Holiday Update

The Oculus Touch is finally here, and with it Episode 1 of The Gallery on Rift for the first time with Touch. If this is your first time experiencing wireless hand-tracking or Oculus’ roomscale options, we hope you love the future as much as we do. If you’re one of our 600+ Kickstarter backers who received a code for the game last week, let us know what you think on social media @CloudheadGames.

To celebrate the launch, we released a new trailer showcasing some of our many accolades since launch, from awards to rave reviews to “best of” lists. Last month we were even honoured to have won three new awards—Best Technology, Best Game Innovation, and Best Virtual Reality game at the Canadian Videogame Awards—winning over many of our idols at Ubisoft and Eidos Montreal in the categories. To be celebrated on a national scale, and to represent Canada in this emerging medium… we’re eternally grateful.

What’s new:

In case you missed the memo, Call of the Starseed launched on Oculus Home with our new Hand Presence update, featuring new hand models, animations, and inclusivity options. This update paves the way for future gender-neutral story beats and finger-tracking controllers, deepening presence and immersion across The Gallery.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be continuing support by adding haptic feedback, additional hand poses, and achievements, as well as patching bugs in the Touch version of Call of the Starseed. Over on Steam, we’ll be releasing the OVR runtime so you can play with your Touch natively, plus we’ll be adding the Hand Presence update to the HTC Vive. If you come across any bugs while playing in the meantime, please submit a report using our online form.

If you haven’t yet joined the adventure, or your Oculus Touch has only just arrived, Call of the Starseed is currently 25% off during the Winter Sales on Oculus Home and Steam!

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Denny (middle) was invited to speak on a panel this month at VRX 2016!

Episode 2:

Now that the Touch version of Call of the Starseed is out in the world, we’re just about ready to start talking Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone. Over the past few weeks we’ve been pumping out Meet the Devs videos on our Youtube channel, introducing you to the team and slipping in some visual teasers for Episode 2. And starting later this month, we’ll be launching a new video series in partnership with HTC Vive called “Inside The Gallery.” Inside The Gallery will chronicle our development of Heart of the Emberstone up until its release early next year. You’ll get development insight and teasers for the upcoming episode, so keep your emberstones peeled.

If you’ve missed our new Meet the Devs videos, check out our playlist featuring all the Meet the Devs videos to date, but make sure to subscribe to our Youtube channel and Vive’s channel to stay up to date.

We’ve got tons of things in store for the new year as we move towards Heart of the Emberstone (and a few other secret projects), but for now, we hope you enjoy the holidays, whether it be with your family, your new Vive or Oculus Touch, or, preferably, with all three. We’ve been humbled to hear players and critics name Call of the Starseed as one of their favourite games of the year–if that’s you too, please let us know on social media @CloudheadGames, or just yell it off the rooftops like some holiday romcom. It warms our cold Canadian hearts.

Happy Holidays from the Cloudhead team.

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Improved hand presence and inclusivity options

Hi! I’m Chris, senior programmer on The Gallery. I’ve been asked to talk about what went into developing the new hands as part of the Oculus Touch game update, and it’s going to be a fun trip down memory lane.

When Denny roped me into working on a VR game with him before the Kickstarter in late 2012, he posited how the birth of affordable and practical consumer VR was on the immediate horizon. I was a bit skeptical. To me, the principle of “you wear a low resolution monitor on your face and it puts you in the game!” came across like a 3AM infomercial solution to a nonexistent problem. My initial reticence was a gut feeling that just controlling the rotation of the in-game camera with your head wasn’t enough. In order for VR to be more than just a flash-in-the-pan novelty, I felt that we needed to have control over the in-game hands too, and Denny strongly agreed.

So, before we even had access to the Oculus DK1, I went on Amazon and bought the studio’s first ever set of Razer Hydra motion controllers.

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The Razer Hydra circa 2012

There wasn’t a Unity integration for it at the time, but I was able to roll my own integration after some research on the Sixense SDK that powered the Hydra. The first time I picked up an object and tossed it into the distance with my hands in VR, I knew that my gut feeling was correct: to have a proper first-person VR experience, you need the minimum level of presence offered by directly controlling both the camera and your avatar’s hands. This was something very few developers had tried before.

