One of the strongest point for which people believes in VR, is that it allow perfect simulation in scenarios that are deemed impossible for many reasons. For example, schools can bring students on a virtual field trips to foreign countries to learn about their culture via VR. At the same time, developer can inject some gaming element to make simulation fun.
VR Regatta – The Sailing Game is reputed to be one of, if not the best showcase example of how to blend real simulation with game-play element, and probably hit all the plus points on why VR should exist. This title not only cater to the VR gamers, it also appeal to sailing enthusiasts who wishes to learn more about sailing, intrigue people about sailing as a hobby, and retired sailors or handicapped people who couldn’t experience real sailing. Sure, its not real sailing, but the experience is close enough for people who couldn’t try the real deal yet wishes to dip their feet into sailing. You can find out more about this from the developer’s perspective in the interview below.
This title was released on Steam as early access, and gradually amass its fanbase over time due to the authentic experiences that it provides to the users. VR Regatta – The Sailing Game exits early release on Steam a while ago, finally hitting that long awaited milestone. I have the opportunity to have an interview with its developer MarineVerse , which serves as some sort of a reflection of this journey, as well as a look at how the team create an authentic experience. Hopefully this interview will inspire and help promote VR developers to create VR simulation titles for other hobby activities or jobs in the same veins as this.
Check out the interview transcript below!
Q: Can you provide us an introduction about MarineVerse and tell us how was the game studio formed?
MarineVerse is an international team of creatives and advocates for sailing and emergent technology, with a mission to inspire, train, and connect sailors and to share the unique feeling of sailing with a global audience. Greg is a passionate technologist who was experimenting with VR in December 2015. While visiting the finish line of Sydney to Hobart Sailing Race he realised there was an opportunity to combine his passion for the sailing he used to love when he was in high-school with VR technology. Greg and his partner Olga they worked on a bunch of experiments, all of which culminated in VR Regatta‘s Steam early access release in June 2016. That was when Nate (PhD, passionate sailor, simulation specialist) and David (passionate sailor and 3D artist with interest in VR) discovered and joined MarineVerse, forming the present core team.
Q: What inspires the creation of this VR sailing title “VR Regatta: The Sailing Game”, and why choose VR for this title?
The whole team loves sailing, so that plus an interest in VR brought us together and it was a natural choice to focus and work on in that space. Real sailing is a very physical activity that takes place in 3D space, harnessing the forces of nature to set your boat in motion ad control its course and speed. It’s almost impossible to re-create a feeling of sailing without VR – a flat screen just can’t deliver the same experience. Of course, even immersive VR is still not real sailing, but we wanted to give players an authentic taste of it. In our VR simulation you can learn some of the skills that will be relevant on the water: the 360 degree spacial awareness required to pilot a boat safely and avoid collisions, and the muscle memory of the hand motions needed to control the speed and heading of the boat.
Q: Can you describe what is this title about?
VR Regatta is a gentle introduction to sailing that, first and foremost, tries to inspire players to try out the real sport. The unique thing that it does is how it combines game design features with a realistic recreation of the complexity of real sailing. Players will be in a boat and sailing within three minutes of starting the game, and as they play they will be progressively introduced to more real-world sailing concepts and complexity.
There are two main game modes: relaxing sailing featuring beautiful environments and a sense of exploration, and races that let players test their growing skills against other players. The races are organised in such a way that you can start completing them very early in the game, when you know almost nothing about sailing. You can contrast this with the final Long Race, organised around classic triangle course, which demands advanced sailing skills to complete. To finish a Long Race, you will need to correctly manipulate your sails and tiller to match your heading and wind direction and reach an optimal speed. All of these are the basic skills required for real sailing. (Of course, going out onto the water for real will bring new challenges and risks, so make sure you attempt it with an experienced instructor, though you can be confident you’ll be the best student in the class!) 😁
Q: What is the size of the development team, and how long did the team took to work on this title?
The first official line of code for VR Regatta was written in April 2016, and version 1.0 was released in January 2018, so that’s just over 20 months. The size of the team grew from two to four in June 2016, and a year later we received a Film Victoria grant that enabled us to bring various consultants and collaborators on board to help us with different elements of the game. In total over 20 people were involved with the project.
Q: Besides leaderboard where players can compete their scores with each other, there are also multiplayer feature too. Can you elaborate on the multiplayer feature of this title?
