By: Breanna Schnurr

Stephen Buchan, Head of Production – Games and Senior Producer at Dark Slope, has been gaming since ‘the beginning’ on early IBM computers. “My first games were text-based, where it was just text on the screen. And you think that would not be fun, but man, I burned so many hours playing those games.”

Since the days of Pong and King’s Quest, Buchan has become a part of the gaming development world at Dark Slope and other studios such as Ubisoft for many years. Buchan says he fell in love with gaming because of its interactivity.

“I get bored watching TV. I get bored watching movies. I want the back and forth, I want to be involved, I want to be controlling something. So gaming, to me, is just that perfect mix of relaxing but interacting at the same time and VR gaming takes it to a whole new level. In Virtual Reality you are completely immersed in the world and the interactions and gameplay feel more real and consequential. You are not just playing as the character…  You are the character.”

The path of production

While final products end up very different, Buchan says the crossover in developing VR and 2D games is incredibly similar. Teams go through conception, pre-production and technology phases to determine the game’s mechanics. Once the building blocks are in place, the team moves into building the game itself. “We’ve got a game design document, we’ve decided how our tech will work, we started building tools, then we go to production and various stages of user testing throughout alpha and beta stages,” Buchan says.

Overstimulation and stability are essential to see on external testers, but plot engagement is another significant element of having individuals test the game. “As developers, we know the game so well that we tend to stick to what we call the golden path,” says Buchan. “External testers, they like to wander. They like to do things that we don’t anticipate. And that helps us to find these things and to take care of them.”

Then the development moves into polishing and perfecting the game. “Basically, stop adding things to it and try to take what you have and make it work. It means making sure the game performs well,” says Buchan. “It means making sure the memory completely fits so that the game doesn’t crash. It means knocking down all those bugs and any stability problems, and it also means getting to game design and pulling on the levers and twisting the dials.”

Once polish is complete, game developers must ensure that the game meets the platform’s requirements. These requirements, such as performance and stability benchmarks, ensure a consistent and high quality user experience. Once we are approved, the game is prepared for worldwide release.

Creating 2D vs VR Games

In Dark Slope games and other games, Buchan typically looks for the effectiveness of user interaction [UI]. “I think one of the things that really separates VR from 2D is the interaction,” he says. “I love when I see UI that’s not button pushing. It’s pulling on levers or [virtually] eating something to make a choice.” 

Other examples of UI elements with physical interaction include the character answering a phone to receive quest information, turning a door handle or crawling through tight spaces.“There are so many opportunities to pass messages on to the player that can keep them completely immersed in the world that they’re in,” says Buchan. 

As players have complete 360 control of their headset, teams must also consider the visual aspect. “It’s a great opportunity to hide little things and make wonderful little vistas for the player to see. The immersion of the visuals, if you take them into consideration, can take our games to another level.”

Something that continues to excite Buchan about VR is how new the gaming style is. “There’s not much in the 2D world where you bring up a game, and you’re surprised by something that they did because it’s almost all been done,” says Buchan. “But VR, you can still be surprised, and I think that’s really exciting.”