Do you remember a time where you would place blocks or dominoes down in such a way to make them fall in a special way to make some pretty cool designs? Maybe you tried to make them go in a circle or tried to make things spell out a name? What about taking it another step further and add additional gadgets to make your own designs go from point A to B or even to point C in new and interesting ways? I remember seeing some of the most complex designs that took hours if not weeks and months to complete only to be done within a matter of minutes. It’s really quite amazing once you see the amount of time, effort, and thought people would put into those designs. So when I heard Metanaut was bringing their award-winning physics-based game, Gadgeteer to PlayStation VR, I wanted to know more. So I reached out and the founder, CEO, and Creative Director, Peter Kao, and the Experience Designer, Quinn MacDonald, were happy to talk about the game and virtual reality.
Interview with the founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Metanaut, Peter Kao and
Experience Designer, Quinn MacDonald
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you please introduce yourself and what you do at Metanaut?
“Hi everyone, my name is Peter Kao. I’m the founder, CEO, and Creative Director at Metanaut.”
“Hello! My name is Quinn MacDonald. I’m the Experience Designer at Metanaut and I did the level design for Gadgeteer.”
Growing up, what were some of the games that left a lasting impression on you, and what was that one VR game or experience that made you realize that you had to create for Virtual Reality?
Peter: “One of my earliest gaming memories is playing The Incredible Machine on MS-DOS in my parent’s tiny den. It’s a 2D game where you build Rube Goldberg machines to solve puzzles, and it was the inspiration for our game, Gadgeteer! I remember The Incredible Machine‘s impressive graphics and realism of physics (ha!). Thinking back on it now, that game taught me the value of trial-and-error and problem solving and it did that without me feeling like it was a boring educational experience. We wanted to recreate that for the next generation of technology and gamers.
We started our journey in VR very early on, back when the Oculus Rift DK1 came out. There weren’t that many VR experiences at the time so I can’t point to a single VR experience off the top of my head. However, the first time I felt really impressed by VR was Titans of Space by Drash on the DK2. It’s a beautiful tour around the solar system and it was the first time I was able to really feel the size of planets. I grew up as a science geek and so that experience brought me to tears.
As for what made me start a VR studio, VR is the perfect marriage between my creative (art/design) and rational (programming/systems) side. It’s the perfect industry for me!”
Metanaut has created some VR titles with MSI Electric City and Lyra. Your most recent game, Gadgeteer that has been released on Steam and Oculus, and just released on PlayStation VR. What has the feedback been like and what can you tell us about the game?
Peter: “Feedback on the game has been amazing! The ‘puzzle’ genre is still a small niche in VR, but I think our team has done a fantastic job in filling that niche. What I’m most proud of is that Gadgeteer is a game everyone can enjoy. Whether you’re young or old, VR noob or veteran, it’s a game that’s relaxing and fun to play for everyone. Parents of young kids have even written to us telling us how much they’ve enjoyed playing the game together. They said it was a wonderful introduction to VR and it made them feel closer to their kids during the pandemic.
If you’re not into puzzles, you can play around and build whatever you want in the ‘Maker Mode’ (aka Sandbox mode). You’re also able to upload your machines online and play with other people’s machines too. We also made sure to allow players to create new puzzles for each other too. So if you’re bored of the 60 puzzles in the game, you have theoretically an infinite number of puzzles to solve! Talk about infinite replayability!”
So you really do get use build chain reaction machines to solve puzzles?
Peter: “Yes, that’s right :)”
What can you tell us about the puzzles and which ones are currently your favorite?
Quinn: “We decided it was important that one of the goals of the puzzles should be to teach the player how to build these complex machines. They start with smaller, bite-sized problems to solve, and gradually increase in scale until the player is building a full Rube Goldberg machine by the final level. We want players entering ‘Maker Mode’ to feel confident and competent from building their mental toolset by solving all of the puzzles. I think my favorite puzzle levels are #19 since it’s the first culmination of some of the simpler mechanics they learn in the bedroom, #43 because it has a little extra challenge of building around your reaction crossing paths, and #53 as it has a little surprise where the player has to think about protecting their machine from a stack of dominoes that must be knocked down.”
Are there new puzzles that were made for PlayStation VR?
Peter: “Creating new puzzles is a bit of a challenge without creating a new environment because all levels are chained together (i.e. the end of a puzzle is the start point of the next puzzle) and use the environment as the canvas and obstacle. However, there might be an opportunity in the future for a new environment, more gadgets, and new puzzles.”
What can you tell us about Maker Mode?
