Darknet Dev on Standing Out, Oculus Exclusivity and Project Morpheus

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Darknet is a title that’s taking a lot of risks. It’s a puzzle experience with a bold, vibrant art style that sets it apart from anything you’ve seen before. Not only that, but it’s also intending to launch day and date exclusively on the consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, whenever that may be. It’s certainly refreshing to hear about a title that isn’t afraid to tackle some of the challenges that are holding others back from VR development head-on, but how does developer E McNeill plan to pull it off?

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VRFocus recently spoke to McNeill about the title, which won the grand prize at last year’s VR Jam development session.  In the interview below he discusses what made the project a hit at last year’s event, as well as touching on the benefits of VR and his concerns about launching on the new technology. Those interested in Darknet can go hands-on with it at PAX East in Boston later this week.

VRFocus: Where did the idea for Darknet come from?

E McNeil: Putting on the Oculus Rift always makes me feel like a hacker, regardless of what game I’m playing in it. Making a cyberpunk hacking game just seemed like a natural fit from the start!

VRFocus: How has the title come on it started as Ciess?

E McNeil: Ciess was a bit of a cheeky title; it was meant to be pronounced like “CS”, which stood for “cyberspace”. Of course, nobody ever knew that, and most people never know how to pronounce the game, so it was clear that it would need a new name for the full version. So, I came up with a bunch of terrible name options, and Darknet was the least terrible among them.

VRFocus: Why do you think Ciess won a grand prize at last year’s VR Jam and how has it impacted further development?

E McNeil: I think Ciess stood out because it was trying to be a real strategy game with lasting appeal, rather than a novelty. I also think that the judges were really looking for more comfortable experiences, and that worked in my favor.

Winning the Jam was obviously a huge event for me. I was leaning against developing Ciess into a full game at the time, and I probably would not have started work on Darknet if I had gotten even second place. It really gave me the validation and motivation I needed to continue onward.

VRFocus: Darknet is inspired by ‘Hollywood hacking’. How did you differentiate between that and the real thing?

E McNeil: Real hacking is cool, but it looks a lot less cool (and is probably a lot less dramatic) than Hollywood’s version. Hollywood hacking is about being a badass cyber wizard, not about convincing some secretary to read you her password over the phone.

VRFocus: What does virtual reality bring to the experience? Would Darknet be possible without the Oculus Rift?

E McNeil: I believe that VR is important to the theme in Darknet. It also allows me to play with things like sense of scale, or the feeling of being surrounded, or differing depths of objects. The game would be totally possible without the Rift, but it would be a lot worse.

VRFocus: You’re obviously putting a lot of energy into developing Darknet. Are you not worried about the risk of launching only on Oculus?

E McNeil: I worry about everything! I’m certainly limiting my market, but being a VR-exclusive game is also potentially a way to stand out in a crowded marketplace. I’m just hoping it will all balance out.

VRFocus: What do you make of the indie push behind the Oculus Rift? Are there any benefits/disadvantages to the situation?

E McNeil: The Oculus folks have been very good to me so far, and I certainly don’t see any disadvantages to that. I think they’re just being realistic about the risks involve with a new platform; they know that big companies can’t put millions into made-for-VR games yet, but indies can explore the platform in their own worthwhile way.

VRFocus: Do you anticipate finishing work on Darknet before the release of the Rift? Will there be any chances for consumers to play it pre-launch?

E McNeil: I’m hoping to finish the game before the release of the Rift. I’ll probably be releasing a short demo soon that’s DK1-compatible, but later on, I’m sure I’ll be more focused on getting things ready for the final release. If I put out anything else early, I’m guessing it will require the DK2.

VRFocus: Would you consider bringing Darknet to consoles if they announced VR headsets?

E McNeil: Sony, of course, just announced Project Morpheus.

I haven’t heard anything from Sony since the announcement, but I’d be happy to talk to them if they have anything to say. I don’t know how easy it is to support both platforms, and I don’t know if either platform will be requiring exclusivity, so it’s hard to say anything at the moment.

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