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Could you tell us about yourself, your company, and how everything all started?
I’m Russell Grain and I’m the director of Opaque Multimedia from Melbourne, Australia. Things sort of started for us a bit over a year and a half ago when we made something called the Virtual Dementia Experience which is using the technology of Oculus and Unreal Engine to create a virtual environment that can simulate dementia so that people can actually experience the symptoms and stuff which turns out to be a lot like Silent Hill.
So we had people going through and the response was really great because a lot of users have told us that lights can get brighter when you have dementia (in theory), but when they’re sitting there struggling to look at something because there’s a curtain with daylight outside we just chuck the bloom up on that.
What kind of purpose was this created for?
We were contracted to make that by Alzheimer’s Australia. The news of that sort of went worldwide and that was actually really good news for us because the contract is good but we also like helping people so that was even better.
Once we had finished that we sort of took the technology that we used for that and we built a big tool kit and released that as Kinect for Unreal, which allows the Unreal Engine 4 to marry entirely inside blueprints with the Kinect. Then once we had that we said, “Well we’ve also got some Oculus! Why don’t we make something else that is really cool?”
This is how Earthlight was born. This is sort of a first person exploration game. The action takes place on the International Space Station. Everything is very realistic. And we’re using Oculus Rift, Microsoft Kinect 2 and our proprietary Kinect 4 Unreal plugin to make the whole thing work.
Do you work with Epic and Oculus to combine all those technologies together?
Oculus are fairly hands off sort of people. Unreal, on the other hand, we’ve been in fairly close touch with them going the whole way through.
Do you think you are going to provide those tech you’ve created on the Unreal Marketplace?
Kinect for Unreal goes live on March 18, which is good because we’re one of the first actual plug-in based things. You actually have to put in a bit of work to get the plug-ins on the market. Earthlight is definitely going to be up because we started to do some promotion for it on Reddit.
If you want to make a game with Kinect support and if you’re an indie, you can go to the Unreal Marketplace for all your tech?
Well if you’re an indie you probably won’t have to buy it because of projects with a budget of less than $75,000, it’s free.
How long have you been working on Earthlight?
The development of that version took two months, from conception to release.
Did you use Unreal Engine or some assets? Were they all created by your team?
We sourced a model of the international space station because you’ve got the Oculus on and you’re sort of climbing around it, a lot of the meshes are two feet from your face. Which means we actually had to go in and up the fidelity on a lot of the models and textures and that (I think) is what got such the phenomenal reaction from the internet.
One of the people on Reddit, a simulations engineer from NASA, said, I quote: “Holy crap!” [laughs].
It does look very realistic.
Yeah, the reason why we got it done so quickly was because the Unreal Engine has physically based rendering which allows us to work with more materials, than having to individually go in and make sure that every single thing looks pretty in the lighting conditions. That allowed us to speed up development time a lot.
Two months is super fast. You can get a prototype in two months, but you’ve created a whole game in two months.
Currently it’s at a tech demo stage but we’re planning on keeping it at that but as I said the impact of it has been so phenomenal that we have to look into expanding it.
So you’re thinking of building a bigger game on that?
We want to take that and see where it goes.We’re looking at distributing it on the Unreal Marketplace. Kinect for Unreal is scheduled for release on March 18. Earthlight we’re going to be putting on the marketplace but that doesn’t have a schedule release date yet.