Steve Bowler and Jeremy Chapman are the minds behind The Brookhaven Experiment, which has left a considerable impression on the VR community since launching earlier this month. The two have since moved on from Phosphor Games to found their own game company called CloudGate Studio, in conjunction with Mike Fischer (former CEO of Square Enix).
Bowler and Chapman spoke with [a]listdaily about their newest project, Island 359—a virtual reality game where players are challenged to survive on a jungle island that happens to be populated by vicious dinosaurs.
As Chapman describes it, “Island 359 puts you into the shoes of a mercenary who has been sent to a remote island where dinosaurs have suddenly appeared and started attacking the residents. Governments of the world are aware, but don’t want anyone else to know about the situation, so they are contracting Black Ops teams to remedy the situation and eliminate the dinosaur threat.”
When asked what inspired the creation of a virtual reality dinosaur survival game, Chapman responded, “I’ve always been obsessed with dinosaurs, and have wanted to make a dinosaur game that brings them to life in a believable way for a long time now. VR opened up the door to do just that on a scale we didn’t originally think was possible.” Chapman also stated that the story would be periodically updated during its Steam Early Access period, which is expected to launch later this summer.
In discussing how they planned to promote the game while it was in Early Access, Bowler stated that “we’re planning to do developer livestreams showing our process of working on the features, along with playing those features on the livestream before they’re released. We also have a lot of other (hopefully) fun surprises in store, like sharing GIFs or short videos via our social channels of new dinosaurs, weapons, modes, funny moments and other features as they’re completed or being worked on. We also hope the Island 359 community and the VR community gets excited and shares their experiences!”
“We feel that Early Access allows us to share what we’re making with the VR community while it’s hungry for new content,” Bowler continued. “This is the launch year for consumer VR, and we formed CloudGate because we felt like we had something to add to the community and to be a part of this exciting, historic launch. So to help facilitate that, we’ll be offering a big discount at Island 359’s Early Access launch, in order to thank our fans and community for joining us during this first phase. As we release more features, areas, modes, dinos, weapons and updates, we’ll be gradually reducing that discount as the product gets closer to a final retail product. Fans who join us early will only have to pay the heavily discounted price, and they’ll keep getting the updates for free!”
Chapman also commented on why CloudGate chose to develop Island 359 using the HTC Vive as its launch platform. “The Vive is currently the only way to experience full body, room scale, immersive VR,” he said. “Using your hands to interact with your environment and allowing the player the freedom to move around, duck and dodge are all elements we felt were necessary to the experience of Island 359. We want you to sweat a little bit and get you out of your comfort zone. You can’t fear for your life if you know you’re sitting in a chair in your living room holding a game controller. The Vive lets us play with your natural human ‘fight or flight’ instincts in ways other game platforms can’t.”
Bowler discussed the challenges of promoting a game that uses technology that’s still very new. “The issue isn’t that the technology is new—consumer VR is incredibly robust and a very finished and polished kit,” he said. “The biggest issue is that ‘seeing is believing,’ except when it comes to VR, even seeing isn’t enough. You have to be in VR before you believe it. Both of us had our doubts as to how good consumer VR was before we tried the Vive dev kits. All it took was one demo, and we were hooked. We had to go back. We had Matrix withdrawal. So the challenge to the entire VR industry is getting faces in HMDs. Once there, people want it. It’s very real.”
Bowler continued by discussing some of the challenges VR technology continues to face. “The only way to understand VR is to actually be in VR. Seeing a trailer, or even watching a ‘Let’s Play’ video of someone playing a VR game on YouTube, isn’t the same as actually being in it. Currently, we’re working with our strong industry partners to try and get Island 359 at more shows and in more places for folks to demo it and try it out—as we feel that it can be a powerful ambassador to VR adoption. We’ve really nailed that feeling of ‘I’m in a hot jungle’ to the point where we see people playing it have instinctive lizard brain reactions. They try and hide in the bushes or behind rocks or trees. So we’d love to get as many people on the Island as possible so they can experience the exhilaration for themselves!”
Given the challenges CloudGate and other developers face with promoting virtual reality games, we asked if any consideration was given to creating a non-VR version of the game. “Not at this time,” said Chapman. “The magic of Island 359 comes largely from the presence of being in VR that you can only get with the HMD on your face and seeing your hands interacting with the objects and dinosaurs in the world—believing that you exist in that jungle with those dinosaurs. We formed CloudGate to make premium VR experiences like Island 359, and we’re committed to that vision.”