Local developer a pioneer for virtual reality technology
CAM DEAMEL, CONTRIBUTOR
Lesley Klassen waves a hand through the air, creating streams of bright neon colour in the centre of the room. With a turn of his wrist, a second strand of light appears and hangs in the air in a spiral around him. He lifts the display off of his head, but the three-dimensional canvas remains on his computer monitor.
Klassen is chief innovation officer and one of three co-founders at The Campfire Union, a Winnipeg game and app development group focused on virtual reality (VR) platforms. The company has already created a few applications for Samsung’s Gear VR — a head-mounted display designed for Samsung Galaxy phones that launched late last year. The company has worked hard to create a VR remake of the traditional card game Lost Cities.
With spring releases set for VR platforms the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, players will be able to tap into experiences that extend beyond imaginary. But for developers like Klassen, the platform forces them to think more fundamentally than ever before. As a smaller company attempting to break new ground, Klassen says each project involved a significant amount of problem solving.
“Because it’s a new medium, you don’t go back to the basics — you start at the basics,” said Klassen. “When we started, we had no prior reference to base our work, so we had to make everything up as we went along.”
Developers like Klassen have their work cut out for them, making sure every object in a digital world acts in a realistic way. These details are crucial and affects everything down to the player’s sense of scale. A misshapen water bottle, for example, could be the difference between making and breaking player immersion.
Klassen said when he was designing a virtual tabletop, he didn’t account for the fact that a player’s legs needed to go under the table. After solving that issue, the rest of the elements began to feel more natural. The solution was simple, but the issue was in asking the right questions.
Klassen said exploring both VR development and game development simultaneously has been both a challenging and liberating experience for the company.
“We didn’t use old game and design conventions which would have failed in VR, but rather we started to study the medium on our own.”
The Campfire Union is now exploring options to create multiplayer social spaces for its Lost Cities application. That would allow players to interact within a virtual space together.