. In the future, I would like to work for a big company because I want to experiment with the new technology in the videogame industry and try to overcome the current limitations of game design and creation.
I'm Antoine Gargasson, a french student programmer at SupInfoGame in my fourth year of five.
I've been programming games since I was 10 and I've tested a lot of software with different languages but I finally turned to Unreal Engine 4 and C++. I'm very involved in the Unreal community, I make tutorials and I help people as much as I can. I would like to start a professional career with a medium-sized company to acquire experience and recognition in programming gameplay and mechanics. My ambition is to become a lead programmer in a big company such as Bethesda or Techland. I would like to teach programming too because I love sharing my knowledge and meeting people who want to learn the language of programming.
Game Title: Au Château
We wanted to make a game with a new approach character control and we wanted to make something new that was not an FPS game. Finally, we have a game where you control your character with a target. Just look somewhere, press the movement button and the character will go to the target. It's a hack'n slash game with the view of a god game. The level design was done in consideration of the control and the game. There are three different levels within the map. The final aim of the game is to reach the castle. To progress, you have to find five statues and hit them to make a path on the bridge to the castle. You have to fight monsters to reach each statue. As a multiplayer experience, your friend can help you defeat the monsters and heal you. You can switch the camera to discover the other part of the map and to find new statues.
The technical challenge was to make a multiplayer game in two days and to adapt our level design to the way that we control our character. We wanted to avoid motion sickness and we wanted to exploit the Oculus to it's full potential so we created a fixed camera in the game. You can use your body to move the camera around. Strafe, bend over and crouch to discover every part of the game. The assets provided by Epic were perfect for a hack'n slash game. We used a lot of landscape models like rocks and castle's wall. Finally, two people can play the game at the same time and cooperate to end the game easily. They have to communicate to share information such as position of statues and enemies, which enhances the multiplayer aspect of the game.
TEAM 3 - SPAIN
Altea is a digital artist specialised and independent game developer based in Madrid. She has joined Blooming Buds Studio in 2015 after being involved on many different side projects including game prototypes, concept art and graphics design for professional studios, cultural institutions and independent projects. One of her last digital game project is Calendula.
My name is Eduardo Cueto Sola and I’m a Game Design student in ESNE, in Madrid. I come from a small town in the south of Spain, the only place in Europe with a desert, where many western movies were filmed. I have a background both in History and Philology as a student and scholar, and later went into game development. In the last two years I have published some mobile games and a PlayStation 4 game called Nubla, an artsy adventure that takes place in a world based on the paintings in the Thyssen Museum in Madrid. I am focused on being a Game Designer as I consider games an interesting way of conveying ideas and feelings.
I'm Luis Díaz (a.k.a. Ludipe) and I'm a spanish game designer working at AlPixel Games, where I also do PR and production. I've been making games for three years now, always using game jams and similar tools to keep learning more. I did design, coding and PR on "Missing Translation", a free puzzle game which won five awards and was downloaded by over 200,000 players. After that I started working on "A Place for the Unwilling", a project still in development which had a successful Kickstarter campaign. In my spare time, I keep making smaller games, so far I have managed to publish over 40 free games. One of them, "Who the Hell is Sarah?", was chosen by ARSGames as best alt game project, it got a grant to fund its development and it will be released on June 2016.
Game Title: Sketch Forward
Our goal was to explore the motivations of a person who has gone through a recent accident. Players are able to express how they feel about what's happening using colors, which also change the environment and the thoughts of the character, as they progress on a set of branching narrative levels which mirror the five stages of grief.
We were limited by our knowledge of the engine, so we decided to work on something that wouldn't require too much previous experience. We also thought it was important to use nothing but the Gear VR headset itself for input. To avoid motion sickness, we came up with a narrative solution to avoid movement. Ours was a concept that required a very specific scene, which was hard to achieve with the assets provided, but Altea was able to fake one that works pretty well thanks to being unable to move around the map. Since the player wasn't moving around we felt it was important to spend some time creating some positional sounds to enhance the immersion from the Gear VR.
TEAM 4 - THE NETHERLANDS
Mike von Rotz
My name is Mike von Rotz and I study 3D Animation at Utrecht University of the Arts (HKU).
I enjoy all things 3D, from concept to production. I consider digital painting, 3D modeling and shading to be my speciality, but can do generalist type work like rigging, animation and scripting. Currently I’m working on a VR experience together with Joost Jordens for our graduation project. After graduating I hope to work as a generalist for animation and games.
You can view samples of my work here.
My name is Wessel Baay and I'm from the Netherlands. I'm currently studying 3D animation at the Utrecht University of the Arts(HKU). For my third year project I'm creating an interactive VR experience with a team of three students. I believe that VR is the future and I hope to continue to create content for VR after my graduation next year.
