Forestry is “a sandbox destruction and construction game built for maximum madness”. Chop trees and build elaborate creations with their remnants! Doug North Cook from Decoder VR shared what they learnt from putting it together.

Doug and some scenes from the Forestry game

Doug himself, a forest from the game and a robot creation built from the forest!

This game is such a neat idea. You’ve got an axe and you cut trees, but then you can use what you cut to build things! It all uses procedural mesh destruction and construction, which is a fascinating concept for a VR game!

“Logs. Trees. Axes. Secrets. Hidden items. Music? Sure. Your own campsite? I guess so.” — Forestry’s Steam page

It all began with the idea of a simple log cutting game which Doug says expanded beyond their mini-game concept.

A screenshot of early mechanics tests

Early mechanics tests

“When we first got our hands on a Vive we really wanted to start working on something that would only work in roomscale. We also really wanted to make something that was peaceful, contemplative, and relaxing. We knew a lot of people would be working on FPS and horror titles so we wanted to go as far in the opposite direction as we could. Originally we were working on a really simple little log cutting game that would have been more like a mini-game but instead we ended up making this.”

Tree chopping

Chopping down some virtual trees

I’m really glad to see new takes on virtual reality experiences, they really don’t need to be all the same! There are some really novel concepts, like this one, which only would work in VR with VR controllers and the level of immersion it provides. This is the sort of VR app I’d love to see more of. I especially like that people can be creative and make whatever they think up!

“We had a user spend over 2 hours building an elaborate house with furniture, a garden, mailbox, etc. We are really excited to start seeing more and more creations pour in now that the game is out.” — Doug North Cook

A wooden robot

A wooden robot constructed from the shards of wood in game!

Creating procedural mesh destruction and construction

So, how did they manage to get this procedural mesh destruction and construction happening? It sounds crazy complicated to put together something like that… turns out it was a lesson in using the strengths of your game engine!

“We actually got really lucky. We were building out the system ourselves, doing testing, banging our heads against a wall, and then Epic released an update to UE4 that had a good amount of the heavy lifting built in. We were able to use what they had, layer on top what we’d been working on, and then go from there. This is one of the huge benefits of working with an engine like UE4. They end up releasing updates that save us a ton of time.”

A campsite in the game

Such a nice peaceful campsite, right?

The most technically challenging part? Framerates.

This sort of game sounds crazy complicated and I’m almost certain it was! The most technically challenging part ended up being the ever-challenging… framerates!

“Framerates. God. The frames. Because we are allows players to create new geometry and spawn new objects constantly it took us a long time to get the game to be able to run at 90 fps on Oculus minimum spec.” — Doug North Cook

Getting a VR game to run at a reasonable framerate isn’t a nice to have in VR… it’s a must have! So that’s a tough problem to have… luckily they found a way to optimise it:

“We were able to get beyond through a lot of trial and error, testing, research, suggestions from other devs, and by throttling back some of our features. In VR, there is often a trade off between aesthetic, function, and performance.”

Their early low poly environment

An early build of their low poly environment

Teamwork is key!

The team at Decoder VR isn’t a massive team of people, it’s just two of them! I asked what that’s like and how they manage the workload:

“Being a team of two is crazy. We end up having me handle all the business, marketing, and dealing with the marketplaces. Mike ends up spending more time buried in fixing deep technical issues. We try to both stay hands on with development and make sure that we understand what each other are working on.”

“I recommend for small teams that you find ways to clearly break down responsibilities so that you all know exactly what you need to do. That has worked really well for us as we’ve gone through this process. That, and trust. We trust each other and that makes everything so much easier. ” — Doug North Cook

A forest in the game

I love how the forests look in game!

Who play tests your VR app is important

One of the key lessons that the team at Decoded VR learnt from Forestry was that the types of play testers they got weren’t the ones who’d end up buying and reviewing their app initially. Save yourself some time and get those people to play test your app before it’s live for the world to see!

“Not trying to find more play testers who were hardcore VR gamers (most of ours were devs and noobies). Those are the people that buy and review first. We learned a lot from their initial feedback on Steam that we are incorporating into our next update but we could have saved ourselves some headaches by doing that sooner.”

Stay connected

One key piece of advice that Doug wanted to leave VR devs out there with:

“Don’t let yourself get buried working on a project. Make sure you stay connected to other people doing the same work you are doing. That is where you will find energy, inspiration, and new ideas.” — Doug North Cook

Thanks to Doug for sharing some of their experience on Forestry! If you want to get to some chopping, head over to the Forestry page on Steam!

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