Over a year ago, someone had an idea. It was in October, we had just received a contract to develop a game, and during lunch we were talking about stuff we loved in games we played. There were a few hardcore gamers around the table. Mason and Aurélien were talking about a game in which a character was looking at a laptop and, looking through the CCTV of the area, giving instructions to his team. They loved the idea of a game inside the game.
And that’s it.
It kept running in our heads. Especially during discussions with a client that same day. We love to involve our clients in our ideas, and it seemed obvious to talk about this one. Excited by it, he wanted to use it in a workshop, and make it integral to his innovation pedagogy. So, we got to work!
There is no game without a story. There is no immersion without a story. So, we needed a story.
A few days later, we were working with Eric and Mason, and these guys are players, good players actually. We sent them on a mission! “You have 2 hours to write the story of a heist! Use your gaming experience, and what you’ve seen in movies and novels!”
And they wrote The Heist. A 5 man team has to steal a formula inside a secured building. They then gave us a presentation of the game’s workflow: the players, their roles, the challenges they have to solve, and examples of games and movies to use as reference material. They did a great job in those two hours. And we made a bet: we would demo the game at our next workshop with our current client, 6 weeks later!
Once the idea was clear, we could start to work on the game itself. An key element of the game is that there is a commander outside the building and 4 players inside the building. We immediately made a major decision: the 4 players could play in VR, while the commander leads them. We were experimenting with Google Cardboard at that time, and we were missing a project to test out skills. Well, now we had it.
The project was then split up according to the competencies of each member of the Digital Skin team:
Aurélien would have to build a 3D building with all the necessary elements inside it: computers, rooms, laser detectors, furniture and so on. It just made sense perfect, he could work on his own until he had something nice to share.
I started to play around more with Cardboard, and Damien integrated VR with the character controller we were using. Then we added a network layer to see other players. A lot of obstacles sprung up each time we started a new task, we had to handle the 3D performances of the phones, questions of how to handle the user interface in VR, …
We tried and set up a few challenges. Each day, we progressed, helping whoever was stuck in a dead end, but time was flying.
Two days before the showcase we had the VR players running. Alongside that, we had a commander touch screen working. Each project in a separate sandbox project. We also had a great building all on its own.
And we had to put all these together in the 2 days. That last night was hard work!
But in the morning, we had a fully functional preview of the game. It could only run for 20 minutes before crashing, there was only one challenge working, but…everything else was there.
By 9am, the workshop started, and The Heist was the central piece. Mission accomplished! I still cannot believe all that this team accomplished in such a short period of time. And just to be clear, we were working on The Heist’s development at the same time as other projects!
For our clients, this was a very positive experience. We used it with them as a tool to train soft skills and later expanded it further into a train the trainer program. And there are a lot of soft skills involved in the game, from communication to team management, not forgetting quick decision making processes…
Now, over a year later, The Heist is still growing every few weeks: better graphics, more challenging content, new user interfaces, … It can run on mobile VR, but also on PC, Mac, android tablets and most interesting of all: it works on Oculus Rift, a much higher quality VR experience than mobile VR can offer. But that’s a story for another time.