We speak to James Duvall from Indigo Affect about their new CRYENGINE-powered VR experience, Undergrowth: VR Maze.
Out now on Steam, Undergrowth: VR Maze is a relaxing new VR experience for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Valve Index. From Texas-based indie developer Indigo Affect, Undergrowth: VR Maze is a nature simulator that provides a relaxing experience with positive messages as you explore a beautiful environment inspired by aspects of Europe’s nature and architecture. It’s designed to offer you a place to destress, chill out, and get some positive vibes. We spoke to James Duvall about the game and how CRYENGINE and our CRYENGINE community helped Indigo Affect realize its vision.
Hey James! Congratulations on the release! How did you get started with CRYENGINE, and why did you choose it for this project?
We had experience with the engine since CryEngine 3, but it was mainly for personal reasons then. During that time, Alex, my brother and lead developer, started creating some art projects with the engine and the assets that came with it. I also looked into the engine to try and integrate it into my animated shorts, so we have known and liked CRYENGINE for many years. At first, Undergrowth: VR Maze was a solo project, but this game would never see the light of day without Alex, so I’m very grateful for him not just because he's my brother but also the coding skills he brought into the project.
This is our first app published with a game engine of any sort. Years ago, we tried to finish a 2D game with a different engine, but there were so many problems we ultimately had to scrap it.
In the early stages, I was figuring out which engine would work best for us. CRYENGINE was chosen because of its SVOGI technology, as it gave me the look I was going for, and I didn’t have to bake or re-bake the shadows. Another aspect was the specular workflow for creating materials, which I am very comfortable with and still use for other applications. The GUI from CRYENGINE, which reminds me of 3DS Max, is also a great help. Other engines offer VR integrations, but the graphical tech offered by CRYENGINE was a high priority for me.
What inspired you to create Undergrowth: VR Maze?
After finishing an animated short, I was looking for another project to do, and it was an amalgamation of stress, experience, and my own research. I’m a Professor of Communications, and the tipping point came when seeing some of my students who were super stressed. It crossed my mind to put people in an environment to decompress and reinforce positive messages for them. But how to do that? VR was the way to go, I thought. Not a new idea, but we try to make it a good one.
We hope to decompress the player in the game from the daily stressors of life. The biggest challenge is to have people feel present in the level, so the graphics had to be excellent, or close to it, once inside VR. During testing, people have enjoyed being inside the environment and feeling present in a beautiful area. It’s not so much a specific place. I would say it’s more inspired by Europe’s greenery, architecture, and other elements I have experienced during my visits.
As you play the game, in addition to enjoying the natural environment, you will find statues, little games like croquet, and games with building blocks. You’ll also discover poems that act like hidden gems to lead you out of the maze.
What CRYENGINE features have helped you the most during this production?
Besides SVOGI, the detail map has been a great help. Adding the detail texture map with the albedo, normal, and specular map gave objects a fantastic look, close to what I would want. Usually, I don’t have to mess with the settings too much after adding it. I also made sure to use the detail map on specific objects that I felt would enhance the visual experience.
Has the CRYENGINE community helped?
The CRYENGINE community has been fantastic to us when we needed questions answered generally. There are some excellent and funny people in the community!
What are the next steps for Undergrowth: VR Maze?
We plan to expand the map, add different environmental times, and a new winter season for the map as well.
Have you got any advice for other indie developers?
You can’t please everybody. Make it to the best of your abilities and keep growing your projects and updating them. In the end, make it to your satisfaction.
Because it’s a VR project, the big mistake I made was thinking it could be developed like any other game. But I didn’t consider the screen resolution needed for VR headsets, which initially made it unstable with terrible frame rates. There was much paring down in terms of polygons, texture maps, tweaking the view distance, and the LOD Ratios. With VR, you really need to optimize your game.
Head to Steam to check out Undergrowth: VR Maze!
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