Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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Surreal Games Launches Kickstarter to Support Development of Their Brand New Virtual World

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Yesterday, three-person development team Surreal Games launched a Kickstarter to help fund their fledgling virtual world, Surreal Adventures, developed in Unity and intended for release on a variety of platforms (including mobile devices). They've set a goal of $100,000 with funding drawing to a close on August 9th.

What exactly makes Surreal Adventures any different than the virtual world that have come (and, in some cases, gone) in the past decade? Well, for starters...

 

Surreal Adventures is set on a cruise ship, which in spite of its clubs and shops and casinos is a slightly more closed environment than avid virtual world afficionados might be used to. However the ship environment provides an interesting take on player housing in the form of cabins. Kickstarter backers have the opportunity to upgrade their own accomodations on the ship which, depending on how much you donate, can end with a penthouse suite and a personal helicopter.

Players aren't just restricted to the ship. This game almost has a bit of a Westworld thing going, where cruisegoers can elect to go on a variety of different adventures/activities. Again, this seems restrictive compared to the openness of Second Life, but sometimes there's something to be said for having a few carefully crafted environments and experiences in the place of many others with far less careful design behind them.

 

To be perfectly honest, my first reaction to many of the screenshots on Surreal's Kickstarter was not entirely favourable. It looks a bit dated, but there's good reason for that. Obviously the game is still in development, so a certain level of polish just won't be there, but the fact that it'll be playable on PCs as well as mobile devices is also a significant factor. As far as Unity-based games go, this one actually looks pretty okay.

Surreal Adventures' mobile support (and the developers' background in mobile gaming) is pretty crucial, and it's something that Second Life has yet to really get right. Considering how much "casual" gaming takes place on Android and iOS platforms, supporting them seems vital for a new virtual world's survival.

Now, if $100,000 seems like a surprisingly low goal for such an ambitious project, it's because they've already raised $300,000 in angel funding on their own, and are turning to crowdfunding for the remainder. If your curiosity has been piqued at all, you can check out Surreal's Facebook page as well as their Kickstarter page for more information.

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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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Amanda Dallin

Surreal sounds too constrained to be a virtual world. It's more of a virtual game.

Damien Fate

I know it's all beta, so I shouldn't judge it too harshly... but it looks so ugly. Especially the avatar.

Hamlet Au

I'm not wild about the graphics either, but think the basic concept is pretty cool. I lived on a cruise ship for about a year and it *does* feel like it's a mini-society cut off from the rest of the world. Plus it addresses the "too big/too overwhelming" problem virtual worlds like SL often have.

Ajax Manatiso

Why does that first pic with their logo, which I assumed was the splash screen, show a forest when you are stuck on the ship?

Arthur Goikhman

Guys, first, thanks for the coverage, and though this probably dates me a bit, thanks for the Westworld reference, it made my day :)

Amanda -- Surre.al completely the opposite of constrained. We are starting with the cruise ship because it is a great metaphor for what we are doing, and as Hamlet pointed out, it's a way to attack the challenge in a measured way.

As far as the graphics, please understand there is a key goal here -- to be able to work, and work well not just on your PC, but even on your smartphone, and to show multiple people, all looking potentially quite differently, over the network to an audience that is quite likely to be substantially, if not predominantly mobile.

If you look at the themes of our video and compare it to something like the Sims4 trailer, for instance, you'll see some almost surprising similarities -- but it's not a trailer. It's footage out of our game system. And it's multiplayer.

And Ajax, because who doesn't like dinosaurs. Common, now :) And in all seriousness, because we want people to understand that we are truly building an incredibly open system, one were not just us, but third party developers will create games and environments for, in a way that wasn't really possible previously.

Thanks again for the thoughts, guys.

CronoCloud Creeggan

So, it's essentially PS3 Home or Blue Mars....for mobile devices with different "ports of call" being different attached mini-settings/adventures like how PS Home has it's Dust area, it's Sodium 1 area, it's Carnival area etc etc.

Amanda Dallin

So it's a game hub and your constrained to whatever games the developers offer. That's not a world that's a game. I wish Surreal luck with their game but it doesn't sound all that interesting for me.

Arthur Goikhman

CronoCloud -- that is a pretty good analogy at the starting gate, but we are looking to get much further than that.

Amanda -- thx for the good wishes. It's a hub, because if you try to build the hub, the spokes and the entire wheel, your car never gets out of the garage :)

This, in our view, is the most common sense to launch something as monumental as we want it to be with just a tiny team. We give people lots of choices -- and are potentially shallower than you'd like, in the early stages, in these choices -- but the platform is absolutely built to go much deeper.

CronoCloud Creeggan

Arthur I wish your company well, but playing a bit of devils advocate here, I think the idea could use a bit more thinking through.

1. The idea of a thing like this for non-mobile is proven, but it is a niche market whether we like it or not. PS3 Home is available on every PS3 but that doesn't mean that everyone uses it. Also some areas/activities are going to be much more popular than others. You have to be ready for places that are too full... and ones that are too empty.

2. Mobile is the problem. I don't think people really want a mobile virtual world or super-immersiveness on the go, no matter what the Oculus/Google glass buzzword-addled technorati say. Games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are popular on mobile because you can pull them out quickly and then put them away quickly when you've reached your destination/get called back into the examination room/etc This is not like that. One thing you will notice about SL or PS3 Home is that most people just don't log in for 5 minutes.... they're in there for HOURS. You've got an immersive thing that will be time-immersive and you want it on mobile?

2a. One problem is communication. What do people do in Second Life and PS3 Home? They communicate.....with text...a LOT of text. Do people want an on-screen keyboard covering up a virtual world every 30 seconds when they want to say something? Are they going to want to use a virtual world on the go because of that annoyance? Using something like this is far different from sending an occasional tweet or SMS message...this requires even MORE typing.

2b. If you implement voice communication, that brings up other issues. I don't think people are going to be wanting to talk to their tablet/phone as much as they might in SL/Home because of how people view public usage of phones/tablets. Playing a game and reading are fine, but no one wants some guy in the corner jabbering away about "heading to the stateroom, or preparing a team to hunt down velociraptors (which should have feathers by the way)

2c. Privacy. If said romantic activities are allowed, even something as simple as a ballroom... people might be reluctant to use it on the go.

2d. Bandwidth. This is seriously going to use some bandwidth/storage. People with lower end phones, limited data plans, slow data, or wi-fi only devices are going to have problems or not be able to use it at all.

3. If you want to compete with what's out there, you have to be as good or better than what IS out there. The main question being (devil's advocate style): Why should I log into this instead of SL or PS3 Home? Why do I need an immersive time consuming virtual world on a tablet or phone?

That said, good luck.

Arthur Goikhman

CronoCloud, I think all very good points. The key to remember is on mobile too, not JUST on mobile. We want you to always have Surre.al with you. As to fidelity/polygons on platforms that can support that, we are looking to address that too, but did not focus on that in the video, perhaps we should have spent more time on that aspect.

In the meantime, here's one of the pluses of having device flexibility -- we've added Oculus Rift support, here's some early, truly raw footage: http://youtu.be/Ksdt1fJjfMc

Hitomi Tiponi

All Unity 3D developments are able to use Oculus Rift - http://cardboardkeep.com/oculus-rift-day-2-developing-with-unity-3d/ - as they say 'you can download the OVR library from the Oculus dev portal, and it plugs into Unity as easily as any Unity Package, a double-click and you’re away.'

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