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!