In VR, no-one can hear you scream. Actually, everyone around you probably can. Bear that in mind when experiencing Homebound, an intense VR app that takes you from orbit to ground-level… probably a little faster than you might be comfortable with.
Our wannabe astronaut is Wiktor Öhman, who led us through re-entry.
Hello Wiktor! What’s your day job, and what did you do on Homebound?
My name is Wiktor Öhman and I’m a 3D artist, currently working as an Art Lead at Quixel. On Homebound I was generally the sole developer, taking on all development areas myself, with help from friends and colleagues at Quixel. If you want to stay up to date with my endeavours you can follow me on Twitter on @Disting.
How would you describe Homebound?
Homebound is a short and intense sci-fi survival VR experience set in a near future aboard a space station orbiting Earth. As disaster strikes you are forced to abandon the station and try and get back home to Earth. It’s a sensory feast and features some of the most realistic graphics in VR to date.
What was the initial conception for Homebound – was it VR, the idea of exploring in a zero-G environment, or something else?
The initial conception of Homebound was to showcase Quixel Megascans materials, allowing users to inspect the real-world scanned data up-close in VR. As we were exploring the space station in VR we quickly started dreaming up gameplay scenarios one by one and suddenly it was shaping up to be a truly exhilarating experience.
Homebound was developed using Unreal 4. Why did you choose the Unreal Engine for development?
Seeing as I, as pretty much the sole developer, didn’t have any scripting or programming experience prior to developing Homebound, Unreal Engine 4 felt like a given choice considering its Blueprint system, allowing you to create gameplay and systems with a visual, node-based system.
You’re simulating weightlessness here; for the non-developers amongst us, how easy is that to do? Is it just a checkbox to say ‘weightless’ or is it more complicated?
Trust me, I hoped it would be a checkbox. The reality is that there are so many variables to keep in mind to make it an enjoyable experience. Acceleration, deceleration, top speed, easing and so on. This was the area that was tweaked until the very end of development, based on the feedback from the testers.
Being weightless can cause people to feel motion sick in VR. Any advice for anyone who might get motion sick, or who is worried about it?
Motion sickness is and was the main challenge when developing Homebound. Me, personally, never felt a hint of it, nor did the internal testers. Once we started alpha tests it quickly became apparent we needed to focus hard on it. The number of reports have decreased, but there seems to be a baseline that’s hard to break. If you are worried about motion sickness I would say, take it easy and take short breaks here and there. Each experience has its own kind of motion sickness so, according to my own experience, you can’t really get VR legs as many claim.
You’ve included a few Easter Eggs in Homebound – or homages, if you like. Want to share any, and why they were included?
One of the Easter Eggs we included has quickly become popular among the players – the “Simpsons Crisps”. This was added pretty late in the development, but is something we joked about quite a few times during the development. And if you look closely around the station you can see some photos of parts of the Quixel team.
In your view, is what happens in Homebound the worst thing that could happen to an astronaut? Or have you thought of other, more terrible fates?
Oh, I’ve thought of many terrible ways to die in space – the worst probably being simply drifting off into the vast nothingness just waiting to die. That seems pretty terrible.
What’s next for you in VR – what are you developing next?
Glad you had another question, so we get a chance to end on a more positive note! We’re in pre-production on our upcoming full-length VR game which will have the same focus on highly realistic visuals.
Thanks for talking to us Wiktor… and good luck getting home!