Virtual reality has unlocked new potential for video games, and enabled studios to explore creative visions that were never possible before.
One such studio is Finnish start-up Mindfield Games, which is home to veterans of Remedy, Rovio, Housemarque, RedLynx and more. In 2013, the team founded Mindfield specifically to create virtual worlds that only VR devices can do justice for.
The first example of this is Pollen, an upcoming first-person exploration game for PC and optimised for Oculus Rift. The game puts players in the role of an astronaut who finds herself stranded on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
Little else is known about the game, but Mindfield promises it will be story-driven, with an emphasis on spectacular visuals.
“Pollen is heavily influenced by movies like 2001: Space Odyssey and the original Solaris,” says CEO and co-founder Ville Kivistö. “We hope to capture the atmosphere from games like The Dig and Myst. The game is optimised to be played on VR headsets but you can fully enjoy the game even without one.”
While many engines offer VR support now, the team opted to concentrate on using Unity – and Kivistö says the decision was a no-brainer.
“Unity’s support for VR devices is pretty much the best in industry and we also have previous experience working with Unity so we were sure that we can fully realise our vision with it,” he says.
“The in-editor preview for Oculus is really useful, as is the short compile-and-play cycle that makes it possible to iterate really quickly. At the prototyping phase, we were able to prototype dozens of gameplay mechanics in a very short time, thanks to Unity’s ease of use.”
Vying for VR
Mindfield specifies Oculus Rift as the game’s target platform, concentrating on making it run smoothly on the pioneering headset, but that doesn’t mean it has neglected the rise of other VR devices.
“When we optimise for Oculus, we also optimise the game for all the other VR headsets as well,” Kivistö explains. “It is a natural choice to use in development as its dev kits have been on sale for the longest time – most of our VR headsets at the office are Oculus Rifts. The game will definitely be playable on other headsets as well, like Vive and OSVR, and we have plans to port the game to Project Morpheus as well.”
Developing for virtual reality is still largely uncharted territory, a challenge that Mindfield has embraced. As with many studios exploring the possibilities of VR, the team has encountered a number of obstacles, but its choice of tech has helped overcome these.
“Achieving the high frame rate is the biggest challenge,” says Kivistö. “When you have so many pixels with such a high frame rate, you’ll need to really optimise your draw calls. Unity’s great profiling tools have proven to be very useful, as well as its dedication to optimise the VR side of their engine, introducing features such as shared shadow maps and the upcoming DX12 support.”
Looking forward, Mindfield is hoping to see Unity add even more optimisations for stereo camera rendering, as well as support for new tools Gameworks VR and LiquidVR.
On the subject of developing with Unity – whether for VR or traditional games – Kivistö has the following advice: “Try to finish whatever you start. By completing your projects you learn best how the whole development process goes and what areas you should spend your time on during your next projects.”