Yes, currently the main way for players to interact with each other is via the racing leaderboards. We also have a multiplayer relaxing sailing, where players can explore Aklalana Islands together and interact with each other via voice chat. This also enables experienced players to give advice to newbies, making it an effective teaching tool. In the future we are planning on adding real multiplayer races, enabling players to directly challenge each other in real-time competition.
Q: This title has been showcased regularly on many sporting events, and I am sure sailing in VR is a brand new experiences for many sailors. Can you share with us some of the feedbacks and impressions from them?
Most of the sailors are pretty open-minded and curious about latest technology, so the reception was quite warm. We’ve identified three types of visitors to the sailing sporting events: non-sailors, former or occasional sailors and pro or regular sailors.
VR Regatta is enjoyed the most (perhaps not surprisingly) by ex-sailors, or those that used to sail often and now rarely get a chance to hit the water. For them it’s an amazing chance to reconnect with their passion, and their experience is enhanced by their real-life sailing memories. It’s very rewarding to show the game to this group, as they always have a big smile on their face after playing.
Pro sailors are generally surprised how good the VR technology is, but they are also the mostly likely to see the many limitations of the simulation and the areas where VR Regatta still differs from the real life. You can’t capsize, for example, and the floor doesn’t tilt, and of course you are not actually grabbing anything so the force feedback is not there. This is a great group for us to work with, as they help us identify where we can improve the game, as some of their observations turn out to be easy fixes within our current tech, so they’re easy ways to make the game better and more authentic. One day, hopefully, we hope to create a virtual reality sailing product that will appeal to this group, and it might come sooner then some may expect!
Q: The title gamify the sailing simulation very well, allowing authentic simulation of the experience while inviting and easy enough for non-sailors to jump in at the same time. Did the team have any previous video game production experience?
Yes and no. David studied video game art and design, and Nate has a great network of mentors in the industry. Greg has an IT background, but never worked in a game industry apart from some private experimentation. He learned a huge amount from “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”. Contractors that we’ve worked with on the project had an extensive game industry experience, including working with simulations.
Q: How have the VR users help shaped the title during the early access period on Steam?
We’ve been interacting with our community via Steam forums, emails, Reddit, and the VR voice feedback tool plugin for Unity. Our early access users helped us focus our attention on the most important aspects of the project given our limited budget, right up to the highest level of development. For example, we knew at the outset that we could focus on training, racing, or relaxing, and at the start of the project we would never have picked relaxing as the most important aspect without the guidance of our community.
Q: Considering this is MarineVerse’ debut project, and VR is still a fairly new technology, I believe there are lots of roadblocks along the way. what challenges did the developers faced during the production of this title?
Market size and availability of devices, definitely. VR Regatta is a potentially useful tool for everyone thinking of doing an introductory sailing course, but only a tiny fraction of the people going through those courses have access to VR hardware. The small market means it’s very hard to maintain even a small team—money for salaries has to come from somewhere!. That’s why the Film Victoria grant was so pivotal for us, as there was no other way we would have been able to bring so much expertise on board without that external funding.
Q: VR Regatta has finally hit that important milestone and is now in full release stage, what’s next for MarineVerse? Any content expansion update plan for this title? Will there be any other (non-VR or VR) project in the future?
There are three updates planned for VR Regatta: 1) better sailing tutorials so the game is even easier to pick up for novices, 2) real-time multiplayer races, and 3) some extra content, most likely a new boat or two. Beyond that, we’ll see where the VR market and technology will go, but we hope to stay in VR space providing the best VR sailing experiences for many years to come. 😄
Q: For those people who are still on the fence and undecided on buying this, what will you say to them to convince them to buy this title?
If you’re curious about sailing, VR Regatta is a great stepping stone between a YouTube video tutorial and actual real-world sailing. Play VR Regatta to get some confidence and then go find a local sailing club and try the real thing! If you are already a sailor, make sure to buy the game and help us bring sailing to virtual reality. Your feedback and suggestions will enable us to continue working in this space and create the ultimate virtual reality sailing simulator in the future! (Plus you can already enjoy races and relaxing sailing, when the weather conditions outside don’t allow you to enjoy the real thing!)
I will like to express my thanks to James of Lumi Consulting, Greg and the entire MarineVerse team for making this interview happen. If this title interests you, check it out on Steam (for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality).