One thing about Virtual Reality is how it can take you places you may never have the courage to bring yourself to try. Things like skiing and going full down the hill or even enter a severe situation where every movement counts. Experiences such as these and really bring everything to a new level. But when I heard that movie director Amir Valinia, was involved with a skydiving game for Virtual Reality, I had to know more. So I reached out to Amir and he was more than happy to give us a closer look at CanopySim – Skydive Landing Simulation and to talk about his experiences and about Virtual Reality.
Interview with movie director and creator of CanopySim, Amir Valinia
Welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Would you mind introducing yourself and what you do at CanopySim?
“I’m Amir Valinia and I’m the creator of CanopySim. I wear a lot of different hats from building environments, working with our devs (Toby Phelps, Bailey Lind-Trefts, and Eric Carmichael who owns CK Collab), testing builds, marketing, and a bunch of other things for CanopySim.”
For those that may not be aware, you come from a movie and cinematography background with titles such as Jurassic Predator: Xtinction, Alligator X, and Dream Home to name a few, and now getting into games with your first title CanopySim – Skydive Landing Simulation. How has the transition been from movies to the development of games been like for you?
“For me, game development is a lot like directing a movie. You have a vision and you bring that vision to life with your team. If you have the right team, the project can move along like a well-oiled machine. That’s not saying it’s easy. There are definitely challenges that you have to work through. You just have to be prepared and deal with them as they come up.”
Your game, CanopySim – Skydive Landing Simulation is about skydiving. What can you tell us about the game and how the idea came about for the game?
“I picked up skydiving as a hobby about 4 years ago. Around my 50th jump, I sprang my ankle on a landing. I wasn’t able to skydive for about 6 weeks. After that when I would get close to the ground for landing, I would be nervous about getting hurt. So instead of landing on my feet, I would either PLR (Parachute Landing Roll) or slide on my butt. I thought to myself it would be great if I could practice in a simulator to get over the fear of hurting myself again.”
So you really had a scary accident when skydiving?
“I wouldn’t say scary. But when you mess up a landing as I did, you can’t help but think of it happening again. All that anxiety actually works against you and when you aren’t confident and think something will go wrong there is a good chance that it will.”
Are there any famous landmarks that we can see as we are skydiving?
“Absolutely! As I started thinking about environments for CanopySim, I thought why not pick places that skydivers usually don’t get a chance to land in but they want to. So I thought about Liberty Island which is a very iconic site. That was one of the first places we built. Jumping into a stadium full of screaming fans is also something a lot of skydivers would love to do. So I came up with the “Stadium” scene.
I also felt like it would be really cool to land on an exotic beach with a volcano! As I started building the beach scene I started thinking about how we would get to the beach and how would we go up to jump. So I added a helicopter. I even thought about where the skydivers would relax while spending a weekend on an exotic island, so I added the hotel buildings, the pool, and the bar next to it. Later on, I thought about setting the beach scene up for some night jumps with fire torches and bonfires. I really like the beach scene at night!
And then we have the two-night city scenes. I called them “Dark City” based on the movie “Dark City” with Kiefer Sutherland. To me, the movie always felt like it was taking place on an asteroid so I thought it would be cool to build it like that. If you go far enough to the edge of the city you see there is nothing there! Later on to differentiate the two scenes I thought about using some greek mythology names. They just sound so cool!”
What happens when the player skydives at night and hits the building as I am sure it will happen just to see what happens?
“If you hit a building (or if you hit objects in any scene) you start falling to the ground at a much higher speed. It’s like in real life if you hit a building while under a canopy, your canopy can collapse and drop you down to the ground. I made a video showing how it reacts. I think everyone should give it a try and get that feeling by purposely hitting something. That’s the great thing about VR, you don’t get hurt like you would in real life!”
Will there ever be an update added that will allow the player to select anywhere in the world based on the actual drop zone locations?
“That’s something I have thought about. We might make that happen down the road!”
What was your first experience with VR that drew you in that you knew this game had to be in VR?
“About two years ago, my girlfriend and I went to Universal Studios Orlando for New Years’. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan so we went and checked out Harry Potter world. They had these really cool virtual roller coaster rides with giant screens that fill your peripheral vision. It really felt like you were flying through the air following Harry Potter on a broomstick! One of my other favorites was Jimmy Fallon’s “Race Through New York”. On that ride, they take you on a roller coaster to the moon and bring you back down. At one point he says the roller coaster is not finished so you start free falling towards the earth! Being a skydiver I REALLY liked that!
