Chef, Chemistry Major Build 42 Silicon Valley’s First Virtual Reality Game
Amidst mounting excitement, 42 Silicon Valley’s Bad Honey Bun Games student project team is gearing up to bring that old arcade shooter-like feel to virtual reality.
Conversion: Artificial Dawn, the first Oculus game from the Bad Honey Bun Games team is now in its testing stage and will soon be available at the Oculus store. But what is even more exciting and truly remarkable is that the team, who had no previous experience in the art of 3D modeling, was able to roll out a minimum viable product (MVP) in just four months and without a budget!
What started out as a more ambitious game — among the likes of Avatar — quickly evolved into a funner, more practical game inspired by the team’s favorite arcade game, the 1995 Namco classic, Time Crisis.®
The company was formed last year in November by Danny Saetern (Director). Sean Darsie (Gameplay programmer, level designer, AI brains) and Andy Gardner (Audio specialist, game composer) joined in December.
Before coming to 42 and discovering the world of coding, the team members were on completely different paths. Danny, who comes from a restaurant background, planned to take out a massive student loan to attend culinary school while Sean was a chemistry major in college. The two have come a long way.
With the testing stage rolling out just last week, we sat down with Danny Saetern and Sean Darsie of Bad Honey Bun Games (and Josh Trujillo who manages and supports teams in our project incubator) to tell us all about the project…
What was the idea behind your virtual reality game, Conversion: Artificial Dawn?
Danny: “We all love Time Crisis. When I go to Dave & Buster’s that’s the only game I play, so I said let’s try to do that. We started out with the basic concept of what is Time Crisis: It’s an arcade shooter that takes you from checkpoint to checkpoint. You kill a bunch of enemies at each checkpoint and then you can move on once you finish that level. We didn’t want to do the timed thing. With Time Crisis, you’re on a set time. We wanted the idea of the game where you can move from point to point and shoot your weapon.
We started with different forms of movements. We said ‘can we do a relative thing? Can we do a teleportation system?’ […] We ended up with the system we have now where it starts you out moving really slowly and then accelerates as you go from checkpoint to checkpoint enough to not get motion sickness.”
How did the team come together?
Josh: “Sean was actually adopted from another team because he really wanted to work in virtual reality.”
Sean: “The main reason I came to 42 was because I actually wanted to learn how to make games. The first thing and then I thought ‘hey, maybe I learn to code I can make games!’ But I didn’t actually think that it would happen. Danny and I were roommates and he came and said to me, help me build a VR world, and I said ‘no, I don’t know how to do that.’” (Laughs)
Danny: “That was the quote, ‘we don’t know if we don’t try!’ I came to 42 because I know cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 and I knew the foundational technique but I wanted to learn the entire technique so I was set to take out a $75K loan for culinary school. I had some time off of work and my friend was like you should just try out coding because I saw a Forbes magazine and said VR is in the future and I started investing in Nvidia and I loved what Oculus was doing so I thought maybe I should just try it out.
I took a month off of work and I tried out the (first) piscine and I thought ‘this makes no sense,’ so I failed everything. I failed everything until the last week; we buckled down and studied like 20 hours each day and somehow, I actually got pretty high on the exam, failed the exam but I got to level 5. That’s how our school works. I got so many questions wrong on the exam but I moved on to the next level. They make you work hard. I did a full 7 hours on the exam and I knew I had failed.”
Josh: “They have a lot of motivation and passion. Originally Gaëtan (42’s Chief Academic Officer) did not want another VR team. When they applied, he said ‘no, we’re not going to accept their team.’ After the presentation, they just killed it and he was like, ‘we can’t stop them because they are so motivated’ and that’s actually how they got in: pure passion for the project.”
What stage is Conversion: Artificial Dawn currently in? Are you submitting to Oculus?
Danny: “We are currently rolling out the testing stage — the alpha stage. We have a demo made and then that demo is the one we will send out to the publisher to UVI soft and to other testers. We want to get a public consensus, like ‘hey do we have a product here? Do people like it?’
First it’s demo stage one and then our training stages. We’re going to send it out to people to get a feel for the story and for how the game mechanics will work. We put a lot of time into the story.
We send the keys first and see how it goes…but the most important thing is we want to send it to Oculus to have it checked. Motion sickness is a big issue and they have a really strict benchmark of what your game can and cannot be. It has to run at 90 frames per second. It has to run at minimum spec machine that Oculus specifies. Their game needs to run on this type of machine and they have to benchmark that.
It takes them 2 – 3 weeks so we want to send it off now. We have other stages ready but we want to have them check the first stage and get feedback so that we know what we need to work on and we can go off of that.
We’re trying to see if we qualify for the benchmark to see what we need to change at the core of the game itself. We beat most of their benchmarks already. They give you a little tool, they check your average frame mark — we need to have our game run at 90. Your console games and PC games run probably at 45-60 frames/second. VR games nowadays need to run at 90 and can’t jump below that so our games have to much more optimized and that’s what I’ve been spending my time working on lately.”
UPDATE: Artificial Dawn is now available on the Oculus Store for download and after just over 10 days, already has 1000+ downloads.
Tell us about building a game with no virtual reality game design experience.
Sean: “That was the big challenge for us — that we don’t have experience making 3D models to make our own characters and objects and stuff so we have to rely on whatever is out there because 3D modeling is pretty much an art form that you have to practice. It’ not like a formulaic thing where you can just go through the steps and instantly be very good at making things. It’s its own separate art.”
