My first VR project was a labor of love, fandom, and madness. After diving into VR as a consumer, I wanted to try making my own demo. I attended a Unity workshop, and decided to make my own game for the Samsung Gear VR.
I needed to make a simple, short virtual reality experience, with a professional level of polish, close to that of the work I’ve done in other media.
This was a solo project for me. I was a neophyte enthusiast, diving into Unity for the first time. But I was motivated by the possibility of creating an interactive experience in 3D, that would immerse the player.
Virtual Reality is a complex environment that upends many of our established norms about design and user experience. This project was intended to explore those new limits, without getting distracted by engineering challenges or constraints. As a result, my goal was to design a game without rewriting too much code. I do have some scripting experience, but I'm a designer first, and I wanted to stick to the design mindset for this project.
Fortunately, Unity released a VR Sample Project for its game engine. I decided to reverse engineer a demo from one of the mini games that Unity published in its project file.
I knew I wanted to “reskin” one of these games into a Star Wars experience. Partly it was because I’m a fan of the movies, but also because it would be a familiar experience for friends playing the game. Using the iconic music, sound effects, dialog, and environment in a new format sounded like a fun way to get to know Unity’s software, while leveraging the media production and design skills I already have at my disposal.
Unity’s VR Sampler project included a set of mobile VR examples: A pair of shooting games, a maze game, and a flying game. I’m not very good at shooters, and the maze game seemed complicated. But the flying game the reminded me of a pivotal scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where Han and Chewie escape the Empire’s clutches by flying into an asteroid field. I realized this flying scene was perfect for reproducing the asteroid chase as a mini game. After all, everybody loves the Millennium Falcon: It’s the fastest hunk of junk in— well, you know.
To create the intro level to the game, I started with a 3D model of the Millennium Falcon’s cabin. I had two options: optimize every single piece of geometry, or render a 360º image. Since mobile VR interactions are pretty limited, and the opening scene only had one link, I decided go with an image render.
I made a short, simple flying game, where players fly through rings and dodge or blast asteroids while soaring through space, pursued by a Star Destroyer. It sounded like Star Wars, looked like Star Wars, and impressed my friends. It's surprising how that familiarity can carry an simple experience. But like any beginner’s project, Asteroids showed me how far I still have to go, as a VR developer and a game designer.