The Gallery’s very first hand system was extremely basic. I was using Unity’s built-in Mecanim inverse kinematics to make our full-body avatar’s arms and hands follow the Hydra controllers. The hands didn’t visually respond to button or trigger presses, but they were able to pick up and throw objects. It worked well enough as a proof of concept to add it as a first-order feature to the game.

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Denny with an early version of The Gallery in 2013

After the Kickstarter, it became a priority to polish the hand system, starting with introducing visual responses to controller inputs. We wanted the fingers to flex when the trigger was pressed, and we wanted the hands to conform to held items. We didn’t have a dedicated animator on staff, so I programmed the initial system to work around that issue. I cut the hands off of our full-body avatar and created new, separate hand objects which could be posed in Unity by the design team.

A set of static reference poses (open hands, closed hands, various item handholds) was created, and I coded a hand pose management system. This system blended on-screen hands to and from a pair of active poses selected from that set of static reference poses. For example, the empty hands consisted of an open and relaxed “from” pose, plus a closed-fist “to” pose, and the management system read the amount of pressure applied to the controller’s trigger. It blended the visible hand so that it was open and relaxed when no trigger pressure was detected, and closed into a fist when the trigger was fully depressed.

Hands in various reference poses

That system underwent several minor iterations and improvements over the three-plus years leading to launch, and when Call of the Starseed was shipped, the hands were the second-oldest surviving subsystem after our controller input abstractions.

But, we knew it could be better, and we were waiting for a good opportunity to update and improve it.

That opportunity came after Call of the Starseed shipped and we were well into production of Heart of the Emberstone. We hired Steven Blomkamp as an animator earlier this year, and one of the major things on our hand system wishlist was to transition from the old, static pose blending system to one where the hands could be animated. We felt this would give them more life and polish, and that it would step presence up to a new level.

For these new hands, I redesigned the system almost from the ground up, taking into account the wishlist our designers had been maintaining, and working closely with Steven to get the most we could out of our respective software toolsets. All-new hands were modeled by Steven, and an all-new set of hand rigs were developed by Steven and myself. We migrated to a fully animated Mecanim state machine setup to control the visual behavior of the hands.

The State Machine

The State Machine (almost as complicated as the Starseed)

What that means is each hand state (empty, holding this item, holding that item, pointing at items, and so forth) is now capable of supporting subtle idle animations, and more complex state behaviors. Hands now respond naturally to nearby items and interactions with an anticipatory reach animation, where the fingers splay out as if preparing to grasp something. The new hands have a lot more life to them, and we love where the new interaction system may take us with future episodes.

Another exciting new option is that we’ve made the hands customizable with more inclusive avatar options. We now have both male and female hands, in both bare and gloved states, each with multiple skin colours to choose from. We used the Fitzpatrick scale as a starting point for deciding which skin colours to develop–the same scale used as the basis for Unicode emoji with selectable skin colors.

Developing these new hands gives us the potential to add more complex use-state animations for items like the flare gun and tape player, and the ability to add per-finger control to support finger tracking with future controllers. The overhaul also allowed us to improve item hand holds on several items by making them more responsive to your hands.

On bottles and similar large items, we’re now able to anticipate your incoming hands and predict where you will grasp an item, and adjust the hand hold position and orientation accordingly. This part of the system is still a work in progress, and will be used to fuller effect in future episodes. Steven and I are constantly discovering and testing things that we could do in future iterations, and I’m already planning refinements to extend the anticipation and prediction algorithms–from simple hand position and orientation changes, to including a more fluid level of adaptiveness at the finger level. I’m hoping that these efforts will bear fruit.

It was a challenging, delicate operation to replace the entire hand system, but it was more than worth it in the end! This is several steps closer to the system we’ve always wanted, and I can’t wait to see where it ends up a year from now.

The majority of the hand update is scheduled to go live with the release of Call of the Starseed on Oculus Touch, and will be added to the Steam version of Call of the Starseed in a content update near launch.

