Welcome to the world of Virtual Reality! Once a high-priced gimmick at the shopping mall arcade, it has at long last made its way into the home. There are currently no fewer than five VR systems available, with entry prices ranging from $20 up into the $800 range. (See the recent article in Polygon.)

Of course these systems are useless without games and other content to experience through them. Leading the charge in this area is Gunfire Games which has just released Chronos for the Oculus Rift system.

Naturally, ZBrush is involved!

We hope that you'll enjoy this short interview with the artists at Gunfire. They'll be talking about this move into the virtual world and a bit about how ZBrush plays a role.

Chronos

Introductions:

John Pearl: I've been working in games for 16 years now. I've held many art related roles over the years: Character Artist, Environment Artist, Lead Environment Artist, Principal Artist, Environmental Art Director, Character Art Director and Technical Art Director. While in those positions I've worked on a number of different styles and genres of games. Most notably have been Darksiders and Darksiders II at Vigil Games and most recently on Chronos. I'm currently the Design Director here at Gunfire Games.

Eric Spitler: I've been working in the game industry for about 13 years. In the early days we just created low poly models and painted textures in Photoshop. ZBrush became an instrumental part of game development when normal maps were introduced. I started experimenting with ZBrush in version 2 and then began working in production with version 3 at Vigil Games, where we created Darksiders I and II. Now I'm working with a lot of the same people at Gunfire Games where we shipped Chronos for the Oculus Rift. I also sculpt in ZBrush in my free time.

Tell us about Gunfire.

John: Gunfire Games is a relatively new studio as we've only been around for about a year and a half. In that time, we've released Herobound: Spirit Champion for the Gear VR and Oculus Rift, Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition for consoles and PC, and most recently Chronos for the Oculus Rift. We're a relatively small studio at just under 40 developers. Many of us worked together at Vigil Games on Darksiders and Darksiders II, and for a brief stint as Crytek USA. Some members of the core team have worked together for 9 years. Our focus is on creating compelling games set in fantastical worlds.

Chronos official trailer:

Was Chronos planned to be a VR game from the beginning?

John: Chronos was built from the ground up for VR. As a studio, we love creating big immersive worlds filled with visually interesting locations and characters. We felt like VR presented a unique opportunity to give people a level of immersion not possible in a traditional 2D screen-based game. When we began developing Chronos, we decided to go with the fixed camera/3rd person view because we wanted to create an experience that was comfortable for everyone over long play sessions. This way, people could spend a lot of time in the world and truly be immersed in it. When designing the game, we approached everything (the locations, the encounters and particularly the boss fights) to be interesting in VR. We did this through scale, perspective and world design. We really wanted to craft experiences that were truly unique to VR.

What factors did you have to be mindful of in developing a game for VR? What were the big challenges?

John: With our camera system, the person playing the game can view the world and characters very closely as well as from afar, so the assets had to have a good level of fidelity but also be readable at distance. The real challenge with that is the game also has to run at a consistent 90fps for VR. Knowing this, we made deliberate decisions in terms of the stylized look to the world of Chronos. A lot of the visual challenges are the same found in non-VR game development. For example, being mindful of polygonal and texture budgets while maintaining a consistent visual experience.

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Where do you see VR technology in 3 years? How will it affect the gaming industry?

John: Technology obviously is always evolving, getting lighter, faster and cheaper. That seems like the obvious direction for the VR hardware. However once there is an appetite for VR in the general population, the innovations beyond the head mounted display could be huge! Running VR is very resource intensive on a PC, so we could see major advances in computer hardware focused around making VR more efficient and cheaper. Additionally, there could be a huge market for peripherals. Custom VR gloves, body suits, racing controls and better non-game VR creation tools for people who want to create content. Any tech advancements seem to eventually improve gaming so it's inevitable it will have an impact on games in a lot of ways.

Do you see Gunfire and other studios focusing more on VR in the future?

John: We've had a lot of fun working in VR while developing Chronos and Herobound, so we'll likely continue to do more VR games in the future. For VR in general to take off, the consumer adoption rate has to hit a critical point where it is financially viable for more developers to make exclusively VR games. As it grows, larger and larger teams can begin investing in VR as a platform to make money. Currently, it's still somewhat of an indie market where small teams are making games because the financial risk/reward is more manageable. However once that critical point is reached in regards to hardware adoption, you'll see more major developers and publishers in the VR space.

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How is ZBrush implemented in your digital pipeline?

Eric: ZBrush is used on just about every high poly model for our games. Some high poly models like a character might be created from scratch in ZBrush using DynaMesh and then refined using ZRemesher. Others will be modeled in an external 3D app and then detailed in ZBrush. ZBrush is great for adding damage to models to give a more natural/aged look. This was especially useful for the ancient environments in Chronos. After the high poly model is done, it is decimated in ZBrush if needed and then used to create the low poly and normal maps. ZBrush is also becoming a good way to help concept ideas too. If you're unsure about the look of a character, you can block it out quickly in ZBrush and get feedback from the art director and concept artists.

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How has it improved your work?

Eric: Being able to work with such a high poly object so fluidly in real-time was a game changer. It really made working on a computer feel like sculpting in clay for the first time and made it fun. The addition of DynaMesh has made our workflow much more flexible. Game development can be unpredictable. Making major changes to an asset is much easier with DynaMesh and ZRemesher. It's also very helpful for taking an existing character and creating a variant version. You can play Frankenstein, taking parts from one model and seamlessly attaching them to another. Using Layers was helpful in aging the main characters in Chronos. I created a young version of the character's face and then an older version on a new layer. I could then create in-between versions by adjusting the layer strength of the old version.

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Please join us in thanking John, Eric and the team at Gunfire for sharing this info with us!

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