Danny: “For us the computer programming has been the easiest part. We coded the core concept of the game in about a month. The last three months, we’ve been doing everything that’s not coding: all the sounds and everything in our big immersive world. If you shoot something with your gun, you want to be able to feel and see the effects. If I shoot a stone building, I should see stones pop out, I should hear stones pop out, I should hear my gun going off. You’re looking for those reactions inside VR because when people don’t get those type of reactions they feel that disconnect and question ‘why am I spending my money on this?’
We’re trying to make the game cool but also give players a realism. In order to do that, we needed to find the balance between cool & realistic and that required us to learn more about sound and learn about lighting. Then, of course, we wanted to have a story, so how do you write a story and how do we do the animation with no budget? You have to get models that work with no budget. Next you have to start recording, then social media; you need a Twitter, YouTube, everything. Then you have to learn how to use Adobe Premiere, you have to learn how to record video footage so you can make a movie trailer, etc.”
How do you feel that your product is different from others?
Sean: “A lot of others are out to solve a problem, ours is more entertainment.”
Danny: “We’re just trying to make it fun. We don’t rely too much on realism, we’re just trying to get that feel that we miss. I want to shoot some stuff from checkpoint to checkpoint and have a connecting story to it and kinda make it quick. We use a lot more settings; we start you off in areas where you need to hide so you have to use buildings, walls, you have to turn around and shoot behind you. We’ve played a lot with positional. I can track exactly where you are in the area and because of that I can start the enemies off in different locations — behind you, around you and because it is in VR, we play with that 360 degree. I want to immerse you in the world, force you to use the world around you.
What’s nice about 42 is that everyone is from different walks of life so you can get 200 different opinions about your product, about your trailer, about your game.
The trailer took me a whole week to do, everyday a few cuts. We had original cut, second cut, third cut. Even Josh was like ‘just send it out!’ Especially for the Unity stuff, we don’t have a motion graphics team, we don’t have an animation team so everything you see in the trailer, we built it from scratch specifically for that trailer. Things look larger than life in that trailer […] I said we have no budget, we’re going to use what we can.
You have to think about different, innovative ways to do stuff when you don’t have a budget. So how do you do a cut scene in virtual reality where you can’t get that cinematic shot […] so you just have to think of different ways to do that.”
What are your hopes for the project?
Danny: “The idea is…I’ve always wanted to work inside VR. Now I got the chance to form my own company and try to push it as far as it can go.
We’re gonna push it out this week to the Oculus store have them check it 2 or 3 weeks. By that point, we should have a really good demo that is more polished and won’t crash. We already stopped adding more things and we’re taking care of the lighting so it looks nicer. I know that we’re a small independent team and they might not expect too much from us and because they’re not, I want to give them a little punch in the face and show them what we can do.”
How did you divide the work load for your virtual reality game development?
Sean: “I didn’t learn how to use Adobe Premiere very much but like the game part of it; Andy and I both know how to use Unity very well.”
Danny: “I had a little more experience with Unity and Sean was working on the AI part for the boss phases 1 and 2 so we had to split the team. I had Sean and Andy work on the coding stuff and I did the rest that’s not coding such as social media, Adobe Premiere; finding the contractor for the art (Claudia Villa “Kiototoy”) and ensuring we benchmarked well.”
That seems like a lot. How has that worked out for you?
Danny: “I stay here about six nights a week. We know this is something that might take someone a whole year to do so we have to play catch up. For me, it’s always been that I have to work twice as hard at something. If you want do what someone does in half the amount of time, you have to put in twice the amount of work. I come from a restaurant background. 12 hour days, 6 days a week so this is like a vacation for me.” (Laughs)
How long have you each been at 42?
Sean: “A year and a half.”
Danny: “About a year and 8 months. We’re some of the students that have been here the longest.”
What have you liked most about being at 42 aside from being able to work on your project?
Danny: “The office space for working and the fact that you can really focus, especially in the project incubator area. Everyone here is focused on their product. I’m proud to be in a group where everybody is working toward the same goal. I love people who are passionate about their work. Every single leader here is passionate about their work and then finding the right people to follow — I’m all about that.”
What has been your favorite part of this journey?
Sean: “Watching people test the game. It’s so much fun! They have all kinds of different reactions to it, some people get scared, some people just love it right off the bat, some people walk straight into walls.” (Laughs)
Josh: “I’ve heard multiple screams from my desk.” (Laughs)
What’s in store for the future?
Danny: “What’s nice about here is that you are able to meet people. Network. We try to go to as many meet ups as possible and see what is out there, see what people are doing with games. Mainly, I’ve been looking at the business side of virtual reality (VR). This is my baby. If I want to continue to push it forward, what is the next step? Are we going to demo out? Are we going to find a publisher? Try to get some funding. How do we build public interest? But then also be more active on like Oculus forums, check in with people, build some more trailers, teasers, people like seeing what you’re working on.
I think that’s the difference. Before social media, especially older video game developers were like ‘people are toxic.’ They wouldn’t talk to anybody and it’s like you gotta talk to people. People like seeing progress — how you started to what it is now.”
We had a chance to play the game after the interview and can say first hand that Conversion: Artificial Dawn is all it’s cracked up to be AND it is coming to the Oculus store soon! The Bad Honey Bun Games team invites you to visit their website, check out the trailer, test out the game and follow them on social media.
Update: Download the press release announcing the game’s successful release on the Oculus store where it has achieved over a 1,000 downloads in 2 weeks: SuccessfulVRGameBuiltatInnovativeCodingSchool
published by Jennifer Robertson – May 17, 2018