Level Up KL 2016: Betting big on arcade games for VR
By Ajith Ram November 16, 2016
- D.U.K.E: Dimension Ultimate Keeper first in-house game
- ArenaVR arcade platform seeking investors and partners
According to Deloitte Global, virtual reality (VR) will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about US$700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content. VR is likely to have multiple applications, both consumer and enterprise, in the longer term, but in 2016 Deloitte Global expects the vast majority of commercial activity to focus on videogames. They estimate sales of about 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million game copies.
At Level Up 2016, DNA caught up with Mohd Hezri Amir Bin Abdul Latiff, MD, Hezmedia Interactive. His company is heavily involved in developing VR applications and arcade VR games.
DNA: Here at Level Up 2016, you are showing off a zombie shooter. Does this mean that Hezmedia is focused on core games instead of casual games.
Hezmedia Interactive is a creative multimedia and game development studio established in 2009. We have been creating compelling IPs, mobile games and apps for various clients, especially on Android, iOS and web-based platforms. During Level Up 2016, we are actually showcasing our first VR game called D.U.K.E: Dimension Ultimate Keeper. It is a 3D sirst person shooter game that uses HTC Vive.
With the rise of virtual reality technology over the past few years, we started to take an interest in the technology and have developed core games to understand how VR technology works. Now, we have the capability to develop content and solutions in VR and we believe the skills and experiences that we have gained are not only applicable to gaming, but also other areas such as training and simulation.
While we are still focusing on casual games, having VR content development as part of our service offerings strengthen our company’s position as the leading game developer that specialises in edutainment and gamification in the region.
DNA: Was it difficult getting started in VR development? What were the initial obstacles?
For a startup game development company, it can be challenging to embark on VR development, especially if you have limited resources on budget & manpower. As the VR technology got more advanced, a lot of new tools, devices and best practices were introduced. Every couple of months, a new technology or device was launched by one of the major players in the VR industry and almost on a daily basis.
In order to always be relevant in the industry, it can be a full-time effort to catch up with the latest development, news and trends. VR technology comes in various type and forms, some are wireless and some are tethered. You might need to have enough capital to purchase and try out several VR equipment and devices, which can cost a few thousand dollars, especially for the high-end products like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
In terms of content development, it shouldn’t be a major issue if you are familiar with game development software like Unity and Unreal. However, from a game design perspective, the developer must realise the differences of UI & UX (User Interface & user Experience) when developing VR content as compared to developing normal games. In our case, we are fortunate to be funded by MDEC for our Research & Development on VR technologies. This helps a lot to overcome the initial obstacles faced by many newcomer in the industry.
DNA: Here at Level Up, we heard speakers like Alexander Fernandez talk about the difficulty of finding trained personnel with experience. Has this been a problem for you as well?
In our case, we have no problem finding and recruiting a team to work on our VR project. In terms of art, there are many quality 3D designers and modeller to develop assets for our game. For the programming side, studios may find it a bit hard to recruit a good talent and I believe it happens not just in VR project development, but also in the game development industry as a whole.
To overcome this, we hire programmers with a strong Unity background and allow them to explore and learn how to develop VR games and content along the way. I would say, 70% of the knowledge in developing a standard game is still applicable when starting a VR development project, and the remaining 30% is to understand and implement different SDKs and APIs that comes with the technology used. As for designers, they might need to iterate UI/UX design to achieve better experiences in VR.
DNA: What websites/locations do you use to recruit people?
For Hezmedia, we take a long time to recruit people to be part of our development team. Most of our current staff graduated from local universities and possess relevant game development background. They know about job vacancies from our website and apply through Emails. Most of them also go through an internship process prior to getting hired.
To hire a local VR developer might a bit difficult, especially if the developer is a newcomer or they do not have the time to groom and train the talent like what we do. Nevertheless, talent can also be sourced from websites like Upwork and Freelancer.com where you might consider people from different parts of the world work together online.
DNA: Are you using Unity 3D for all your projects? Have you tried other game engines?
Yes, we are using Unity for most of our projects including our first VR game, D.U.K.E: Dimension Ultimate keeper. There are other game engines available to develop VR content such as Unreal Engine. All have their own strengths and weaknesses.
For example, Unreal may have better graphics processing capabilities, but due to its steeper learning curve, finding talent might be a bit hard. As for Unity, it is a far more approachable game development tool and due to that, their user base is huge and finding talent is much easier.
We also utilise Unity’s huge Asset Store to acquire quality art assets like particle effects and sounds for our projects. Since it is much more effective in term of cost and time to work with Unity Engine, we decided to develop our project in Unity and have yet to try other game engine.
DNA: Do you have plans to get into PC or console development or is your focus exclusively on VR?
At the moment, we are focusing on developing more content for VR, especially for our own VR Arcade platform called ArenaVR. Along with our partner company, Flyx Technologies, we have created an advanced virtual reality platform in a form of an arcade booth.
The system doesn’t require any controller and is very simple to use. Player will need to enter the booth and wear VR head mounted display device to start their VR experience. They can roam or navigate in the vast virtual reality world just by using their body and hand gestures only. It is capable of solving the locomotion problem with recent VR technology.
The ArenaVR booth can offer a wide variety of games as well including multiplayer first person shooter, escape rooms, casual arcade games and many more, at a very reasonable price.
Players can also save their progress within their individual account and it will be stored in the cloud. The next time they come to play, they can load their progress and continue from where they stopped previously. This new model and new system will revolutionise arcade centers and develop a community of VR early adopters, gamers and enthusiasts under one roof.
DNA: What are your thoughts on augmented reality devices like Microsoft's HoloLens?
Microsoft’s HoloLens can be one of the most advanced Mixed Reality devices that can drive the mass adoption of similar technology on a global scale. The technology is very useful and can be applied for day to day activities in the near future - just like how people use laptops nowadays.
Currently, due to its high price and also the small field of view, we might see restrained adoption. However, as the technology advances and the cost comes down, I would imagine that individual people would buy it for personal use. It could reach a point where it will be as revolutionary and disruptive as the smartphone. As for us, we already have plans to develop solutions using Microsoft HoloLens and are looking for partners to embrace the technology together.
DNA: What are your plans for the next two years?
Along with our partner, Flyx Technologies, we are now at the stage of talking to potential partners, distributors and gathering valuable input and feedback on how to commercialise our ArenaVR arcade platform for theme parks, amusement/srcade centres and arcade distributors in Asian region.
We are also looking for potential investors for our seed stage funding and several other key partners to scale up the commercialisation activities once our product is accepted by arcade operators. Hezmedia Interactive will be handling the software and content and we plan to develop up to 5 more VR games in different genres over the next 2 years.
By the year 2018, we might reach a stage whereby we are ready to expand to other regions beyond Asia and we will be looking for the next stage of funding.