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Kids These Days... Are Making VR Games? (Updated)

Update, 4/14/17, 9:30am PT: And now the game is on Viveport. It costs $7.99. For the rest of the day, we'll all be reflecting on what we were doing at age 14 and feel kind of bad about ourselves.

Original article, 2/22/17, 8:15am PT:

When you were 14, what was your greatest accomplishment? How many of you can say you wrote an app at 14? Maybe some of you have made a mobile app, but what about a room-scale VR game? I’m going to go out on a limb and say almost none of us have, but there's one young man who can make that claim.

Dan O’Neill, aka "Dandover," a 14-year-old hobbyist software developer from Belfast, Ireland, recently released his first room-scale VR game for HTC Vive on Valve’s Steam Early Access platform. O’Neill created VR Home, which is a room-scale VR sandbox game that lets you build and decorate a virtual house for yourself.

Not His First Kick At The Can

VR Home is O’Neil’s first VR game, but it’s not his first attempt at development. Believe it or not, O’Neil started programming at the tender age of eight. By age 11, he was making Minecraft mods, and in the last three years, he taught himself how to use Unity.

“I am completely self taught, my school doesn't even have computer lessons,” said O’Neil. “I used nothing but my time and a lot of YouTube videos.”

Last year, O’Neil decided to get ahead of the curve and make a VR game. 

“When I was 11 I starting creating Minecraft mods that got millions of views on YouTube,” said O’Neil. “When I stopped Minecraft mods I started playing about in Unity, and when the Vive came out, I thought it was a good chance to make something that hasn't been done before as the VR game market is so small.”

Creating VR Home took sacrifice and dedication that few teenagers would consider. O’Neil said he spent seven months working on the game before releasing it on Steam. He quit sports to make time for development, and he put all his money, including his “birthday money, Christmas money, and pocket money,” into the Unity asset store to provide as much content for the sandbox world as he could.

VR Home includes a variety of assets to choose from, including furniture such as tables, chairs, cabinets, and couches. You get to choose the color and pattern of the wallpaper, flooring, and decorative objects in the room. VR Home includes items to build almost any room you desire. As O’Neill put it in the game description, “you can even build your nan’s kitchen.” 

Ambition And Passion Can Take You Further Than You Imagine

The young developer also baked a variety of activities into VR Home to give you something to do in your custom space. If you build a game room with a billiards table, you can pick up a cue and play a round of 8-ball. The crafty fellow even installed a GameBoy emulator into the arcade cabinets that you can load custom ROMS into. Oh, I almost forgot, there are guns, too.

VR Home also lets you access your desktop content on a virtual screen, sort of like Bigscreen. You can build a 3D environment to your liking and install a virtual TV, and then you can play your PC games, watch local video files, or view your favorite streaming video service such as YouTube or Twitch. PS4 remote play even works. You also have the option of listening to local or streamed music within the game.

“I never thought I would have so much features,” said O’Neil. At the start, I was aiming for just a sandbox where you could place furniture, but I started getting creative with it then ended up with tons of cool functions.”

VR Home is an ambitious idea for a team of developers, but O’Neill built the game by himself. Think about that for a second: A 14-year old developer single-handedly built a room-scale sandbox VR game, and he did it in less than a year. Even if VR Home is a flop, O’Neill’s accomplishment is a remarkable feat.

O’Neil isn’t looking to make a quick buck, either. He plans to dump 90% of his earnings from Steam back into the game. I asked the young man what he plans to put the money towards, and his answer didn’t disappoint. “I'll spend all the revenue on multiplayer, new functions like .PDF books and .OBJ exporting, and a ton of new furniture models,” he said. He’s also looking for suggestions from the community for future updates.

VR Home is available on Steam for $7.99. The game supports the HTC Vive in seated and room-scale configurations. O’Neil doesn’t currently have access to an Oculus Rift, but he expressed interest in supporting the platform in the future if he can.