Thursday, September 8, 2016

XING: The Land Beyond coming to HTC Vive

The Big Announcement

Hello, world! My name is James Steininger, and primary VR developer at White Lotus Interactive. Our team is thrilled to announce HTC Vive support for our upcoming game, XING: The Land Beyond. In this blog post I will discuss the thought process behind integrating Vive, and perhaps discover the answer to the question: how many virtual coconuts does it take to make a Monty Python reference?

Mixed Media Photo #1 "Lost in the Jungle" in our VR Photoshoot Series. Be on the lookout for more to come! :D

First, check out this brand new gameplay video we made for Vive:

In case you are new to our development blog or had not heard of XING previously, let me introduce the game. XING: The Land Beyond is an immersive first-person, puzzle-adventure game set in the afterlife. Inspired by games like Myst, Portal, and The Legend of Zelda, XING presents players with a rich world to explore as they solve puzzles. XING may be enjoyed with or without a VR (virtual reality) headset, and has been carefully co-developed for both VR and non-VR.

Bringing XING to Vive has been challenging, but also insanely fun. Supporting both VR and non-VR styles of playing has offered an interesting design dilemma. It comes down to tackling these issues simultaneously:

  1. Making a game that speaks for itself regardless of the platform it is played on
  2. Making a game that feels natural and “made for” the platform it is played on

Deciding to Integrate Motion Controllers

HTC’s Vive includes a technology which is becoming increasingly important for VR: motion controllers. Like it seemed with VR headsets, XING naturally lends itself to VR motion controllers. Just as with the PlayStation VR version of Xing, the question arose: how should we integrate motion controllers?

XING has maintained a natural, “everything needs to be part of the environment” design language since its inception, which means motion controllers could add a lot to the experience and fit nicely into our existing game design. For example, when playing on the shoreline of Iztali Point, you can physically reach down to grab shells or swing your arm while tossing a coconut into the water!
Another bonus with motion controllers is that we can allow the player to hold one object in each hand, whereas on gamepad or on mouse and keyboard the player would only be able to hold one object at a time. So while learning to juggle durians may not be the best approach to solving puzzles, it is totally possible with motion controllers, and no, the game will not judge your juggling skills.
Mixed Media Photo #2 "The Flaming Durian"
Apart from objects that you can pick up and place, the majority of other game mechanics and powers are activated with buttons, pressure pads, or some other kind of simple action. For development, this means that motion controllers could be added into the game without much complexity. Actually, the toughest issue we have faced in VR has been hotly debated in the industry for the last few years: how do we move ourselves around in virtual reality? 

Moving Around the World of XING

There are two primary ways of moving around in XING: The Land Beyond. These include:
  1. Free Movement
  2. Teleportation
While I could easily write ten thousand or more words on the topic of locomotion in VR, in this post I am only going to cover what we believe are good defaults and options for XING. Teleportation is becoming a popular default movement option in many new Vive games and experiences, as it tends to be easy to learn and minimizes nausea. In order to Teleport in XING, you hold your thumb down, point at any location to which you want to travel, release your thumb, and voila! You teleport! For even greater control while teleporting, you can rotate your wrist to alter the exact direction you’ll be facing after the teleport.
Our Free Movement design has been tweaked and adjusted since the beginning of our VR development, but some of the older options like “Tank Mode” or “Click Turn Amount” are still supported on gamepad.

Free Movement is analogous to the FPS (first person shooter) controls used for PC or console monitor experiences like Bioshock or Portal, in which the user controls where they are facing and where they are moving by using a joystick, mouse, or keyboard button. The way you move in XING on Vive is simple: hold the touchpad down and you will move in the direction you are holding that controller. You can slow down by pulling up on the controller, so pointing directly up at the ceiling means you stop moving completely and pointing straight ahead is full walk speed.
Mixed Media Photo #3 "Crouching Lilypad, Hidden Rainforest"

We sometimes call Free Movement “reins” movement because it feels somewhat like controlling the reins of a horse. The other motion controller can be used to reorient the direction you are facing, which is especially useful when playing sitting down. While on gamepad the player can reorient themselves by clicking bumpers or pressing left and right on a joystick; on motion controllers you point and click in the direction to which you want to reorient yourself.
Free Movement is available for players who wish to use it. Teleportation can minimize nausea for those who are prone to it in VR. Both are great ways to play XING.

Final Thoughts

In regard to VR and XING: The Land Beyond in general, we have tried to be both pioneering and responsible. While wanting to put out a game and experience that inspires a new generation of VR gamers, we also want to put out a game that is true to our original mission. By pouring our souls into working on XING, we celebrate the fortunate lives we’ve been given and the awesome video games that inspired us to make ours.
Recent playthroughs of the game run around 7-12 hours, so get ready for a lengthy VR adventure with lots of puzzle solving, exploration, and the joy of lighting durians on fire (without the smell). There may also be some extra secrets to be found for especially adventurous players.

