Friday, April 6, 2018

A Humble Celebration


XING: The Land Beyond is now available on the Humble Store! If you've been waiting to get the game DRM-Free, here it is:

If you already own and enjoy the game, be sure to share this with your friends so they can have their own puzzling adventure too!

Have a lovely weekend!

- Koriel and John

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

XING on PS4 and PSVR - Adventures in making a UE4 PS4 game

It's time to address the elephant in the room. We often get asked this question: When is XING: The Land Beyond coming to PS4 and PSVR?

And the answer?

Uh, a few months, maybe. Depends on a few things. BUT IT WILL BE WORTH THE WAIT!  Let's get into the details.

The Good Stuff

Not looking for a lengthy tirade on my trials and tribulations with the PS4? Here's a quick TL;DR about the upcoming PS4 version of XING: The Land Beyond.

Screenshot from our PS4 Exclusive Volcano level "Agnirok"

  • It's a 1:1 port of the PC version, plus an additional level. Every feature and location will be available with no compromises
  • We will ship with PS VR support right out of the box - no separate version necessary 
  • We'll be offering multiple graphics-quality settings to go along with PS4 Pro support
    • Base PS4
      • "Speed": Mix of medium and high settings, 1080p unlocked framerate, usually averaging around 40+ fps
      • "Quality": Mostly high settings, 1080p, locked 30 fps
      • PS VR: Low settings, slightly upscaled to native res, locked 60 fps
    • PS4 Pro
      • "Speed": Mostly Ultra settings, 1080p, unlocked framerate, usually averaging around 50+ fps
      • "Quality": Mostly high settings, 1800p upscaled to 4k, locked 30 fps
      • PS VR: Mix of low and medium settings, downsampled to native res, locked 60 fps
  • XING will support DS4 on televisions, and DS4 or Move in PS VR mode
  • It's currently running super well and feels awesome on PS4. Aside from a few minor technical issues and some performance considerations, I'm nearly ready to submit the game to certification. I'm shooting for submission by the end of this month, fully expecting to have to resubmit at least once. 
  • And yes, there are trophies!

Aw yeah first trophy winner right here

Right off the bat I'd like to say there are things I can't specifically go into due to NDAs and such, but I'll try to broadly cover my journey into PS4 development.

History with Sony

Believe it or not, we actually started development (and ran our Kickstarter, and founded WLI!) before the PS4 was even released. At that time, we were developing using UDK (Unreal Engine 3), and had absolutely no plans or hopes of releasing XING on anything but PC. Consoles seemed like only a possibility for those releasing pretty big games, or indie arcade-like titles. The PS3 was really showing it's age at that time as well, and like Jon Snow, I really knew nothing about development beyond pressing "compile" and hoping it works.

Fast forward to 2014. At this point we were really getting caught up in the buzz surrounding VR since we casually added Oculus DK1 support to our Kickstarter goals. Companies were starting to notice us due to our attendance at GDC and E3 that year, and we started a rapport with Oculus, NVIDIA, Epic, and others, each providing hardware and/or support for our humble game. We also switched to Unreal Engine 4 at this time - knowing full well we would be redoing a lot in exchange for modernity and flexibility.

That flexibility almost immediately payed of with our trip to PAX Prime (West) that year. Admittedly, we somewhat front-loaded our trade and consumer show trips throughout development, but it was at PAX where we first ran into Sony. We had heard about an unnamed PS VR prototype at E3, and they told us to talk to them at IndieCade. One more show later and we were on the list to receive a PS4 devkit!

I think at one point we had 7 PS VR devkits - they kept on revising it!

At that point XING was still pretty prototype-y. We had a few demo versions of the final levels, and a very rough layout of how the final game was going to be like. (We'll do a postmortem at some point detailing how flawed our approach was!) Still, I just got a PS4 devkit and I wanted to see how the game would run on it. After a month or so I was able to port our beach demo to the system, and things were looking good!

Some things familiar, some things not so much (9/2/2015)

Based off of our test on PS4 and Sony's eagerness to get us on their platform, we officially committed to a PS4 version in late 2015. We were hoping to get a simultaneous release in late 2016.

Remember that aside about "planning" earlier?

Turns out releasing a fully 3D and detailed 15-hour game on two SKUs with support for three brand new headsets and five different input methods with a company comprised of only three recent collage grads is a somewhat unreasonable goal.


