Overkill VR is a result of cooperation between two teams: Game Troopers & Starloop Studios.
Game Troopers is the official publisher of Overkill VR, managing promotion, marketing and distribution. Game Troopers is also an experienced publisher in mobile gaming, with a strong background in the Windows phone & Windows PC markets. While Starloop Studios is a multi-platform studio formed by developers and artists. Starloop has had many successful projects on different platforms, including PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, mobile, VR, and more. This experience gives Starloop a unique perspective on game development in different environments and, as the devs state, increases their potential for success.
Starloop’s biggest title to date is Make it Rain – The Love of Money, a mobile clicker with more than 20-million downloads across its three platforms, Android, iOS and Windows phone. These are the teams that created Overkill VR. Here’s how it happened.
Taking The Plunge
In the spring of 2016, during a typical lunch at the office, the heads of Game Troopers and Starloop were talking about VR, the revolutionary new development in gaming. They had worked on small projects in VR before, but nothing significant and with their personal stamp. Despite being an indie studio, their lunch talk led them to decide they wanted to make something really big in VR, something that would feel very immersive to the player.
They knew that starting a new VR game from scratch would take time and resources, and was risky for an indie studio. They acknowledged that they couldn’t afford to drop other smaller projects because they’d need them to keep the studio alive. And they knew there was a risk and they might fail. Maybe this VR project couldn’t get completed without all the company resources directed towards it, maybe its quality would suffer, and what about competing deadlines between it and other bread-and-butter work?
But then they saw a way, a path between the rock and the hard place. What if they made a VR port of one of their own games? Development would be easier than starting completely from scratch, they’d save time and money, and allow the team to immediately focus on making a VR experience unlike one ever seen before. And so it began.
What did you cut? Reasons?
The overall project vision came easily, but not without some quandaries. The first big decision centered on the headset to work with. Each had pros and cons, and a good market presence. But one had an ace in the hole. The HTC Vive had a strong ally in Steam. As users, we feel integrated with Valve, and that ultimately made the choice easier.
The second big decision was choosing the game from our library to port to VR. After doing some benchmarking, brainstorming and asking our team, the choice was Overkill 3.
We had many ideas and thought we knew how to bring them to fruition on VR, but then reality set in. Overkill 3 is a free-to-play mobile game where there is a whole economy around every significant action taken. That’s impossible in a VR environment. So the entire economy of the game had to change.
And this affected much more than the cost of a gun in the game. Things like damage, ammo needed to complete a level, HP of the enemies – all this would be different, changing much more than originally envisioned and planned.
There were also some problems with the VR itself, and effectively showing some stages of the game. The movement in the game was mainly under control, but there were special moments that we didn’t know how to tackle. The chopper stages were especially difficult. How could we add this specialized movement while already facing challenges with normal movement? In the end, putting a player on a chopper in continuous motion, while they try to aim at enemies and avoid motion sickness, was a mission impossible.
And there were camera issues beyond the chopper stages. In every game, there are scenes where you experience the action from an external, third-person point of view, scenes where the motion and kinetics are the most important thing, like jumping over a gap, or keeping someone else safe in a flurry of bullets. How do you do that without giving up the first-person view? And how do you transfer the immersive feel of jumping from first-person to third-person? In the end, we decided to cut those scenes, since a fully immersive experience was our ultimate goal.
Things learned Developing in a VR world
When we started early access, some features of the game were taken out, while other were kept in. When you’re working 8-9 hours a day on the same project, you get used to things that might feel weird for someone new to the game. That was what happened with the cover system, the core feature of the gameplay.
If you look at the original game, having a cover to protect you from coming bullets is always an advantage, even though its height is just one and a half feet. In the early stages, testing gameplay at the office, we didn’t see any problem crouching a few times. But later on, we realized crouching was difficult, and not a good thing when you want to just have some fun and play a VR game after a stressful workday. Then we discovered that vertical covers worked fine in the game, offering the same amount of challenge but avoiding the physical overload felt after playing for an hour.
It’s all about verticality when you play a deep horizontal game. Playing on a mobile screen limits your field of view, but in VR, where you can see all around you, your perception demands harder challenges. In a few levels, some spawn points for the enemies were in vertical spots, above or below the player area. We realized that the feeling of having enemies at heights different than you’d expect adds more adrenaline to the gameplay. When the enemy is directly in front of you, you can keep the situation under your control, but when you have a sniper on the third floor of the building next to you, things change.
Hear, Test, Implement
We learned so much from community feedback, and we tried to incorporate what we learned in early access, to give the community the best product we could make, the product they wanted. For instance, our initial concept of automatic reload was wrong, and so after hearing from our community, we developed manual reloading. This feature was very popular and appreciated by the players, and many of them congratulated us for designing it.
If we learned one lesson on this project, it’s that you have to listen your potential players. This is a must in this industry that is very easy to forget. You must keep it in mind.
Both companies have grown through all the early access development. With the EA finished, the game completed, and thinking ahead to upcoming projects, both teams are in good shape, and ready to continue their adventures in VR.