How did you get your start in the game industry?Duncan Moore: In short, a lot of persistence, self-taught design, some black-magic, and a massive dose of luck! Back around 2000, I was studying 3D graphics and animation at the Art Institute of Houston. At that time, there was a severe lack of game design schools, so that was about as close as I could get.At the same time, I started experimenting with level design on the side—all self-taught. I began building multiplayer and single-player levels for the Half-Life engine, mostly for a game called Half-Life: Opposing Force. I loved this multiplayer game! I burned thousands of hours playing, studying the fun, and building. I was literally consumed by this stuff and emerged from my cocoon with a good grasp of level design, world construction, scripting, and a handful of graphics skills from the Art Institute. Big thanks to my family for supporting me through this transformation, as I was pretty much a hermit for about four years!
In 2004 I got a little experience at a small startup game company in Houston. This company didn’t last very long but it gave me a dose of real world experience and landed me an interview at Insomniac ... the rest is history! Since then I’ve been methodically programmed by the amazing people around me at Insomniac to be a jack-of-all trades in design. I still feel like the kid who found the golden ticket! In all honesty, though, dogged persistence and a love for building things was what got me to the table.
Virtual Reality Travel Is Exploding. Who hasn’t wanted to walk down the streets of Venice, or escape to a tropical climate during a particularly rough winter? Some with a travel bug may find that they can partially feed their need for travel through virtual reality. In the fall of 2015, Marriott boasted about its ability to transport clients from London to Maui in 90 seconds, thanks to Oculus. The concept behind the campaign was that people would be inspired to travel, and book with a Marriott hotel. Since then, Hilton, Renaissance, and many others have followed suit.
What role did you play in the development of Stormland?DM: I mostly caused trouble! I had a great opportunity to co-direct the project along with Lead Designer Mike Daly. Mike and I were caretakers of the game pillars and worked with everyone on the team to steer Stormland towards fun and innovation at all times. It was our first time directing a project, and we learned some big lessons!
We wanted to do big things with Stormland—things that had never been done before in VR. Wearing my Director’s hat, I was often the guy who went to my talented coworkers asking them for crazy things ... like, “Hey Derek, can we construct an open world made of cloud layers and multitudes of islands that you could travel to seamlessly and can be reconfigured on the fly?” We threw big challenges at our team, and I’m just humbled by their ability to roll with it and exceed our expectations at every turn!
There are five individuals that have contributed greatly to the title virtual reality including Morton Heilig, Myron Krueger, Ivan Sutherland, Douglas Engelbart, and Jaron Lanier.
I had some part in just about every aspect of the game design, world creation, and story. A big part of that was working with the team to put together the game intro and main campaign story/macro. I also wrangled our first few demos and owned the design of those.One of the most memorable things was pushing for open-world climbing in VR. Mike and I were playing a new build of Stormland from early development. The traversal strike team had just implemented a climbing mechanic, and it was fun, but sort of limited because it was constrained to particular surfaces. We both wanted to see how it would feel to take off the reins and let players climb on any surface ... it was an exciting change! Some were skeptical at first, because this is a big deal and really affects the way you design and construct the whole world. We decided to take on the design challenge and went for it—we felt it was a perfect fit for VR and really made a bold statement about the open-world nature of our game.
What’s your favorite part of the game and why?
DM: I love the sheer immersion of it all. The promise of VR is to transport you to another world where you can lose yourself completely in role-play. This is so strong in Stormland, and there are many systems that come together to accomplish it.
Having the ability to freely explore the world—using your body to climb and traverse both feels natural and empowering. Seeing your full body animating and moving with you locks you into that character in a way many other VR games aren’t achieving. Our weapon systems and world interactions are physical and grounded in a way that feels tactile, yet isn’t too finicky—they find just the right balance between fun and realism.
It’s not all going to be plastic. Today, virtually everyone loves everything about VR, which accounts for the magnitude of its success. But the technology continues to evolve at a breakneck speed. One focus of technological advances related to VR is the engineering and design of the headset. Expectedly, there are ultra high-tech and complicatedly designed headsets out there. But some tech wizards have taken it one step further, thereby making it way more accessible to everyone. Now, there are tutorials about making VR headsets out of pieces of cardboard. Not only has this opened a plethora of possibilities for VR, it has gotten people to think in creative ways to upsize their experiences.
Satisfying interactions, a fully articulated body, freedom of movement, fantastic settings, detailed characters, rich 3D sound, beautiful vistas, a vast world—it all comes together to pull me in and suddenly I’m there: a scrappy android explorer, scavenging for resources, fighting the Tempest! It’s a small glimpse of how powerful VR can be, and it’s been such an honor to be a part of.Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Duncan. We can’t wait for the VR community to get hands-on with this labor of love.
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