TAIPEI, Taiwan — Just about half a year ago, HTC realised that its yet-to-be-launched Vive VR product was going to hit the market without an experience good enough to convince consumers to try virtual reality.
So it turned to a group of its own employees, and spun them out into an independent entity whose mission it was to build the next great game for the Vive.
This, in addition to committing a $100 million fund in April to grow VR startups around the world.
The head of HTC’s internal startup, Fantahorn, is River Ho, a senior manager within HTC who had been at the company for four years. Prior to that, he had spent more than a decade as a games producer and designer at different Taiwanese games studios.
“Getting the opportunity to spin out a games company was a dream,” Ho told Mashable on sidelines of the Computex conference.
Fantahorn has 15 employees and is entirely bankrolled by HTC, although Ho doesn’t rule out seeking additional funders down the road. The team of 15 are made of industry veterans with more than 10 years of games design and engineering experience, he said.
“It became clear that (HTC) needed a team to build something really great for the Vive,” he said.
In just six months, the team produced a WWII military shooter called Front Defense.
I tried a demo of the game at Computex, and it was honestly one of the best VR experiences I’ve had.
You’re placed within a roughly 4×4 metre playing space behind a ring of sandbags as enemies approach and attack. Your defence: rifles, hand grenades (that you put near your mouth to pull out the safety ring), a mounted machine gun and a rocket launcher.
You play with two handheld controllers that are “seen” by two mounted optical cameras in both corners of the room, facing you. This allows the controllers to become your hands during the game, as you pick up guns, and reload by plucking out the magazine and flinging it onto the ground before picking a fresh round from your waist belt.
Everything felt natural and intuitive, except for one point when a lamppost fell in front of me and landed across my mounted machine gun, so I couldn’t really see what it was aiming at.
Everything felt natural and intuitive.
Ho said the game was designed to avoid the dizziness that’s associated with VR. Besides latency issues, which can throw people off, a lot of VR apps take you whizzing through the skies, or make you see that your environment is moving around you, while your body stays still.
That causes a fair bit of discomfort in people, he said. That’s why for Front Defense, the user is placed within the quadrant and any movement of the environment is natural, related to how the user’s head is moving, whether the player is crouching or dodging bullets whizzing by.
“We had to find a way to make the game still fun while you’re ‘fenced up’ on the spot,” he explained.
Besides the technology, the game was visually a treat — probably thanks in part to Ho’s background as a comic book artist before he got into the games industry. The colour palette was a realistic spectrum of army greens and browns against brick buildings, and the fiery explosions looked natural.
While Fantahorn is an HTC-backed entity, so its allegiance lies in making games for the Vive, Ho doesn’t rule out eventually creating games for other VR products, like the Oculus Rift. But it’ll likely be tapped for whatever mobile phone-based VR headset that HTC is rumoured to be working on, although he wouldn’t comment on that.
“Right now, we are just thinking about Front Defense,” he said. “So far, I’m pretty satisfied.”