Independence Acres Interview

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David, congratulations on being the winner of The Power of 3D Audio Contest!

When the RS3D team demos Independence Acres, everyone loves it. There is something compelling about the arcade-like gameplay and the quirky premise that keeps people entertained. It’s so much fun that our demo lines are getting backed up! I would like to ask you a few questions about Independence Acres and your experience using RS3D, but let’s start things off by giving you a chance to tell us a little bit about yourself.

RS3D: When we were first introduced, it was at a Washington Area Unity User’s Group meetup. How has the WAUUG impacted you and your relationship to indie gaming?

David Busch: The user group encouraged me to go beyond my initial introduction to Unity. Andrew, the organizer of the group, gave me an unbiased opinion of Unity and Unreal Engine 4; he told me that I’d really have to have a small team to squeeze any advantages out of Unreal. Based on his opinion, I continued forward with Unity as a small developer and focused my energy on creating experiences rather than wasting time weighing the pros and cons of different engines.

RS3D: How long have you been creating indie games?

David Busch: Well, that depends what you consider an indie game. I made my first game in an editor called “The Games Factory” when I was in about fifth grade. It was a sprite based RPG in which the battle scenes consisted of the enemy going off screen and wrapping around while shooting at your player. If I remember correctly it was my post-apocalyptic take on Earthbound.

Then, in freshman year of high school, I took a computer science class where the teacher let us play Counter Strike most of the time. On days that he did make us work, me and a couple of other students in the class actually made games in Visual Basic. I created a blackjack game, a Space-Invaders-like game, and a game where you played a riot cop, stopping a mob of hippies from reaching the steps of the town hall.
It wasn’t until I moved out to Alexandria and received my Oculus that I was inspired to go back into game development. It was all made possible by the accessible, capable tool-set that is Unity 5.

RS3D:  Did you have any other games before Independence Acres? Please tell us about them.

David Busch: For the Oculus 2015 Mobile Jam, I took a few ideas I was experimenting with and decided to create a multiplayer fps game for the GearVR called “Rocket Falls”. I am personally happy with the results, but the game is for only the most hardened VR stomachs, which I am apparently blessed with. As a developer, this proved to be a double edge sword because some people couldn’t handle “Rocket Falls” without getting sick and I didn’t find it out until those folks played it. In the game, players from one of two teams fly through the air with jetpacks and try to hold a capture point. Players can shoot each other to disable enemy jetpacks or to attack players standing on the ground. I hope to revisit this idea once motion controls become available. My hope is that motion controls will ameliorate any nausea felt by the weaker of stomach.

RS3D: Independence Acres is great! We love the simple game-play and the pure arcade fun that it brings to VR. You created Independence Acres for our 3D audio contest as a short tech demo, which limited what you could put into it. Given an unlimited amount of time and resources, what would you add to Independence Acres to make it a longer, deeper experience?

David Busch: My best ideas tend to come out of being restrained. I think this is true for many creative endeavors. Giving the chance, I would have probably made the jump of adding a voice actor for the main character. But in a game where people simply want to shoot things, I would have concentrated mostly on different types of drones and “boss drones” or even “infamous black helicopters.” I would have just let the overblown paranoia drip while coding, listening to Alex Jones’ radio show on repeat.

RS3D: How did you arrive at the idea to make Independence Acres?

David Busch: On the reddit Oculus forums, I was talking about the culture of “comfort” in VR and how many people are leaning toward super comfortable experiences. I was defending the possibility of FPS games in VR and one user said that FPS games would never be possible in VR. My response was “What, do you just expect people to play VR Duck Hunt?” His response was “Yeah, that actually sounds pretty fun.” Good things do sometimes come out of internet arguments!

RS3D: What tools did you use to build Independence Acres?

David Busch: Blender, the Unity Asset Store, and Audacity. Some assets specifically are Low-Poly World, Terrain Composer, and I used Dreamlo for the leaderboards.

RS3D: It is possible to set both the distance from a sound source at which the sound cuts off, and the distance at which sound sources cease to increase in amplitude when approaching the source. People generally always use the distance setting, but not necessarily the amplitude cut-off. Did you make use of both?

David Busch: Yes, there is an inner radius which typically defaults to 1 (1 meter), even for the “vanilla” Unity audiosources. You can see this shift the logarithmic curve to have a flat start, so let’s say that value is raised to 20, there will be an amplitude of 100% until 20 meters out, where the logarithmic fall off begins. For Independence Acres, I set that value to 1 meter, as that is about the size of each drone; there are some paths that do some pretty close flybys and this approach gives the maximum impact on the player. The outer radius I set to a value of about 200m, as one has to account for the vertical and horizontal distance of the drones flying around the tower.

RS3D: One of the challenges developers face with 3D sound is just how to manage overlapping sound sources. When you placed sounds in Independence Acres, what did you do to manage the separation of sounds so that they did not become confusing or overwhelming?

David Busch: I kept the audio sources moving. Just like how the subtle parallax from the DK2’s positional tracking made the DK2 really shine in comparison to the DK1 (and in some ways the GearVR), a relative moving audio source (whether the listener is moving, or the source is moving), is going to give a player more information over that time interval, which will give more spatial information about the different audio sources.
If a developer is working on a slower game with static audio sources, I’d perhaps recommend a swelling of amplitude or some type of frequency shifting of an audiosource to give it more “pop.” Think of window shutters being blown open, cars driving by, floor boards creaking, dogs barking in the distance, etc.

RS3D: Can you give me your honest opinion of RS3D?

David Busch: Having tried both the Oculus sound plugin (OSP) and the RealSpace3D plugin, I like RealSpace3D better. Both are just as easy to implement, so it essentially comes down to how it sounds. The Oculus plugin forces you to define bounds and the reflections just don’t sound as real. Also, the OSP seems to lose localization beyond the closest audio source. I use my GearVR build with RS3D audio to wow people when I demo Independence Acres.

RS3D: RealSpace’s Unity plugin has Virtual Rooms, a feature to manage 3D sound environments. Did you use Virtual Rooms? What went into that decision?

David Busch: Because the open outdoor scene, I decided not to use virtual rooms. When I first started with the plugin I experimented with them and saw how easy it was to visualize, but decided it was unnecessary for Independence Acres.

RS3D: How difficult was the learning and use of the RS3D plugin?

David Busch: For someone with about 6 months of familiarity with Unity, it took a day, maybe two, to get familiar with all the bells and whistles. I essentially just used it out of the box.

RS3D: If you had a wish list of features to be added to RS3D what would they be?

David Busch: I am a very visual person, and I would love an option for developers to give visual indicators on the amplitude and direction of reflections and other 3D phenomenon happening as an audio source moves through the scene. This could give rise to ideas on how to better develop the environment to make the best use of the technology.

RS3D: Independence Acres is a great VR game, but you must have plenty of projects in your sights for the future. What can we expect to see you working on next?

David Busch: I am working on a re-imagining of a game I made in high school, Hippie Slayer. The player is a police officer who must protect the mayor and keep protesters from entering the town hall; well that’s how it starts anyway. There is a cheeky narrative, and some unique gameplay which I think is perfect for VR and will give players a challenge. I hope to submit the project before the end of the year and get it on the GearVR store at the start of 2016.
After Hippie Slayer, I would love to work on a project using Oculus Touch, but until I can get an SDK, I will probably take a small break and catch up on reading, sleep, and getting back into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.