Cloudhead v1.07.4: Inside a new era

Imagine a painting of a tree. Think of an impressionist painting, like the portrait of Van Gogh, except in this example Van Gogh isn’t Van Gogh he’s like a tree or whatever. He’s a beautiful, flowering tree, one with long, reaching branches that squiggle off in various directions dangling plump pears like a three-quarters-drunk nomad beckoning for a ciggy. And, at the base of this tree, just imagine a massive trunk. Like, one-size-down-from-the-biggest-trunk-you’ve-ever-seen massive.

Now, load that painting up in Tilt Brush, throw on your Vive, and walk around to the other side of it. As you come around, you realize that the illusion of a tree has been created by a plethora of contorted game developers. Four years of ballet have helped Paul shape himself into a stork whose beak, when viewed from the side, produces the image of a stubby branch. Dan is standing on Paul’s shoulders with his arms stretched out, and that thing you thought was a pear is just a balled-up toque in his hand. Mike and his ego make up the breadth of the trunk.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Hey, that’s not a tree at all, that’s my favourite VR game developer Cloudhead Games!” Voila, that’s the magic of VR; we can transport you and defy expectations. When Cloudhead started, we were three guys in a small-town garage. We’re still in the small town, but now we’re a diverse team of nineteen with a satellite studio in big-city Vancouver–an essential expansion as we’re approached with more and more opportunities from companies around the world.

But let’s scope down for a moment.

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The Cloudhead team (minus our two remotes, Matt and Chris, who are happily eating waffles in their pajamas).

Some of you may know that our studio was once the town’s firehall, destined to be demolished before we offered to repurpose the building as game studio. It confused some of the local retirees, but the building is perfect for our needs; a huge space with enough room for each developer to have their own VR volume, and even a dedicated mocap area in one of the old truck bays. Open quadrants are homed by writers and designers and artists and programmers, with everyone contributing to the big picture of The Gallery. Plus the firepole leads to fun friday nights.

VR is built on a value of community and the individual, and Cloudhead is too. Over the summer, we added young developers to our team who can approach VR without preconceptions, and more AAA veterans have joined us from EA, Visceral, and Disney to apply their knowledge with new freedoms. As we work our way to the release of Heart of the Emberstone, the studio has sort of entered a new era.

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Along with our continuing Meet the Devs series, we’re going to launch a new video series this winter called “Inside the Gallery.” With Inside the Gallery you’ll get to see and learn what each of us puts into the game, as it happens, with developer diaries right through to the launch of Heart of the Emberstone in early 2017. We want to show you first-hand that we’re making the kinds of experiences that you want to play. We want to let you see the other side of that painting.

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Our mocap bay, complete with Perception Neuron

For now, you can meet our ambitious new technical designer, Jord, in his Meet the Devs episode on Youtube right now. And then next week we’ll introduce our newly liberated level designer, Max, and (hopefully) announce a win for Best Debut Game at the 2016 TIGA Awards. And then the week after that you can tune into the Canadian Video Game Awards, where we’re a finalist for nine awards, including the Audience Choice Best Canadian-made Game which you can vote for online. And then the week after that we’ll have some new info on the upcoming hand update we mentioned in our last blog. And then the week after that we’ll have some new info on our Oculus Touch release. And then the week after that—you get the point.

We hope you enjoy these new videos, and let us know what you think over at @CloudheadGames on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr and Snapchat and Pinterest and Vine (RIP). We don’t actually have accounts on those last few, but feel free to make us one and post your cool screenshots or something. Or don’t, and just tweet nice things to us on Twitter instead. We’re always around to answer questions and read your messages.

Enjoy the video, and have a great weekend!

The boys (and girls) are back in town

October was so chock full of events that while our developers hunkered down on Episode 2, the rest of us spent pretty much every breathing moment not at a conference on a plane to the next conference. Here’s the breakdown:

Oculus Connect 3:

We opened the month with Oculus’ premiere event, where we announced that Call of the Starseed will release as a launch title for the Oculus Touch on December 6. We also announced that Episode 1 will launch on Oculus Home at our new, permanently reduced price of $19.99. You can read more about our Touch version in our last blog, or stay tuned for more info in November.

Proto Awards:

The day after Connect, we were honoured to win Best Narrative Experience at the Proto Awards—the closest thing the VR industry has to an Oscars ceremony. We’ve won an award every year since its inception in 2014; first for Best Sound Design, and then for Most Transportive Experience last year. This year, we were nominated for two Proto awards: Best Game, and Best Narrative Experience.While Space Pirate Trainer deservedly took home Best Game, we were proud to have won an award so dear to us as a narrative-driven experience. You can check out Denny’s Proto Awards acceptance speech over on Youtube.

Steam Dev Days:

Showing off the new SteamVR controllers with Call of the Starseed

Showing off the new SteamVR controllers with Call of the Starseed

At GDC 2015, an early version of The Gallery was used as one of the very first demos to introduce the Vive to the public. At Steam Dev Days 2016, history was repeated when a special version of Call of the Starseed was used as the primary demo to showcase and reveal Valve’s new VR controllers. It was an incredible moment seeing thousands of peers and developers in line to use the interactions we programmed with never-before-seen hardware.

VR on the Lot:

Talking to Kent Bye at VR on the Lot

Talking to Kent Bye at VR on the Lot

Denny spoke on a VR game production panel in front of Hollywood at Paramount Pictures Studios. We were one of the only independent developers invited; the remainder of the speakers and attendees included high profile directors and head honchos from Fox, CNN, Intel, HTC, and Oculus. We made great connections with filmmakers and innovators who see the potential of VR and storytelling, tying together the games and film industry. And to top off the night, we spoke to Kent Bye of Voices of VR about storytelling and the new SteamVR controllers.

Canadian Video Game Awards:

Last month, we were humbled enough to be nominated as Best Debut Game with the TIGA Awards—one of the biggest video game awards to come out of Europe. This month, Call of the Starseed is a finalist for nine Canadian Video Game Awards across a whole whack of categories, including Best Game Innovation and Game of the Year. It’s been an amazing six months since launch, and to be recognized by our VR peers, videogame veterans, and our countrypeople is an unbelievable honour.

Halloween:

Our first annual Haunted House!

Our first annual Haunted House!

Some of you may know, but our studio space was once the town fire hall, destined to be demolished before we offered to repurpose the building. This year, we’re doing our first annual haunted house in the truck bays using a ton of old props from a retired Hollywood SFX veteran. A gaggle of high school volunteers helped put together six spooky rooms, and we’re more than excited to make it a tradition. If you live near us on the Island, come by the studio tonight. Otherwise, check us out on Facebook or Twitter for some pictures.

And that’s pretty much it. The dark hours of October are ticking to a close, and it’s only a matter of hours before we’re singing Christmas carols and eating snow. Stay tuned later this week as we’ll finally be continuing our Meet the Dev series starting Friday! In the meantime, you can vote for us as your favourite maple-syrup made game over on the Canadian Video Game Awards website.

Thanks, eh!

Oculustober: We’re a Touch launch title!

When we launched our Kickstarter in March 2013, VR as we know it didn’t exist. The Rift didn’t yet have positional tracking, roomscale was a pipedream, and hand tracking was produced with electromagnets instead of light and lasers. The whole industry was in its infancy, fathered by the Oculus Rift, and we were there with it, wagging our tongues in delight.

Now, with the upcoming release of the Oculus Touch, we’re returning to our roots with an updated version of Call of the Starseed built with the Oculus SDK and tuned for play with Touch. If you have your sensors set up to support Oculus roomscale, you’ll be able to play Call of the Starseed just as you would with the Vive. If you don’t, we’ve added a few new features to make the game more comfortable for forward-facing mode as well.

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Call of the Starseed is coming to Oculus Touch at launch

What’s new

In forward-facing mode, we’ve added a special floor dais and other effects which keep you spatially oriented. While Oculus Guardian will keep you from moving out of your set boundaries, these settings will help avoid tracking loss if you accidentally turn the wrong way. We’ve tweaked pickup range as well to be more liberal for objects low on the floor or just out of reach.

We’ve also remapped controls, adding new ways to grab and Blink in order to make the Touch intuitive and comfortable within The Gallery. The grip button can now be used to grab, and you can even flick the thumbstick forward to do a quick Blink. The ergonomics are great, and the new Touch control scheme might be the most intuitive way to use Blink yet.

Finally, we have plans to release a free content update near launch which will also include brand new hands. This won’t your regular old hand job–the work we’ve put into these new hands will make your human hands jealous. And if your hands had hands, they’d be jealous too.

In all seriousness, we were one of the few developers to create hand models for use with the Vive controllers, and the Touch makes hand presence even more important. Our new hands will feature a slew of additional animations, building on our robust interaction system, and paving the way for future episodes. Our programmer and animator developing the new hands are incredibly excited to share their hard work; we’ll talk more about that and the rest of what’s going into the Oculus update next month.

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Coming soon to Oculus Home

At long last

To make it official: The Gallery – Episode 1: Call of the Starseed will launch for Oculus Touch on Oculus Home on December 6 at our new price of $19.99. This is a fully considered port that will support the full range of Touch playmodes, from standing 180 to full roomscale. If you own the game on Steam, the content update will also include proper Touch support and the new Touch features when it’s released near launch. If you’re a Kickstarter backer who selected to receive the Oculus version of Gallery, you’ll receive your code for Call of the Starseed on Oculus Home at launch, but if you’d prefer the Steam version, let us know!

Oculustober, as we’re calling it, has already been our busiest month since launch—and it’s not even over. We’ll have a bigger blog update talking about all the new things going on at Cloudhead (except for the Top Secret stuff) once we’re through the thick of it. We’ll also talk more about the content update, as well a special blog from our co-lead programmer about our digital manicure, so stay tuned for those.

As for Episode 2, we’re happy to announce that Heart of the Emberstone will have Touch support at launch. Until then, you can check out our new game page for Call of the Starseed on Oculus Home, and select to be notified when it launches and your adventure begins.

All Summer Sixteen: Everything you need to know

It’s 1762, and Mike arrives at the studio wearing a lacey bonnet. The team gathers and sits together in a shape sharing some semblance to a circle, the soft grass tickling our unshaven legs, and we begin to churn. We churn, and we churn, until a thick embryo of fat separates from the cream. If it’s too milky, Div changes a variable. If we don’t churn fast enough, Dan starts to remove his clothes. I’m in the back, beginning to develop heatstroke.

Prototyping is laborious, and we’ve been churning out designs for Episode 2 day in and day out. Last month was the hottest on record for Vancouver Island (as it was for most places), and when the studio thermostat is reading temps almost as high as an R9 290, it really puts things into perspective.

Alright, not that hot—but still.

Our summer has been spread thin between supporting Episode 1 with a massive performance update, plotting the 1.5 content update, porting Episode 1 to the Oculus Touch, designing Episode 2 with a suite of new knowledge and ideas, and working on a few other secrets. Just as our fathers before us, and our fathers’ mothers before them, we continue to churn.

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Celebrating the new bundle announcement!

Call of the Starseed

In case you missed it, Call of the Starseed is now included with every HTC Vive purchase, along with Tilt Brush and Zombie Training Simulator. That means that everyone who buys a new Vive will get Call of the Starseed bundled for free, and our adventure will be many players’ first step into virtual reality.

Needless to say, this is an incredible honour. This dream of Virtual Reality has consumed our lives for the better half of five years, and now here we are, the proverbial Duck Hunt of VR. This is an enormous milestone for our team, essentially guaranteeing that every future Vive owner (while supplies last™) will get to play the game that we’ve poured our hearts and lives into.

It means that our head-first dive into the murky waters of an unknown tech has found fruition. There’s no bigger validation than knowing that the remarkable people at HTC, Vive, and Valve—the developers and innovators who have shaped our passions and our careers—want to show us off. And to be included with the wonderful people at Acceleroto and Google is simply humbling.

As new players continue to join our adventure, we will continue to support Episode 1 with a new 1.5 content update which we’re aiming to release shortly before…

 

Oculus Touch

oculus_starseedThe Oculus version of The Gallery: Call of the Starseed will be released through Oculus Home at the launch of the Touch later this year, and will require the Touch to play. Just like the Vive version, interaction is an imperative part of our experience; you’ll need those high-fidelity Touch motion controllers so that you can become immersed first-hand (pun intended).

Because Oculus does not yet natively support room-scale, the Oculus port is not an OpenVR remap of the version out today on the Steam store. Interactions and locomotion will need to support a 180° standing mode, so we’ve reconsidered how many of these systems will work, and will talk more about our new solutions closer to launch.

For Oculus players who do set up their Touch to work in room-scale, we will be offering room-scale support on our end. This means that if you choose to set your Touch up that way, you will be able to play The Gallery with the Oculus Touch in room-scale, just as you would on the Vive. Room-scale continues to be an important element of VR to us, and we’re happy to be able to support this feature and bring a closer parity between the Vive and Touch experiences of The Gallery.

 

Heart of the Emberstone

The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone is currently deep in production. For the development of Emberstone, and all subsequent episodes, we’re treating them as mini sequels. That means new areas to explore, new characters, new puzzles, new mechanics, and new iterations to all existing mechanics.

Where Starseed was a great introduction to VR, Emberstone will take everything we learned during development and take it one step further. We’re taking the gloves off, so to speak. We’re also taking the socks off. And, yes, we’re taking the toques off.

Our inclusion in the new content bundle and the upcoming release of Episode 1 for Oculus Touch means that more and more new players will continue to experience The Gallery throughout the year. This means we’ll have a huge new audience to impress with Episode 2, and we’re excited to deliver the best possible experience to all of our fans. We’re not ready to share a release date yet, so for now it’s When It’s Ready™.

 

A few other secrets 

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Next month

We’ve got some more stuff we’re excited to start sharing next month, including some new faces to Cloudhead, and the first in a new developer video series. For now, we just wanted to tell you as much as we can about what we’re working on before going back to the churning.

If you like to keep a close eye on what we’re doing, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. You can also check out our Instagram where we post photos and videos from inside the studio—we’ll do a code giveaway to followers once we break 500, so hit us up if you’re into free games.

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Denny at Valve, as seen on Instagram

EXTREME ELECTRONICS EXPERIENCE

We’re pretty sure that’s what it stands for anyway.

Our brains may be fried, but this month has been an absolute blast; Denny and Jo flew out to Los Angeles to visit the world’s largest gaming expo, E3 2016.

In case you’re living under under a rock (or in more apropos, coastal imagery, a dock), E3 is the yearly be-all-end-all of gaming events. It’s where all major videogame software reveals happen, and where the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) show off any new hardware they might have.

This year neither Sony nor Nintendo had any new hardware announcements, but Microsoft announced their new Project Scorpio console will support VR out of the box. Whether that means Vive or Oculus or something in between is yet to be confirmed. Sony, on the other hand, showed off some new games for its upcoming Playstation VR headset (also known as Project Morpheus).

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Denny at the Obduction booth at E3

Outside of the Big Three, more than 50 VR companies exhibited their games–a new record coming out of last year’s 27. Even better, some of the best games we saw were by fellow indie developers, like Survios’ bad-assery fest Raw Data, Tarsier Studios’ cerebral mystery Statik, and Obduction from Cyan Worlds, the creators of Myst.

Speaking of Obduction, we met up with the awesome folks at Cyan on the show floor, before heading to dinner with a bunch of VR superstars hosted by Resolution Games. Solfar, Climax, and nDreams were all there like the knights of the round table. That was after back-to-back meetings with [REDACTED] and then [REDACTED] about developing [REDACTED]. And earlier in the morning we met with Call of the Starseed’s composer Jeremy Soule’s agent, Glorio Soto, to talk about how much fans loved his work in Episode 1. And that was after a ridiculous night at the flashy Upload VR E3 party. No rest for the wicked, it seems.

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Denny with Gloria Soto outside E3

Back home has been equally hectic. We’ve got piles of Touch controllers on our desks, and Episode 2 design notes marked on post-its on the sides of monitors… one wrong move and we’ll be sending Touch controllers and game spoilers to Kickstarter backers along with their rewards next month.

We’ve also been hard at work to put out a huge performance update for Call of the Starseed (more on that here), and we put the game 20% off for the Steam Summer Sale. If you have been holding out on Call of the Starseed until now, stop missing out.