What are the next steps for White Lotus Interactive? We are fixing bugs, optimizing, working on marketing, and working as hard as ever to launch. The three of us cannot wait to show XING to the world!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

New Gameplay Video, E3 2016, and Release Moved to Fall 2016

Pushing Back Release Plans

I've heard that when it's time, it's best to just rip the Band-Aid off. That being said, unfortunately we must announce that our plans to release this spring were set back due to various circumstances, including that the game had just grown in scope and detail over the past 3 years, as well as grown in platform support. So, in short, we have moved our release plans to the Fall of 2016.

E3 2016 + PlayStation

Now for the good news! We will be heading to E3 this year and demoing at the PlayStation booth! We're grateful to Sony for giving us this opportunity to show off some of our latest improvements in gameplay and story to the press. Hopefully with this we can get XING a good amount of attention, and continue to build the hype as we move towards launch.

New Gameplay Footage 

We know that you have been eager to see new footage of the game since our last trailer so now we're happy to be able to release a gameplay video of what we will be showing at E3 this year!

Be sure to stay tuned too our Twitter for updates from E3, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Catching Up On The Last Two Months: New VR Platform, Development News, and The Trip to GDC

Uh, hello. So it's been a little longer than normal since our last post.

There are lots of fun things to go over, but first, a little side-note about our posts lately.

I've thought about it here and there, wondering what I should write to keep you all informed, while not giving surprises away. For everyone who has continued to be supportive and send us good thoughts, we are deeply appreciative. It means so much to us, as we read every comment. 

Now, back to the news!


PlayStation VR Support

So last week we went to GDC, where we announced at a Sony media event on Tuesday that we will be supporting the PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset. You can check out our write-up on the official PlayStation Blog for more information as to why we made the choice and how we think it will benefit more players. 

We are also excited about supporting the PlayStation Move controllers as an optional way of playing through the game. We think that this will be a great option for VR, because you can move your hands around more freely, closer to how you would normally. I had a ton of fun trying out the latest PSVR headset last week, and at the recently announced price of USD $399, I think it will be a great option for people who already own PS4s and want to get into VR.

 Me playing around with the PSVR and Move controllers in the
XING: The Land Beyond demo booth at the PSVR media event, GDC 2016 


On the content side of things, we have been making lots of progress - trying to finish chunks of levels and then testing them out.

We still have a few more puzzles to implement into the remaining levels. One of these levels in particular is our desert level, which we have been pretty quiet about :) You can see a new screenshot from it below:

As I look back through some of the screenshots from previous posts, I think, stylistically, the game is getting brighter and more saturated. This has been a gradual effort to make the game more set in a style which we find more appealing to explore (especially in VR). Overall, XING is now much more friendly looking; however, these changes don't stop many of the puzzles and themes from continuing to be deeper and more complex than perhaps their outward appearance.

Here are some more recent screenshots for your viewing pleasure:

Check out those sweet Mangrove trees!
Morning on the beach. Notice the wet-tech that John implemented for this area, which makes it so that the sand and rocks that are touching the ocean always have a wet ring around them. 
This area is so detailed and packed with plants, rocks and architecture,
but all of that will make it more of a challenge when we start getting deeper into optimizing it for VR...
Recently, we also created a new and better way to have more content available to unlock for players who like to go the extra mile and 100%-ers. Below is a screenshot from an area that will only be available when you unlock it!

In our next post, John promises to take a more in-depth look into what this game is all about.

Trip to GDC

As usual, we like to let you guys in on all of the events that we go to for promoting XING. 

Events always take a chunk of time out of our work schedule, but they're almost always worth it. There's always someone or some company to meet, or some interview to do, or X number of people to talk to about the game, and together those things usually make these trips productive. 

For this trip, not only did we participate in and demo at the Sony Media event for PSVR on Tuesday, but we also got a few meetings done during the rest of the week too. In between those more business-oriented meetings and promotions, we like to take photos of the fun stuff, so here's a little glimpse of the trip! Enjoy :)

Monday: Travel Day

I drove up from LA with my brother (James K) and 2 fellow game developers (Jason and Robby) on Tuesday afternoon, and John and his buddy/our mascot (Speedo) flew in from AZ. We all met up at James' house around 10 pm like we have done for the past 3 years, and talked for a while before heading to bed. 