Midway through 2016 we knew that there was no way we were going to hit our goals. I had to make a difficult decision:

I knew that if I released XING simultaneously on all these new platforms right when they were beginning to take off, we could expect the best sales. Vive and Rift had just come out and people were extremely hungry for content, especially for anything longer than a short demo. PS VR was set to launch in October, and naturally the thought of being a launch title was appealing. Sony had already inquired about our readiness, and we really wanted to deliver. Every opportunity seemed like it was on ticking clock.

I had a choice:
  1. Cut literally everything that wasn't 100% working (which would have been a lot), shore up all the loose ends in the game as quickly as possible, dump in a "you win" screen, and focus all remaining effort on making sure the game technically worked on all platforms.
  2. Bite the bullet and tell Sony we weren't ready. 
I knew that if I chose option two, we would lose out big financially. We would lose out on all the marketing opportunity of launch, the hype of VR, and the momentum of our recent trailers and shows. Going forward we would also lose the ability to simultaneously launch, as our company's bank account was starting to deplete and we would be more than tapped before finishing up work on both platforms.

Despite all this, I decided to wait.

I had a hard look at my goals, and at what I wanted out of this project. Ultimately, above all else I wanted to create, and create something I was proud of. I knew that by spending another year on development, the game would be simply more enjoyable, and I realized I'd rather have fewer people really enjoy their purchase than lots being frustrated by something that was just unfinished.

And so sing the muses. We ended up releasing on PC / VR just about a year later, as a complete experience, and I couldn't be more proud of it.

Or alternatively,

Proof that we made it in this industry

My decision was not without consequence. I had effectively shelved PS4 development while finalizing the game for PC, only having completed the simple demo nearly a year ago. While I had some work done, it was time to start looking at PS4.

The nitty gritty - PS4 development

My experience porting the demo was just about the best thing I could have done for prepping the game for PS4. I went into the port having absolutely no idea what I was doing. Things I quickly learned:
  • This thing is not a PC, but it kinda is
  • Performance is...weird
  • No, you can't just press the "Make PS4" button
  • Holy crap this is cool working with what usually is seen as a mysterious black box

Screenshot from our PS4 Exclusive Volcano level "Agnirok"

To low-level, or not to low-level...

One thing sticks out to me about my experience with PS4 development so far. I'm working with a million-plus lines of code Unreal Engine, and an equally complex PS4 SDK. Literally millions of man-hours have been put into the construction of both of these systems, all done by seasoned veterans of programming. 

Here's a story. In 2016, I went to GDC. My PS4 rep mentioned that Sony was doing technical evaluations of PSVR games and recommended I get XING submitted. I made a small build of XING to get evaluated and brought it into the engineers at the Sony booth. There were two guys from Sony there, and one from Epic. I fired up the game on their test kit, and they linked in a PS4 profiling tool. 

This was maybe 1/3 of the screen they had up
Immediately the one of the Sony engineers starts talking about some of the numbers on the profile we just took. I started furiously writing down everything he was saying. Frame pacing. GPU bubble. GPU Wait Time. Stream processor. Fetch Shaders. Memory Bus Bandwidth. Pretty soon it was just the Epic and Sony employing discussing these topics while I slowly stopped writing.

Here I was, showing my little game in a big fancy booth at GDC, listening to representatives from massive companies talk about things I had absolutely no idea were relevant. This was literally a game that I had been working on for years at that point and they might as well have been talking about biochemical engineering. I kept expecting them to boil down to "Well because of this you should probably move those trees over there" or "If you reduced the instruction count on your water shader, this scene would be running better", but they never came to those conclusions.

When I went home, I began researching everything they had said. I opened up the profiling tools myself and started studying graphics programming. I probably spent a week reading up exactly how a PS4 renders a scene, not really getting anywhere.

I suddenly realized something. 

These guys were never going to tell me how to make my scene run faster, because that's not what they do. They are engineers at AAA companies - they are going to take what the artist/designer gives them and MAKE it work. They were looking at my game and talking about how to render exactly what I showed them faster from an engine perspective. I realized as an indie developer, I don't have that luxury. I, for better or for worse, am at the mercy of other companies figuring out the low-level issues, because simply my time is better spent on the high-level work.

Why this is taking so damn long?