There’s lots going on. Very little time to talk. Zero time to breathe. We’re all too excited about what we’re cooking up. We’re like your mom when she brewing her world-famous stew; we’ll call you downstairs to eat soon.

Launch and where we go next

Launch

We did it.

We launched a game. A real game. One with graphics and music and characters, and things that you can pick up and throw around and solve puzzles with, and you can play it on your fancy electronics machine with those cool goggles and weird looking button hands that make your parents snicker when you walk into walls.

And people like this game we made. Upload VR said that Call of the Starseed was “some of the best [hours] you’ll find in VR on any platform.” Time-freaking-magazine even included us in their top 5 Vive launch games.

Then there is this guy who liked our game maybe a little too much.

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We had a big sheet full of people that we thanked at our launch party last month (more on that in a minute), but that paper is now lost under piles of patch notes for 1.1, and production notes for episode 2. Instead, the names of Kickstarter backers have been immortalized in a secret room within Call of the Starseed, and everyone else in the “Special Thanks” during the credits. And to all of you who have supported us, played our game, and shared your experiences: Thank you. You’re the reason that we, as a tiny studio doing what we love on an island off the coast of Canada, have been able to exist. Even if you didn’t like our game, we thank you too—you only make us work harder.

It’s now been two months since we released on Steam, and two months since VR has started to show up on your doorstep like a surprise visit from your favorite uncle, who comes once a year bearing gifts and tells your parents to “let ‘em stay up late and visit with Uncle Rick.”

In those last two months and a bit, we’ve been to three huge expos: We went to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Made in BC in Victoria, and Consumer VR in Vancouver. We’ve barely had time to breathe, but now we have a chance to look back before looking forward.

Launch party

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One advantage of developing in a tiny city on Vancouver Island is that any parties we throw are literally the talk of the town. We opened the bay doors to our 8000 square foot studio (once the city’s fire hall, located in the dead center of town) to what seemed like the entire population. The party was Mexican themed (if all Mexican themed means is tacos and cerveza); a Taco Revolution truck handed out free chicken tingas all night, and Granville Island Brewery supplied the beer. We supplied the three demo stations, and the Call of the Starseed branded sombreros. Ok, there weren’t really sombreros, but if Valve ends up revealing VR head-tracking sombreros at E3 next month, you know where they got the idea.

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For most people, the launch party demo was their first time in VR. If you thought you lost yourself in a VR world when you were sober, you can just imagine the flapping arms and hysterical laughter of people who had downed two pints of lager before strapping on a headset. It was like a virtual keg stand (minus the vomiting); crowds of people watched as each person put on the Vive, tilted their head back, and was filled with the sweet flowing taste of virtual reality, before stumbling around and repeating to everyone around how awesome that just was.

Part way through the night, everyone gathered into a room for speeches and toasts, and you needed a heart of anodized steel to not tear up when Mike individually thanked each person at Cloudhead for their painstaking efforts to create Call of the Starseed. “Everyone says it,” he said, “but we really are a family.” The words rang true when Chris and Matt, who have worked remotely on various projects with Denny over the last 13 years, including The Gallery, met together in person that night for the first time in 13 years.

The Cloudhead extended family was there too: Pete Moss from Unity, who has been more than supportive since we began this project, came up from Seattle to congratulate us. And Adrian Hough, the voice of the Watcher (aka that creepy guy at the end of the game), played the finished game for the first time and was struck by seeing his own character in an eerie meta-reality moment that capped the night off perfectly.

The future

We’ve been working with VR since Oculus DK1, when Denny backed the headset on Kickstarter. We’ve been through every iteration of hardware since then, between the Rift and the Vive, and to see everything from the last (almost) four years finally come to fruition is bewildering. To see VR hit the hands of the public and to see how excited you are not only about our game, but also the future of this technology, is inspiring.