Oh, I also tried out XING for the first time on the PSVR with move controllers - since James had a kit (and I needed to know exactly what we would be demoing the next day!) I usually only see and play the game on a standard monitor, since we all work from home and John and James are the ones with all the VR equipment set up in their work spaces. I'll just say, it was a blast.

John helping me get set up with PSVR.

Tuesday: PSVR Media Event

The next morning we woke up and got ready for the hour drive into the city. There were 7 of us total, so I was grateful to my parents that they let me borrow their new van for the week (thanks mom and dad!). The "space van" also came with 2 fold-down TV screens, so the group took full advantage of those throughout the long drives by watching DVDs I brought, including: The Road to El Dorado, Galaxy Quest, Starship Troopers, The Incredibles and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. 

When we got to the Moscone Center, we 3 members of White Lotus took off to prep for the media event. The rest of the guys split off to go grab their badges and then sat around having, what I assume to be, long and meaningful conversations. 

When the 3 of us arrived at the event, we were immediately impressed with the setup. People were pretty relaxed and everything seemed to be running smoothly. When we got to our demo station, I got excited about the giant banner they printed for us! It was glorious:

We tried out the XING: The Land Beyond demo (which was already installed on the PS4 there) to make sure there were no hiccups. Thankfully it was all working as planned!

After the big announcement of the October release and price of the PSVR, we had 3 hours to demo to press.

We took turns giving demos and talking to media.  
At the end we each decided to take a photo with the signs around the event.

Koriel (me)

That night we went out to dinner at a great sushi place in the city, then drove back to James' house to rest and recover. I brought out my N64 and we played some Mario Party 2 that night. Awwww yeah.

Wednesday: Mostly Meetings + Afterparty

The next morning we left the house around 11:30am to make our first meeting of the day at 1pm. 

This year I decided to get a little more creative with my title on my badge. The fact that this was approved made me quite happy: 

Later, while walking through the show floor, we found people we knew:

Hanging out with Ryan Warzecha and the team from Cyan They were showing off Obduction at the Epic Games booth!

Hopping around with Palmer Luckey!
(Left to  Right) James Kruer, John Torkington, Palmer Luckey, Koriel Kruer (me) and Speedo
We ran into our friends from Serenity Forge :)
In the last hour we ended up having some time to try out different games at the GDC Play area.

James and I tried out a cool paragliding simulator in the GDC Play are, where the mission was to blow up as many tanks and other vehicles as possible before the time ran out. There was even a fan blowing air at us, to make it feel more like wind!

(Left to right) Speedo, John, James and Robby, playing Auto Age Standoff
That night we ended up splitting up for dinner. I went out to eat with some fellow game dev friends at a nearby Sushi Boat, and later joined back up with the rest of the group. 

Around 8pm we went out to the Epic Games party and waited in line to get in. After the doors opened, the guys ended up talking to other devs and people that we knew there, while I got my groove on. After the party we headed back to James' place around 12am (and arrived at 1am). It was definitely bed time. 

Thursday: 2 Meetings + Lots of walking

The next morning we left a little later than the previous morning, since we were all interested in sleeping in. When we arrived on the show floor again, we ended up noticing something interesting on the giant overhead displays in the halls:

Yep. That's a photo from our booth for XING exactly 2 years ago!
James is even in the corner talking to someone. This was on a 2ish minute loop.
At one point, we ran into Jason again (our friend and the fourth rider up in the "space van" from LA). He was in front of a large TV with some facial expression tracking software going on. It recognized me as a female, and also recognized "joy" whenever I smiled. Here's a photo of some of the guys trying out different expressions:

(Left to right) James Kruer, James Steininger, Jason, Robby and Speedo.
It was pretty amusing. This went on for about 3 minutes, before we had to split off again for meetings. Unfortunately, we ended up having 2 meetings scheduled at the same time (though one was significantly longer). John went to the more technical one, and James and I went to the other one. An hour and a half later we sat in a circle on the side of the expo floor and shared notes. 

John sharing notes from his meeting.
James decided to take a picture of our little discussion circle, and we each had different reactions to that. 
After our little chat, we went over to the Epic Games booth to visit some of our friends there. I think it's safe to say that everyone we have met who works there is extremely nice, helpful and awesome - which is great for us as developers because we love using their Unreal Engine 4!

The Expo Floor ended at 6pm that day, and we debated whether to do parties again or go back to James' house and relax. 

We ended up deciding to leave the city and drive back. That way we would be able to get to the Moscone Center much earlier the following morning for some talks. 

On the way back the guys were hungry, so we stopped at In-N-Out.

I think Speedo wins this picture.
Friday: The Last Day (And Also James' Birthday)

The next morning we got to the Moscone earlier than all the previous days (we were quite proud considering the hour drive there). The guys in back watched the first half of The Incredibles on the way there.