1. I'm the only one working on getting XING to run on PS4. 

Remember when I said we would lose out financially if we didn't release simultaneously in 2016? Turns out you need money to hire people to do work for you. Well, I've got the time and the hardware, so lets get to work.

2. Testing on the devkit is slow. 

When I'm working on fixing bugs for PC, it's typically a really fast iteration time. I can in-editor attempt a fix, then test it right away to see if things are good. Even for issues pertaining to the difference between a cooked build and the editor, the build is fast and typically testable with a standalone uncooked build.

On PS4, the differences are far more extreme. Also, not only do the builds take longer to make, I have to actually push them to the devkit, install them, turn on my TV, test them, attach them to the VS debugger, then finally start diagnosing the problem.

3. Supporting: PS4, PS4 + PS VR, PS4 Pro, PS4 Pro + PSVR

Sony is now mandating that all PS4 games come out with PS4 PRO support. In retrospect this is super cool and was relatively easy to get working because XING already supported a huge variety of graphics options in the PC version, but I still had to get a new devkit to work with, and spend time tweaking the graphics options and coding in some switches to get the game to know which kit it was running on. Not only that, but since I'm supporting PS VR I had to come up with settings for VR on base PS4 and PRO, further complicating things.

I had to create separate assets for all the button prompts in the game, including support for the Move controllers. The menu system also had to be rearranged quite a bit to make sense for PlayStation. Fortunately I had already implemented gamepad support, so there were not any drastic changes necessary.

That's not motion blur? -_- wut.

4. Little weird inexplicable bugs during gameplay.

It is actually incredible how identically everything works between PC and PS4 when using Unreal. However, little itty bitty differences can cause cascading problems. Timers sometimes don't quite work the same way. Audio is handed on a hardware level rather than software, resulting in weird timing and volume levels. Shaders get corrupted or simply look different, or shader level features are missing. The save system is synchronous by default on PS4, for some reason. Things are threaded weirdly. Ram allocation is bizarre. I need to address all of this while keeping complete compatibility with the shipped game on Steam and Oculus Home.

5. Optimization. 

Sony is very particular with exactly how well the game runs on PSVR, and I had a big challenge in pushing this graphically intense game on the system. The latest update on PC lists out many of the changes I made to get the game running better specifically on the PS4. This has been taking the majority of the time to get right, and will be one of the things that will be looked at the closest during certification

I have no idea what I'm doing.
6. Did I mention certification? 

Yeah, we have to go through that as well. Without going into specifics there are two certs we have to pass, each with comprehensive tests of performance, comfort, usability and technical stability. This stuff is ultimately great for the end-user, but absolutely delays shipping. We have yet to submit, though in all likelihood I'll be ready to by the end of this month. I'm being ultra critical about every system in the game as well as extra focused on making sure we maintain frame-rate throughout the game on every configuration and every level.

~End Thoughts~

I'm going CRAZY over here! Writing all this down is very cathartic - it's easy to lose sight of things while staring at a compiler and not feeling like you are getting much done. I know some of you are eagerly awaiting to play this game, and that really does keep me going. Like we mentioned in our previous post, PS4 is likely our last best home for the future.

Thanks for reading! Here's a pretty shot from the game for those who made it to the end:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

You've been waiting - February XING Update on Steam and Oculus Home!

John here. Wowzers! You’ve been waiting, and now it’s here. It’s a XING update, and a big one to boot! We got a LOT of new updates coming out. Updates like these are the reason XING is the coolest cinematic gaming experience there is. You don’t know the half of it, that is, you won’t until you read the wonderful patch notes we made for you.

VR comfort features (and sprinting!), cleaner interactions with motion controllers, CPU and GPU optimizations, and a whole lot of bug fixes.

Thanks everyone for reporting and patiently waiting for many of these bugs - this community may still be small but you all have big hearts : D. This is actually our 8th update since launch - you can look back on the Steam page to read the previous patches (the updates were applied to Oculus Home too!) Also, if you've played the game, please make sure to leave us a review on Steam or Oculus!

Kori and I are amidst discussion about what lies in store for the future but I can safely tease that some new content is on the way. 

I’ll also be on the lookout for the classic fix-10-bugs-create-18-more issue, and will be ready to make a hotfix, should the unfortunate occur.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Last Few Months: A Short Post-Mortem and New Announcement

Hi everyone!

It's been a while since we posted here (now we are mainly using Twitter and Facebook for updates), but I thought I'd check in and write a bit about what we've been up to since our launch on PC.

