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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.

  • bloodroses
    Hmm, this looks awfully similar to something else that was already out there, especially if you look at the mods that have been made for it .....

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/465780/

    They both even have gameboy emulators in them.
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    19333174 said:
    Hmm, this looks awfully similar to something else that was already out there, especially if you look at the mods that have been made for it .....

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/465780/

    They both even have gameboy emulators in them.

    The primary function of VR Home is to create a virtual room, or building. The GameBoy games and other activities are secondary to the core concept.
    Reply
  • LORD_ORION
    Psssht... programming has been dumbed down enough to the point that any "Bro" can be a programmer if they know the IDE's "write my code for me" features.

    No internet, a C book, and turbo C libraries, yet made a program... there is a 14 year old who knows programming.
    Reply
  • bloodroses
    19333640 said:
    19333174 said:
    Hmm, this looks awfully similar to something else that was already out there, especially if you look at the mods that have been made for it .....

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/465780/

    They both even have gameboy emulators in them.

    The primary function of VR Home is to create a virtual room, or building. The GameBoy games and other activities are secondary to the core concept.

    You can do the same with New Retro Arcade: Neon as well. It's primary focus may be on video games, but there are other things in there as well such as couches, chairs, pool tables, etc. Floors, walls, ceilings and room layout can be changed/created as well. IE, it the same as VR Home. Especially if you add user submitted mods. The only difference at all is the marketing.
    Reply
  • Juusukun
    If stuff like this is popular and it grows, we may find ourselves in a Matrix of our own creation
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Belfast, Ireland
    Um, does the UK know about this?

    Last I checked Belfast was in Northern Ireland. Similar accent, different country.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    19333756 said:
    Psssht... programming has been dumbed down enough to the point that any "Bro" can be a programmer if they know the IDE's "write my code for me" features.

    No internet, a C book, and turbo C libraries, yet made a program... there is a 14 year old who knows programming.
    Yeah, it's definitely not like the bad old days. The tools are easier, and there's a lot more information that's a lot more accessible. Not just youtube, but stackoverflow, and even google, itself, is a huge programming aid (as in: googling error messages, and searching for instructions on how to do something).

    That said, I don't want to detract from his accomplishment. I just think the article plays it up a little too much, since even grade school aged kids are attending coding camps and workshops.

    IMO, the article should stick to the facts and not try to grade his effort on a curve. If he's going to put it out there on Steam and charge real money for it, then he should be ready for real critiques and feedback.

    Based on the article, I don't see what's compelling about it. It's not a game, per se, and all of the activities listed would be better enjoyed outside VR.

    BTW, kids have one advantage working adults don't - free time. I wrote a lot of bad code, when I was around that age, but I could brute force my way through inferior approaches and get them working by virtue of having a sharp memory and lots of free time.
    Reply
  • bloodroses
    Heck, I remember when I was programming back in the days, we didn't have engines at all. Instead it was commands like 'Poke' and 'Peek'. After that is was just brute force C (lack of libraries such as opengl, sdl, etc). While there were simple game engines available on the C64, it really wasn't until Doom came around that the idea of a serious, customizable game engine that the average person could use came around.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    19334965 said:
    Heck, I remember when I was programming back in the days, we didn't have engines at all. Instead it was commands like 'Poke' and 'Peek'. After that is was just brute force C (lack of libraries such as opengl, sdl, etc).
    Exactly. I had to write my own polygon rasterizer, and taught myself assembly language for that.

    Ah, good 'ol VGA mode 13h. Michael Abrash was a god to us, back then.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    "He quit sports to make time for development"

    Are we sure that he didn't make time for development just to have an excuse to quit sports? : D

    "single-handedly built a room-scale sandbox VR game"

    With only the help of the Unity asset store and whoever paid for his expensive VR setup. >_>

    While it's certainly cool that he put together a piece of VR software and got it on Steam, being in VR doesn't necessarily make it any more of an accomplishment than if it were any other piece of software. There are plenty of teenage developers and modders, and I imagine there must be other games on Steam (and elsewhere) made by developers in a similar age group. They didn't necessarily put any less effort into their games just because they didn't have access to VR equipment.
    Reply