We dropped James K off at the front of the center to run to a talk, while the rest of us went to park the Space Van. 

Walking to the Center.
John, James and I had a lunch date with a friend. Later the 6 of us met back up to tour the expo floor one last time before James' and John's last meeting. While they were in their technical meeting, I was doing something far more productive:

Thinking lofty thoughts....
The show closed at 3pm, so we called Jason and drove back to James' place to celebrate his birthday. Naturally we hit a little more traffic going back, but it was nice to finally be done being "on", and also to have the full group of 7 back in the van. Our plans for that evening were simple: Eat delicious food made by James' mom and then go out for Laser Tag. 

It was 2 free-for-all/death match games, and our group hit every spectrum of the score board. 

John and Speedo teamed up during both games and just shouted out lines from Starship Troopers. 

Speedo was clearly taking this seriously.
(Left to right) Speedo, John, James, James K, Jason and Koriel
It was a great way to end a fun and productive trip to GDC! Huzzah!


Working on XING: The Land Beyond is a wonderful and challenging experience - and I think it's a good sign that each of us to continues to invest so much time into it, because it means we are still passionate about it, and more importantly, we all believe in the project.

It's sad, but I've seen lots of projects slowly die and never get made, because people lose interest, or life gets in the way, or maybe they just stop believing it will work out. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't. For us, there has never been any question that this is what we want to be doing.

Here's a little poem I wrote for you guys:

Making a game is a lot of hard work,
Especially when in a team of just three,
But we find challenges oh so much fun,
And there is no place that we'd rather be.

Yes, there are times our projections are off,
In game dev it seems a regular thing,
To wait for a wonderful game to be made,
And this time, it happens to be our game, XING.

But please do not fret, for we work night and day,
Pouring into it our hearts and our souls,
To make a great game that soon you will play,
While trying to ignore the cynics and trolls.

We're grateful to all who are reading this page,
And yes, that means I am talking to you,
Our wonderful fans, I must bid thee farewell,
For now there is still so much we must do!

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave us any comments or questions. You can also contact us at

Till next time! Squadala, we're off!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Welcoming 2016 + Screenshots + IndieCade and PlayStation Experience Photos

Hello 2016! We hope everyone had a lovely holiday break! Each of us took off  a short amount of time for a well-needed break, in preparation for the hectic months to come! We already started back on schedule yesterday with a running start: strategizing, planning for this year and working late into the night.

This may or not be what we looked like:

Bonfire on Iztali Point
With Spring 2016 just around the corner, we have A TON of work to do. Some of these things include:

  • Finishing all asset creation 
  • Content, mechanic and level-lock
  • Finishing music composition and putting it into the game
  • Finishing sound-design
  • Finalizing a menu design that will work for both VR and non-VR players
  • Marketing
  • Testing and paying for Quality Assurance (and fixing all the bugs for a month or two)
  • Lots of Polish!!
  • Organizing all of our Kickstarter backers' rewards and sending them out on time
  • And, you know, releasing the actual game.
There's a lot more than just that list, but it's a pretty basic rundown of what we are looking at. Wish us luck and continue to share our posts/Facebook page/Twitter/screenshots with friends :)

Temple ruins in Nahele Rain
If we make all of our goals, it will not be a miracle. It will be the result of determination, hard work and most likely a lack of sleep.

The nights in XING become more mysterious.
Thank goodness we love what we do! Even now, there are days when we all feel a wave of excitement about something we just made work, or a concept we get to see finally brought to life. Personally, I love designing and refining environments around gameplay, and vice versa. The two are closely interconnected in XING: The Land Beyond, so it's important that they both influence each other.

The Desert of Naar
Temple view in Hyaku Lake
Lastly, here are some catch-up photos from IndieCade and the PlayStation Experience:

IndieCade 2015

The Setup

PlayStation Experience 2015

Day 0

John and James competing in a speed run after setting up on day 0
The booth setup :)
We love how our home screen looks (shots of whichever level you are in now play in the background)
Us :)
Posing behind the decorations.

Day 1

John talking to some players
Outside the booth
James and John
Only one of us stayed inside the booth while the others stayed around the outside and talked to people.
Happy that the booth is going so well!

Eating Chipotle at 8:30pm. The show floor was open till 10!
Dinner Break
Dinner break. The booth pretty much ran itself this time :)

Day 2

Lots of people played in pairs!

John doing an interview.
This might be one of my favorite moments from the Experience. These 2 pairs were playing the game and talking to each other to figure out how the other team solved things. John was watching in the middle. 

Thanks for reading, now back to work!