Virtual reality (VR) has the ability to bring simulation-type experiences to life like no other technology has before it. While we’ve already seen this applied to multiple genres such as racing and fishing, VR is only just being applied to one very specific type of shooter; the hunting videogame. Now mobile app developer Glu Mobile is making its VR debut with Deer Hunter VR on the Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD). VRFocus recently spoke to the team about its work.
In the interview below Mike Rossmassler, Senior Game Designer at Glu Mobile, talks about the decision to bring the developer’s popular series to VR and how it’s been changed for the Gear VR. He also talks about the possibility of more VR work from the studio in the future.
VRFocus: Of all the franchises you’ve worked on, why bring Deer Hunter to VR?
Mike Rossmassler (MR): Deer Hunter felt very natural to bring to VR for two reasons; audience reach, and mechanical fit. Deer Hunter is a well-known franchise, adored by millions of players worldwide. Bringing it to VR allows players to explore a whole new dimension of gameplay. Deer Hunter in virtual reality made sense to us, because the core gameplay mechanic of carefully hunting in lush environments really feels magical and immersive when the targets really appear to be sitting right before your eyes.
VRFocus: What does virtual reality add to the Deer Hunter experience?
MR: VR adds some very interesting aspects to the Deer Hunter experience, some that directly affect gameplay, and some that don’t. We built out the environments and the gameplay menus to make the player feel comfortable and grounded as he or she navigates through the game. Other moments, like seeing a wolf or bear charge at you become truly heart-pounding, once they leap at you in stereoscopic 3D.
I feel like the smaller touches really help to push the player into the “Magic Circle,” where the distinction between the player’s real world, and the virtual game world begins to disappear. Seeing ducks fly over your head, or fireflies floating in your field of vision don’t dramatically change the gameplay, but seeing those in stereoscopic vision makes the environment and animals feel much more “there.”
VRFocus: How is the title played? Does it require a gamepad?
MR: Deer Hunter VR can be played with or without a gamepad. Using the headset, the player can control aiming, shooting, and reloading with the touch pad, and can use the Gear VR’s sensors to look around, and make navigation choices in the environments and menus. The player has access to all of the same control options using a paired Bluetooth controller.
VRFocus: What did it take to adapt the experience to VR? How does it differ to Deer Hunter 2016, for example?
MR: Adapting Deer Hunter to VR was a complex process. We had to optimize a number of game systems to improve player experience, both on technical and gameplay fronts. We did a lot work to ensure consistent performance on the device, and redesigned the game menus. We laid the gameplay menus out in the player’s field of view with a comfortable 3D design to greatly improve navigation flow and accessibility.
We developed a new weapon scope experience for VR. The player uses a VR scope when they zoom in, which is displayed in 3D space in front of them. In addition, we offer a unique “one eyed scope” option where players can look through a scope attached to their weapon, as they would in the real world. With this option enabled, the player is required to close one eye to line up the perfect shot, just as if they were aiming a real gun.
We also spent a lot of time reducing motion sickness. Early on, we had a slow-motion camera that followed the player’s final shot. Combining this uncontrollable movement along a rail, with the ability to look in any direction at any time created a lot of vertigo and motion sickness, so we went through a lot of trial and error to make this moment impactful and interesting, without sacrificing player comfort.
A lot of optimization was necessary to hit 60FPS, even on the Galaxy S6. Almost every shader and huge amounts of game code were optimized for VR. The lighting was completely redone, both artistically and technically. We had to rethink all of the UI and come up with a new design for VR.
Some of the weapon stats had to be re-implemented. Stability in the Deer Hunter series normally causes the reticule and camera to sway. This is undesirable in VR as it can cause motion sickness, so we changed it to move the weapon and player hands instead. This meant that bullets no longer fire from the camera, so we had to redo how shot evaluation was performed as well.
VRFocus: Why did you decide to develop for Gear VR over the Oculus Rift or other HMDs?
MR: Glu has a history of being an early adopter with a lot of new platforms. Gear VR felt like a natural fit, because we already had a lot of experience developing Android titles for mobile phones. The team at Oculus was receptive and encouraging throughout, which made the working relationship with Oculus and the development process relaxed and enjoyable.
The game mechanics work well within the current limitations of the Gear VR. You don’t move very much, which prevents motion sickness and also limits the number of controls needed. The environments are beautiful and engaging, but there aren’t too many things right up in your face that may be distracting.
VRFocus: Will Deer Hunter also be releasing for those that own the Gear VR for Note 4?
MR: We have no immediate plans to support the Note 4.
VRFocus: Is Glu planning any more VR projects?
MR: We’re very interested in the future of VR, but we can’t comment on any future plans at this time. We’re excited about the launch of the Gear VR and can’t wait to see what great experiences will be available for the platform!