Things we've done these last few months:

  • Sent out Kickstarter Backer Rewards
  • Presented and demoed at the Intel Developer Showcase, where XING won best overall game!
We received an Intel Nuc for winning "Best Overall Game"

  • Ran a booth at the PlayStation Experience
    • We debuted the PlayStation Exclusive Volcano level on the show floor, and managed a PSVR demo as well

PlayStation Experience Booth. Pictured: Koriel Kruer (developer)

PlayStation Experience Booth. Pictured left to right: John Torkington (developer) and Jonathan Van Arsdall (friend)
  • Pushed over 10 updates on Steam for bug fixes and other things our community asked for, including adding a "jump assist" feature
  • Put the game up for sale during the winter Steam and Oculus sales
  • Received numerous messages over Facebook and emails from fans, thanking us for making a game that really touched them (these have been my favorite to read)
  • And mostly just worked on getting things set up for launching on the PlayStation 4 and PS VR later this year.

With all that, unfortunately the future of the company is still a grey area at best. 

The Reality of Where We Are

To be honest, our sales haven't been great, despite the praise we've received from most of the people who have played. 

"Very Positive" :)

This is due to several reasons, including the overly saturated Steam market (once upon a time launching a game on Steam really meant something, but that is no longer the case for small developers like us), and the fact that most of the buzz about the game happened over 2 years ago, and died down quite a bit before we launched. Only Oculus has continued to promote us on their platform, and we are extremely grateful for that. 

Front page of the Oculus Store

There were other options open to us too, like seeking outside help or saying "yes" to one of the deals we were offered during development. We also never hired a marketing team, though those are often a coin toss anyway. In hindsight, there's definitely more we could have done to spread the news of the game launching last year on PC. Hopefully now that we (finally) took a much needed break this winter over the holidays, we can get back on that horse and start promoting again.

Is this game VR Only? No. No it is not. 

Another thing that still concerns us about the game and it's reach, is that many people don't realize that it's not a VR-only title. Those who do know that, and have played without VR headsets, have told us how great the experience was playing on their monitor or TV. We know we have a great game here that many people would surely enjoy, but the question unfortunately becomes: how can people like something they've never heard of? They can't. To add to the problem, many who have heard of us assume they can't play because they don't have a VR headset, since there are so many more VR-Only games out there than cross platform VR/Non-VR like ours. 

We also don't have a wide reach. Almost none of the publications we reached out to and sent preview builds wrote about us during launch week, and many of the ones that did were VR-centric, which is still a very narrow audience. The reality is that we are just too small, and don't have the connections that can help get articles written.


Also, in the interest of being transparent, our company has downsized to just 2 members now, instead of the original 3. James left working at the company around the middle of last year to pursue other passions, and game projects of his own, and we wish him all the best. This leaves just John and I to get the game ready for PlayStation and PS VR, with John now doing all the optimizations and me working with Sony reps and on content updates. And yes, we are still living in our parents' houses on a shoestring budget, and the company is currently in debt. Despite this, we continue to work on the game every week, hoping to get the PlayStation version out as soon as we possibly can.

PlayStation Launch Hopes

If it seems like we are depending on the PlayStation launch to be successful, it's because we are. "Successful" to us = not in debt + can move out. Sony has a much larger reach than anyone else we've worked with, and their PS VR customers are hungry for more quality VR content. They announced this year that they've sold over 2 million PS VR units, which is more than double the combined sales of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive combined (mostly due to promotion and pricing), and this gives us hope. We want people on the PlayStation platform to enjoy the game both in and out of virtual reality, and to tell their friends about the game. With luck, that will help PC sales too.

PC Update

Speaking of PC fans, though you are small in number, we appreciate you and want you to know that we have been working on a content update you will get later this year! :) You think PlayStation is the only platform that gets a new level? Think again. We've been working on a short level, inspired by our Kickstarter stretch goals, that takes place in a frozen icescape. It's short and sweet, and we hope fans will enjoy the new addition to the game, and story of the young boy named Toklo.

This new level will be included in the PlayStation Launch as well!

We will give more updates in the future, as we ramp up to launching on PlayStation. Hopefully they will all be good updates. Fingers crossed!

Thanks to all who read our dev blog updates. If you want to find out more about the game, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. We hope 2018 will be a great year for us all.

 - Koriel