And of course, we’re not done. We’re continuing to support Episode 1 with bug fixes and patches (we’ve released two already, and are currently doing QA for a third), and we’re working on a 1.1 content update, plus we’re working out how to port to Oculus Touch, and beginning pre-production for Episode 2… We’re so busy that we actually have to slot play time and sleep into our schedules—Friday evenings are dedicated to team-building Doom snap map sessions, and Saturday/Sunday are for R&R. The rest of the time we’re in the studio, thinking up new ways to blow your mind, and thinking our way out of every challenge those ideas introduce.

If you like what we’ve done so far, stay tuned for Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@CloudheadGames), and like us on Facebook (The Gallery). Subscribe to our updates via carrier pigeon. Glue your eyelids open. Develop a neural implant that slips information into your dreams every time we make an announcement. You don’t want to miss what we have lined up.

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CVR was a blast!

At PAX last year, our Call of the Starseed booth was like a black market trade deal in a back room, the unreleased Vive headset a jar of myrrh, with people gathering around like it was the second coming himself. This time, at Consumer VR in Vancouver, we didn’t just have our game smack dab in the middle of the show floor for everyone and their mother to fondle, but four freakin’ booths.

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Doors opened at 11:00am, and the lineup was already out the door of the Vancouver Convention Centre East—a volume of people only trumped by the masses of tourists arriving out of the three cruise ships next door. Have you ever seen 13 thousand people pouring out of a boat and into taxis and shuttles? The traffic cop will probably be having nightmares for years.

Entering Consumer VR that morning, we were greeted by a thin haze of smoke and lights billowing out of a booth in the corner. A laser show had been set up to make the building feel straight out of a cyberpunk movie, complete with futuristic headsets and a stream of neon lights. People were walking around wearing Gear VRs, and there were HMDs at every table. Idealens made the trip from China to show off its mobile VR headset, and VRstudios was up from Washington to demo its wireless VRcade experience. Our awesome friends at Future Town were there too, showing off their three Vive launch titles.

The deputy mayor of Vancouver welcomed everyone to the event, and then Denny opened a full day of speakers with a talk on the importance of locomotion in virtual reality spaces. At a very basic level, if we screw up locomotion, you’ll be vomiting out of every orifice, and then you’ll hate us and leave a bad review on Steam and we’ll get an email notification telling us that we should probably just give up on our dreams and we’ll never get out of bed again. Nobody wants that—and so Blink was born!

Over at the demo booths, we had our own lineup, where 130 people had signed up to play Call of the Starseed within the first hour. At one point, CTV Vancouver came by to try the game, and then spoke with Denny (who hadn’t sat down for a minute) about the promise of virtual reality. CTV had so much fun with our game that they came back to do a report specifically on us to air next week on McLaughlin On Your Side.

Lots of people came out of our booth saying we were the coolest thing there, but the coolest thing to us was seeing thousands of people come out to the event to support a fledgling industry of sci-fi technology. The fact that Archiact was able to put on a full show as one of the first consumer-facing VR events, and then sell that show out to 2800 people, is a testament to how important Strapping a Screen to Your Face is to the tech sector and the people around it. It’s not an understatement to say that to adopt VR now is to be a part of a historic movement.

If you were at CVR, and stopped by our booth, share your pictures with us on Twitter and Facebook, or hit us up on Instagram. And while you’re there, make sure to thank Archiact Interactive for putting on Consumer VR and getting so many incredible projects in one room. #letsgetvirtual

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Consumer Virtual Reality

We’re barely unpacked from the last VR event, and we’re already prepping for the next one. Consumer VR is happening in Vancouver on May 14, put together by the great people at Archiact Interactive, and it will be the first international showcase of VR experiences for fans. It’s like E3, if E3 was dedicated entirely to virtual reality. Basically, it’s the future.

We’ll have four demo bays going, and there will be around 40 other awesome developers showing off their projects as well. There will also be a bunch of speakers throughout the day—VR industry gurus who will talk about why VR is important and what it means for the future of technology. Our very own Denny will be giving a presentation on locomotion in VR, and talking about why we developed our Blink system (more on that in this blog post) as the way to move around in Call of the Starseed.

Tickets sold out this morning, so if you won’t be making it out to the event, that’s fine. We won’t hold it against you—just stay home and play our game instead. If you can’t do that either, then just watch this gameplay video and be jealous of how much fun he’s having.

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