Katie and John reached many news feeds this year after their efforts to track their cat while using the Vive — no more stepping on a cat while in a virtual world! They’re running their own independent game studio — Triangular Pixels, and have just started a Patreon to help fund their efforts. Katie took the time to chat about their VR tracker and their VR efforts so far.
The first thing I wanted to know about was the cat tracker! I’ve had the experience of attempting VR around cats and definitely can see the value in this. It turns out, all the employees at Triangular Pixels have cats — there are four cats and four employees! Sounds like a great work environment but definitely a potentially dangerous one for the cats with VR-blinded humans stumbling around. Katie points out that their cat doesn’t really have a choice… he needs to cross the VR area of the office:
“Our VR space is between the door and the rest of the office. Our cat likes to hang out in the office area — especially next to the sun coming in. If he wants to get anywhere else, he has to cross the VR area. You can see how this can be a problem if we’re blindfolded by our HMDs! He’s also pretty persistent and smart — he’ll open the door to get in and out as he wishes, and if you lock it he’ll scratch and cry at it.”
“For a while, we’ve been tempted to see how we can track him around the space for his own safety, as he can be stepped on and kicked if we (or him) are not careful! We’ve been waiting for something like the Vive Tracker, which enables us to do that.” — Katie Goode
However, this tech isn’t just for tracking pets. The team are actually looking for this to be something much grander in scale, this was just an initial prototype. The goal of Tracker VR is to get any 3D scripted and animated model into any VR software… which is a huge task! “It’s easy enough to create and track objects for your own software — but a LOT harder to get them into all games! John has been exceptional and has found a way to get the program into the compositor.” If this is successful, I can see a lot of valuable uses for this level of object tracking across apps.
John and Katie, two long time game developers, met at Sony London Studio while working on an AR title. At the time, the Morpheus project was emerging which became PlayStation VR. Katie says they haven’t explicitly set out to create a VR studio, just “an independent one by the beach”. That sounds like a pretty good studio to me — beachside game studio with four cats! Love it. The main aim of the studio was to enable them to be creative in their own ways and VR has peaked their interest as an exceptionally interesting space to work in.
At the moment, they are exploring local multiplayer VR gaming in particular. As Katie explains, “Ever since we came up with our social screen back in 2014 we’ve seen the benefits of allowing people to enjoy company with each other — even if someone is inside VR. We expanded our social screen for the Oculus Mobile VR Jam in 2015 and won a prize for our efforts. We have both always loved party games, so take a lot of inspiration from those.”
The biggest difficulty so far with working in VR? Finding the space for it:
“The biggest difficulty was actually finding the space to be able to develop in. May VR users want to set up their rigs in as big of a space as possible – and want their content to take full advantage of it. If you’re creating a game in a tiny area, your game will feel as though players don’t have to use the big space, and they will stay very static. If you have a big space, you can design up for larger spaces, but naturally be able to play test in smaller spaces too just by changing your chaperone. I’m not sure how to fix the problem! Ultimately it depends on where you live and work!”
Katie also spoke about their new Patreon and the reasoning behind it. They are hoping to use it to fund their side projects, like Tracker VR, which the VR community can benefit from alongside content which helps the VR community such as blog posts, talks and Unity assets:
“We’re always wanting to experiment and the time we do so is out of our normal working hours. We would like to be able to start work on side projects during core hours and pay for staff time and outsourcing on those projects.”
It is also an option to allow people who enjoy their creations and want to give a bit more than the game price, to share a bit more to help their game studio while also opening up a way for these fans to discuss ideas and more with the team.
“We often get told that we charge too little for Unseen Diplomacy – that people are valuing it a lot more than it is (Editor note: It is quite inexpensive at only $2.99 USD on Steam right now!). And we sometimes create software and games which we would accept donations for but don’t want to sell or ones we don’t want to give away necessarily but also don’t want to set up store pages for. Patreon allows us to bring all these together under one site and gives people the ability to support us like they have been requesting to. It also gives us a way to communicate and discuss with them what we’re up to, and take on board their ideas. We can have two-way conversations between developers and VR users.”
Finding ways to fund VR projects is an ongoing battle for many developers out there, so if you’re a fan of their work, have a few dollars available, and are eager to see things like Tracker VR get developed and released — back their Patreon and show your support! It’s a tough one… should devs charge more for their VR games right now? Or keep them cheap enough to be accessible and accept donations from those willing to spend more? I wonder whether one day we might see a donation button on Steam that allows people to pay more than the assigned price?
I often like to find out what advice people in the industry have and want to pass on, Katie’s advice is advice I’ve shared often too —
“Try a lot of different experiences, but also watch other people play them too. Look for their reactions, not just what they say.” — Katie Goode
There is no way to know whether your VR creation is designed right for the audience unless you give it to them to honestly try without interfering. Eric from VirZoom had a similar lesson to share last year about playtesting their VR exercise bike to work what actually felt right to people (things that felt totally fine to the developers… didn’t quite work with the general public!). As Katie explains,
“I have met VR developers who are making some basic mistakes, just because they feel comfortable with their horrific control scheme or they know how to play their own game, and not tried anyone else in it. When you’re playtesting, make sure you shut up and just let the player talk.”
They have a range of personal projects on the way. I’m most excited to see where the Tracker VR project leads as it could be really handy for tracking real-world pets, robots (thinking of the near…ish future here), other housemates, coffee mugs… the options are endless and could save us from awkward accidents while in VR. It doesn’t even need to look like the object itself… which could be fun:
“We’ve tested it on our cat, as a cat model in game — but there’s no reason it can’t be your beer or wine glass or modelling a cat or dog as a tiny lion or T-Rex!” — Katie Goode
Thanks to Katie for taking the time! If you are interested in what Triangular Pixels are working on and would like to help support them, check out their Patreon page! If you haven’t played Unseen Diplomacy, it’s available on Steam right now!