Quinn: “Maker Mode’ is where the true potential of the game lies. Gadgeteer started as a purely sandbox-based experience because its open-ended mechanics so strongly support creative freedom. So many existing examples of physics contraptions have huge levels of complexity and creativity, and we wanted the sandbox to support that scale. The ‘Puzzle Mode’ was designed to build the player’s knowledge of these machines so that when they enter ‘Puzzle Mode’, they are able to visualize all the possibilities of what could be built.”
So really, there is almost an unlimited amount of puzzles to try to solve?
Quinn: “Yes! Providing people make them haha. We hit a point before release where the game was mostly finished, and we had to decide on what final addition would be the most beneficial. We decided that the ‘Online Sharing’ feature was the answer since user-generated content supports the creative freedom of the game. Since we had a ‘Puzzle Mode’, it made it clear that we should support the ability to build your own puzzles in ‘Online Sharing’. So after finishing ‘Puzzle Mode’, there are potentially countless more puzzles to explore that are created by our players.”
What are some of the different gadgets players can use and what seems to be the fan favorites?
Quinn: “The catapult is probably the fan favorite since it’s the only gadget that can generate power on its own and it’s super fun to see something launched across the room. Dominoes, marble runs, and spinners will be the player’s most used gadgets since they are essentially the traversal mechanics for their machines. We equate dominos to running (the fastest way to traverse a plane), marble runs to jumping (the easiest way to cross a large gap), and spinners to climbing (the fastest way to ascend a height). In the household gadgets set, the soap bar is a lot of fun as it will slide across the floor easily, the hammer is a satisfying way to knock something over, and the weighted egg has a unique center of gravity that leads to some unique reactions.”
I do like the fact that the puzzles in different areas of a facility. Was it challenging to come up with the different areas to create the puzzles in?
Quinn: “We wanted the puzzles to flow from one to the next so we started by seeing how this linear line of puzzles could weave through the apartment to make the best use of the space. Some areas were definitely more challenging than others to find puzzles that fit the space nicely, especially when there was a new gadget interaction that we wanted to teach.”
One thing I noticed from the trailer is the sound. Not only is there this calming music, but you can really make the individual sounds. Did you find some of the sounds a little more difficult to master than others?
Peter: “Mastering sounds for the ~100 gadgets in the game wasn’t all that difficult. The difficult part was playing all of those different sounds in an optimized way, all at once. We found out (painfully) later on while porting to the Quest that we wouldn’t be able to play every single sound effect all at once without impacting the performance. So, we built a system that smartly disables certain sounds depending on a set of conditions. By doing it this way, the game still provides an interesting and realistic soundscape of gadgets banging, flying, twisting, etc but without missed frames.
Since we’re on the topic of audio, I want to take this opportunity to mention the game’s music because we get a lot of compliments on it. We hired a talented music composer, Jeremy Lim, to compose the music for us and we love it! The soundtrack fits perfectly with the various beats of the game.”
Graphics are always part of the immersion. Was there anything you learned about getting the graphics just right?
Peter: “We created the game before the Oculus Quest was even announced so this isn’t something we could have planned for, but it was a learning experience to re-optimize everything from PCVR to a standalone mobile device. Going forward, we’ll want to set the minimum graphics fidelity to be the Quest 2 and PCVR on the high-end.”
Where do you see VR in about 5-10 years from now?
Peter: “I see VR as a transformative technology. It’s essentially portal technology that teleports your mind instead of your body. And what portals are good for is allowing people to travel to anywhere they’d like in an instant. My best guess for what VR will look like 5~10 years is based on this portal analogy. An improved portal, hence an improved VR industry, will allow easier and faster access to even better and more enriching worlds. VR experiences will gradually decouple from traditional game genres and draw less inspiration from physical reality to become its own thing. In other words, we’re going to see weirder and more interesting things not based on any reality we know over time and it’s going to be freakin’ awesome. Also, memes–we’re probably going to see some form of VR memes in the near future.”
Are there any future DLC plans?
With the catalog of VR games continuing to grow, what would you say to someone as to why they should experience Gadgeteer?
Peter: “Hey you! Yes you! Stop shooting at things for one second. Virtual reality is all about experiencing new things. Explore different genres! Do different things! Try out Gadgeteer if you have any interest in solving puzzles, building things, playing with physics, or enjoying beautiful crazy user creations. And if you’re new to VR or have children, Gadgeteer is a no-brainer at $14.99. Buy a copy of Gadgeteer today :)”
I want to thank Peter and Quinn for taking time out of their day and allow us to get a closer look into Gadgeteer and for also talking about Virtual Reality.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.