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Hawken dev details the challenges of virtual reality

by John Keefer, Mar 29, 2013 7:00am PDT

After it was revealed that Doom 3: BFG Edition would not be shipping with the Oculus Rift when it goes to retail, another game had to step forward to be the poster child for the VR goggles. Adhesive Games accepted the challenge with its upcoming free-to-play multiplayer mech game Hawken.

Oculus Rift was at GDC showing off a Hawken demo to give spectators and developers a feel for the VR experience. But the demo was missing a few features--notably, a targeting reticule and heads-up display (HUD). That's something Hawken producer Jason Hughes told Shacknews was a bit of work.

"We actually pulled a lot of things out of that demo," he said. "One of the most interesting things we found while getting this demo ready for GDC is how much is too much information for the player. HUD aspects are something that will take some tweaking because we need to figure out where is that spacing in relation to your eyes."

He said other decisions had to be made, including which other HUD elements to take out, and the positioning of the cockpit in relation to the player so the depth feels right. "At first we tried to focus on the multiplayer experience, but then we realized that for the four or five minutes that someone is going to be sitting there, everyone seemed to be more interested in trying the goggles out than getting in there to battle, so we pulled a lot more stuff out for a better first-time experience."

Hughes said that the big issue now is not so much a technical aspect, its the convergence between where things are in relation to the player, the field of view, and even the right number of visual effects on the screen. "We had to turn off some of the effects because when they were put into a stereoscopic view, they didn't translate very well," he said. "So we have some fine-tuning to do."

Hughes acknowledged that the VR goggles aren't the final shipping version, and that Hawken still has a little ways to go before its version 1.0 launches later this spring. The final decision on what to include in the VR HUD vs. the regular PC HUD will be a matter of prioritization.

"We want it to be a basic plug-and play experience. When the Rift is detected, you're going to get a different UI and a slightly different experience because the UI will not work in the same way when you are wearing one of those. In the HUD, there is a lot of information that is useful, but not really necessary. You don't want your eye fighting to see what's in the distance and what's on the HUD."

He added, however, that it is possible a hotkey system could be used just to pop up the removed information. "We already have the functionality in the game. Press a key and a minimap pops up where you can set waypoints for your team. So a hotkey for the HUD is very possible."

He said that Adhesive Games wanted to partner with Oculus Rift because the VR experience is new and the game seemed like a natural fit. "VR has gone untouched for awhile. Everyone wants it, though. Everyone has that ultimate magical experience that they want. But there had been no progress and it had been sitting stagnant. This is the first step in a long time. And it makes sense for a game like this. The experience works really well with what they are trying to do."

Although Oculus Rift was using Hawken at GDC, it is not the only game that will be ready when the VR goggles ship later this year. Team Fortress 2 just added a VR mode in a recent update.





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