My name is Joost Jordens and I'm from the Netherlands. I study 3D Animation at Utrecht University of the Arts (HKU). Together with Mike von Rotz I'm currently working on a VR experience as my graduation project. After graduating I hope to work at a place where I can be involved with concept-development, direction, design and production. I don't have a complete portfolio online yet, but you can find some of my work at these links:
Game Title: Mr. Wiggles
As soon as the theme 'What Moves You?' was revealed we asked our self 'What moved us to be here, at this jam'. The key word that came up was 'Curiosity'. We are curious about how VR will develop in the next few years and how we, as animation students, can contribute to this development. We decided to create an experience where the viewer explores their curiosity from the very first moment while adding in an element of surprise.
We wanted to see if we could make this experience without using any of the available pre-made assets from InfinityBlade, ShooterGame and Showdown (UE4 out of the box), except for sound. This is a standing experience. The only control you need is your head and the 'A' button on the controller. Make sure you use every angle that your VR device provides and stay curious!
TEAM 5 - THE NETHERLANDS
My name is Frank Hartman and I am from the Netherlands. I am currently a second year software engineer/game design student at the Fontys University of applied science in Eindhoven. As a game designer, I like to discover the new possibilities in virtual reality. Beside that I would like to combine new technologies within games. My dream job would be to have my own startup with a group of creative and enthusiast people.
I am an ambitious game programmer with three years of experience under my belt. I like to explore rising opportunities to create awesome games and deliver experiences that people will never forget. I am currently finishing my studies at the Fontys ICT in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. I’m Dutch, but English has grown as a second nature. My dream job is to work for a medium-to-large company and help create amazing entertainment games as well as games including the rising VR genre and possible holographic applications when the technology has been unlocked! I don’t shy away from any experience I can gather in the form of side-projects or gamejams either. As a person, I am an enthusiastic, achievement-striver and honest man. I love activities, rewards, upgrades, hard work paying off and good food! I don’drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs. Sweet, juicy spare ribs at the Ribs Factory in Eindhoven is my favourite go-to dinner.
Ryan van den Bogaard
Ryan van den Bogaard is a student/indie developer from the Netherlands. He is a trained Application Programmer and has followed up his studies with a study at Fontys University of Applied Sciences to become a Software Engineer which specializes in Game Development. He aspires to be an (independent) Game Developer and/or Engine Developer to further his interest of new technology.
Game Title : Orb Hunter (WINNER)
Orb Hunter is a game that involves the player lurking around the map, destroying orbs whilst trying to avoid the guardian that's protecting them, because when you get caught, you die. We really wanted to make an immersive experience, so we focused on the sound and the environment of the game to create an awesome atmosphere for the player to lurk around in. We also challenged ourselves by not using any controller other than the Oculus Rift itself to truly grasp the power of the DK2. However, that raises the question, how do we move around?
Well, imagine a big angry guardian running at you, the most natural thing to do is to take cover, so you'll likely duck. Doing so, you'll often look at your feet. We've made it so that whenever you look at your feet, you'll teleport to the next location and so that's what makes you move.
This resulted in a mostly awesome experience. The graphics aren't top notch, we used mobile graphics for performance instead, but the atmosphere as mentioned before really came together and making the game self-explanatory with the tutorial really makes for a nice, tense and involved experience where the DK2 is used to its fullest.
Not having a controller was the biggest drawback we took upon ourselves and we solved it quite nicely by looking at our feet to teleport. However, at first, we had settings that would make you look all the way down up to about 80 degrees before teleporting and doing this several times in a row really put a significant stress on our necks whilst playing. Tweaking this setting until it was just right was quite the endeavor for our dear Frank, you can ask him about the neck pain he experienced anytime. However, when we nailed that it was just great!
Another issue we had was the AI's pathfinding and animation setup. Our guardian often got stuck around corners and avoided paths that were too narrow. We had to take this into consideration with our level design, so for the first level, we added a lot of corners and had almost no dead ends to still get that tense feeling, so the guardian could come from several locations to keep the player on his toes.
Our other significant issue was our lack of natural ability to determine where we are looking. We wanted to have some kind of HUD element to help the player out. But of course, in VR, having UI in your face can be quite immersion breaking. So we initially had a target icon (via a linecast) at the impact location of where we were looking, but that felt out of place. Then we tried to add a light texture to the player's spotlight (flashlight), we had to amplify it by the power of 400,000 to get a decent effect, which of course, is a lot. Then we added fog and the light wasn't visible as easily anymore. To improve that, we brought back the target icon, but used another engine icon that had 6 gradient white dots around the center, which you can see in the game now. That, along with the light texture, improved our accuracy of perception (which in turn improves destroying Orbs) making both levels, especially the second, a lot more satisfying to play!
Lastly, Git gave us a lot of trouble. So we're now officially trained Git shell warriors as well.
That's all for now, but please keep an eye out for a special behind-the-scenes look at the FMX VR Jam here on UnrealEngine.com and, as always, feel free to follow Unreal Engine on Facebook and Twitter for all of the latest.