Lethal VR

November 2016

Three Fields Entertainment

Three Fields Entertainment

Interface Art, Design and Scripting (HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)
Pack & Marketing Art (HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)

Lethal VR is perhaps the fastest development I’ve ever experienced.  It began with an innocuous check-in to the Three Fields’ Perforce server on a late Friday afternoon in August 2016 with the comment ‘It now works in VR’.  The following week the guys let me in on the secret – we were entering the world of Virtual Reality gaming for the first time.

The idea was to create a true room scale VR shooting gallery on the newly released HTC Vive VR system.  Lethal VR was to be a high-tech VR version of the FBI’s Hogan’s Alley  – Tony Stark technology meets the opening sequence of Point Break, with a nod to War Games.

Development of the game was lightning fast, with our code guys mastering VR gun handling and knife throwing in days, as well as providing me with the systems needed to create a VR front end.  And that, for me, was a really new experience because as much as I’d learned about making interfaces for the 2D screen there were a few curveballs that the 3D VR world threw at me.

The first thing I learned was that all those blockbuster movie interfaces where semi-transparent holograms hover in the air before the hero might work for Hollywood but just don’t work very well in VR.  They look terrific in movies but in reality, they don’t really work – it’s like trying to read text on a shop window – your eyes struggle to focus and what’s behind ‘the projection’ can be distracting.

The second thing I learned is that VR is brutal from a performance point of view – you want to maintain 90fps and stop players from throwing up, the number of fancy effects you throw at the screen has to be carefully managed.

The weapon unlock panel in our VR interface.

Finally in creating a VR interface, distance becomes your enemy.  A VR interface in essence is made up from a set of signposts or billboards positioned at a distance from the player. This means that although text that looks great on a screen, it may be totally different when you put it 10 virtual feet away from the player in a 3D VR environment.  Text may blur out or shimmer due to the fact that at that distance there aren’t enough pixels on the display to show it.

But, suffice to say, with many iterations and a several weeks putting on and taking off an increasingly sweaty Oculus Rift headset to test the visuals, the game came together.

Gun range targets all appear to have a certain 1970s comic look, so I did my best to emulate that.

One cool aspect of my job on Lethal VR was creating stacks of target characters for the various shooting ranges.  We had been building the game exclusively with featureless targets and then decided that if we were truly making an authentic shooting gallery experience we had to get the variety in there.  (I think I drew everything in under 48 hours!) A particularly fun part of this task was creating ‘innocent’ versions of the target characters.  This meant figuring out how to take a character in a shooting stance and without severely breaking the silhouette giving them a completely innocent version.  The office favourite was the thug with the shotgun who also appears innocently carrying a rug over his shoulder.

Stop, or my Mom will Shoot

The final thing I undertook on Lethal VR was the cover art.  I created this using a combination of screen grabs from the game engine with lots of bits of overpainting and compositing.  I began work on the artwork while the game was still in the middle of development.  This meant that the arsenal of weapons that featured on the cover was continually changing, with more cool weapons being added every day.  So, although it looks like I created the art in one cohesive render, it is in fact made of many individual cut outs and additions all Photoshopped together.

Lethal VR is available on HTC Vive and PlayStation VR from Three Fields Entertainment.