Once we got back from that trip I bought an Oculus Rift to try the roller coaster games. I was pretty impressed with how far the technology had come along and that’s when I realized CanopySim is a possibility.”
What has been the most challenging and surprising for you with developing into Virtual Reality?
“Finding the right team to work on the project was the most challenging. Since I wasn’t in the gaming industry I had to start from scratch and put the team together. There was also a huge learning curve for me. I went through several developers until I found the team that I’m working with now. I met Eric who took a very big interest in the project. His partner Bailey was the one that really understood the physics of a wing and was able to write the physics engine from scratch. And I’ve been working with Toby on all the other stuff. He’s like a swiss army knife for game development!”
Sound and graphics always help with the immersion of VR as well as any type of preventive motion sickness for those who may not be prone to it, what have you done to make sure CanopySims – Skydive Landing Simulation is a great time for everybody?
“Coming from a movie background I know how important sound is. It’s what makes you FEEL a movie or a game. From the beginning, we added real wind sounds that I had recorded while skydiving.
I spent hours in CanopySim when we were tuning the physics. Bailey had written an amazing script with lots of parameters. I had to adjust these parameters to get the “right” feeling for the canopy flight. At first, I would have massive headaches after testing for a few hours because the physics was so unstable and It was pulling me in every direction. But it had to be done to find the right settings.
CanopySim‘s physics is pretty intense because it really mimics the real feel of canopy flight. I get dizzy if I do too many turns under canopy in real life. It’s the same in VR, maybe even more. In fact, when we submitted the app to Oculus for initial review, one of their notes was to take out the 360 turns from the tutorial because it forced the user to make 360 turns.
I suggest everyone try it while sitting down first. I’ve watched my skydiver friends with years and years of skydiving experience almost fall when they are landing in CanopySim! LOL”
Was there anything that you hoped would have made it in the game, but hoping you can add it later on?
“CanopySim is still in a very young stage. There are many other iconic and exotic environments that I want to add to the game. Also as far as the physics goes I want to add different types of Canopies you can choose from and different wind loadings. (Wing loading is the ratio of the person’s weight to the square footage of the canopy). Also planning on adding more control like front and rear riser pulls which I’ve had lots of skydiver friends ask about.
We are also working on a paraglider mode that lets you fly around and explore much longer!”
The game was released on November 19, 2020, on the Oculus Store and now the tentative date is January 5, 2021, on Steam. Are there any plans for a PlayStation VR and/or Oculus Quest/Quest 2 release and if so, what is the target date for that release?
“Yes, We’ve already been working on a Quest version and almost have it ready! We will be working on the PlayStation VR version next.”
What is the next game or movie that you plan to work on?
“With Covid hitting us this year, I shifted all my focus onto CanopySim. I have some really cool upgrades for CanopySim that I would like to introduce in the next few months. Depending on how things go, I might jump back and look at some scripts that we put on hold due to Covid.”
If you could tell your younger self three things, what would they be?
I have a huge obsession with time travel and alternate realities so this question is really tough. In fact, we released a director’s cut of my movie Flashes (titled Flashes – The Director’s Cut) on May 8, 2020. The movie is about a guy that “Flashes” to 3 different realities. In each world, he is himself but very different because of the choices he has made in each reality.
Because of this obsession, I worry about what I would change if I talked to my younger self. I’m pretty happy with my life, so I probably would avoid talking to my younger self in any way possible! Lol”
With the catalog of VR growing, what would you say to someone on why they should experience CanopySim-Skydive Landing Simulation?
“CanopySim is the closest you can get to real skydiving without actually jumping out of a plane or from the top of a tall building. If you want to FEEL what it’s like to be under a parachute as you fly it around and come in for a landing, but you don’t want to risk it in real life, CanopySim is the only way to go!”
I really want to thank Amir for taking the time out of his busy day to give us a closer look at CanopySim – Skydive Landing Simulation and for also talking about his experiences and about Virtual Reality.
CanopySim -Skydive Landing Simulation is out now for the Oculus Rift/Rift S on the Oculus Store and will be releasing on Steam on January 5, 2021 and will also be coming to the Oculus Quest/Quest 2 and PlayStation VR.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy.