'VR Is Hard': An Interview With Cyan Worlds Co-Founder Rand Miller

The Cyan development team.

After a few delays, Obduction is available for the Oculus Rift. The PC variant came out two months ago, but developing a VR game for the first time demanded more time of the developers. In the wake of the VR release, we talked to studio co-founder Rand Miller about the process, as well as his thoughts on virtual reality in general.

Uncharted Territory

In three words, Miller summarized the overall experience of bringing Obduction to the Oculus Rift: “VR is hard.”  Like many other studios that have games available on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, Cyan ventured outside of its comfort zone to bring the PC gaming experience to virtual reality. When the VR version of the game was delayed, the studio said that it needed more time for “more optimizations and UI polishing.” Miller said that the “optimizations” referred to the game’s overall performance.

“VR needs more horsepower and more efficient models to work. You’re driving two displays [so] you have to get a higher framerate for comfort reasons,” he said.

The in-game UI also required some work, as it needed to function not just with the Xbox controller, but with the Oculus remote as well. With a release date set for the Oculus Touch controllers, I asked if the game will support them at launch. Miller was mum on the subject, but he did say to stay tuned in the future.

The Navigation Problem

However, there was a larger issue for Miller and the Cyan team when they made the game for VR: navigation. At E3, I learned that Cyan implemented two navigation systems for the game. You can travel freely around the world, similar to a traditional first-person experience, or utilize “Node Mode,” which is similar to Cloudhead Games’ “Blink” system. Both methods are available in the final version, but Cyan also decided to have Node Mode as the default choice when you start the game. The main reason, according to Miller, is so that players don’t have a nauseating experience with free roam.

“Free-roam is really interesting because there’s more of a push in VR to play [that way],” he said. “But it’s two-edged sword, because if you’re not careful, you give the novice players an [uncomfortable] experience. The stakes are high because they might get sick and never play the game again.”

However, Miller decided to leave the free roam option in the game so that players have a choice in how they explore the world of Hunrath.

“It’s already in the [PC version], and we don’t want to be too heavy-handed,” he said.  “For the people who can handle it, it’s rewarding. It seems the best of both worlds to have it available.”

Cyan’s VR Prospects

With one VR game under its belt, Cyan isn’t done with virtual reality. One issue that some fans might have is the fact that the game is a VR exclusive for the Oculus Rift, even though its large, interactive world would work well with the HTC Vive. For Miller, the idea of a room-scale experience for Obduction is interesting, but the developers would have to put in more time that they don’t have at the moment.

“Room-scale is both incredible and challenging because it’s [about] sticking your head where it doesn’t belong. Depending on your navigation and the scale of your room, you can move to a wall and peek to the other side,” he said. “I think [that] what we have going for us is that when people are in these worlds, they respect the limits of the virtual world compared to the physical world. There are some challenges, but the reward is huge. You have to get your world in better shape. We also have to figure out methods to obscure that to help the average player not cheat.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Miller seemed confident that his studio can deliver another VR game in the future. To Miller, and the rest of Cyan for that matter, VR is the future.

“We’re excited,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of things come and go, but when you go into VR, there’s this certain magic to it. In spite of the fact that it’s still cumbersome, you can see that it’s magical enough that it’s inspirational. All we want to do in Cyan is build worlds that you get lost in. Well, VR is obvious for us. It’s silly to try and do these experiences in the non-VR way from this point forward. But frankly, VR is the future for us. We’re all in.”

For now, however, fans can enjoy exploring Hunrath via the traditional PC or the Oculus Rift. The team is currently working on the Mac version of the game, and they plan to release additional updates for fixes, improvements, and new features. After that, Cyan will turn its attention to one of its many early ideas to create a foundation for its next project.

  • hannibal
    Hmmm... not bad at all!
  • --Eric 1979--
    It's great in VR, but only with the point and click way of moving. Free moving has horrendous judder. It needs more optimization.
  • sephirotic
    I've been saying this in all articles related to vr: VR NEEDS EYETRACKING. Primarily because of "foveated rendering". Current vr resolutions at up to 1440p is still far from enough. We need at least 4k per eye. And for obvious reasons, driving over 20 million pixels over 70 times per second with photorealistic details is not doable now nor in the next 10 years. Thus, just rendering the exact central part of the image, where the eye is looking is crucial, only the central part of your view is high resolution, you need 1-2 million pixels in the central portion and 1 million pixels for the rest of the screen, 25% less than a standard 1440p screen, with better quality and no screendoor effect. This is by far more important than roomscale. Vive and rift have their priority wrong. This matter still need an universal open api at the gpu driver leve to support assymetrical rendering, thus not counting with developers to implement it.
    VR is also still overpriced. It must go down to bellow 500 usd. i also see the excessive competition between oculus and vive for a dominant format only segmenting a very small and fragile matket.
  • wifiburger
    this article is lame, it's like saying tour de france is really hard to a person that doesn't do any sports

    don't tell the rest of the world that don't use VR that VR is hard lmao !