When you look at the world that we are in right now with the pandemic going on and having to stay inside with a majority of things around us closed, what do you start to think about? When will it end? When will there be a vaccine for the virus? Maybe even the thought has crossed your mind if you could only destroy something that you can’t see? Those are all very good questions and I am sure there are even more that we all wish we could get the answers to. I have thought about what if there was a way to escape and somehow defeat a virus that resulted in the actual destruction of the real virus? Now, I admit, if that was the case I would be all in for it, but it’s just not that easy. But when I heard that there was at least an escape that allowed us to try and have some fun while trying to destroy a virus, I wanted to know more. So I reached out to Starcade Arcade and they were more than happy to give us a look into Virus Popper and talk about some Virtual Reality.
Interview with founder of Starcade Arcade, Alexander Clark
Hi and welcome to THE VR DIMENSION. Could you please introduce yourself and what you do at Starcade Arcade?
“Thanks! I am Alexander Clark, founder and lead developer with Starcade Arcade. I do all of the coding and artistic direction for the game studio whilst I work alongside my best friend Brandon Haist, who is the community manager and leads our UI/UX design.”
Starcade Arcade has been responsible for a strategy game where you can battle friends called Starblazer. For those who may not be familiar with the name, can you summarize it for us?
“Starblazer is a sci-fi strategy game that allows players to configure custom fleets and then jump into real-time battles in a variety of modes, including a 26 level puzzle campaign, an infinite horde mode, and of course, multiplayer! All of the battles are real-time, so they are chaotic and a thrill. However, we have designed it to use the simplest controls possible so that anyone can learn how to play.”
Recently, Virus Popper released. How long has Virus Popper been in development and what can you tell us about the game?
“Virus Popper’s core gameplay was actually designed all in one insane, sleepless weekend. Brandon and I really felt that we needed to do something to help the world through this pandemic, so we decided to make a free, educational game. We spent the next couple of weeks refining and polishing the game and getting it ready for approval on store submissions.”
I have to say, that the song that is played in the trailer you released is really catchy and is now keeps playing in my head. First, well done. Second, who came up with the song?
“Thank you! We love the song as well. A lot of credit goes to the creative mind of the artist John O’Hallaron, from Chalk Dinosaur. Chalk Dinosaur originally made a song called “Star Blazer” which they then allowed us to use in our first game. When Virus Popper came up, it gave us the idea of commissioning John to help create a unique single for the game. We explained our vision and direction, and then he took it from there.”
Was the idea to release Virus Popper for free always the idea?
“To be honest, even though we knew from the beginning that the game should be free, it was still a very hard decision to make. Brandon and I are indie developers working on the game studio part-time. All of the money used to sustain our game-making comes from our personal income of the full-time jobs. So sure, a large part of us wanted to charge for the game. However, we knew deep down that the message had to be free and genuinely wanted to help the gaming community in any way that we could.”
Were there ever thoughts about adding some type of multiplayer, co-op or leaderboards within the game?
“You will be happy to know that we just recently added leaderboards to the game! After we launched, many people requested that we add leaderboards in, and the results of doing so were well worth it. We absolutely love to see people battling for the high score and comparing scores. We are having an absolute blast seeing how many toilet paper rolls people are collecting too. “
Given what’s going on in the world right now, was there anything you wanted to add to the game, but decided that maybe you shouldn’t?
“Interesting question! I would say that one of our conscious design decisions was to use aliens, rather than humans. The battle against COVID-19 is one that crosses all borders and we should all be united in – regardless of nationality, race, or background. By choosing to use aliens, we avoid the harmful topics or people misunderstanding the positive message that we’re trying to convey.”
Virtual Reality really has improved and in these crazy times where everyone is supposed to be staying at home, gives us a chance to escape the reality we know. What has been the most surprising to you when it comes to Virtual Reality?
“I am still surprised how many people have still not had a chance to try it yet. We have had the pleasure of introducing many people at game conventions to VR for the first time. Everyone remembers that magical experience and instantly understands why the rest of us see it as the future. We need to get VR into even more users’ hands so that it can take off like we imagine it will!”
When developing for VR, what do you find is the most challenging obstacle that you have overcome and most challenging that can still frustrate you?
“The most challenging obstacle for VR is the sensory overload that many players experience. It is honestly very overwhelming for most to be in VR and that limits the number of controls that we can have the user learn. When we first created Starblazer, we quickly learned that the controls were much too complicated and had to start simplifying. Even now, I would say this is still the challenge – as developers, we have to constantly keep in mind that we need to develop the simplest and most intuitive way for a user to jump into a game. It takes a lot of thought and design upfront though to achieve something that the end-user finds natural and easy to learn.”
When you have an idea for a project, do you think more about the visual aspect first or the audio side of things?
“We tend to think about the visuals first, the artistic style, and how we can use lighting to make a scene pop. However, we quickly learned the importance that audio plays in VR experiences as well. The first time we added “clicks” and responses to Starblazer, we realized just what our game had been missing. We then started prioritizing the audio experience as well. It was an absolute delight to bring these vibrant environments to life even further with ambient noises and rich effects.”
What do you feel is most important when it comes to sound in VR?
“For VR, the most important thing to achieve immersion is through spatial orientation. It is critical to think through the placement and range of audio sources in a space. It takes a constant tweaking to figure out what is the right sound level that a user will hear in a headset and what objects the audio sources need to be attached to in order to be realistic and lifelike.”
What are the top three things you would say to your younger self?
- “Do not be afraid of feedback. Expose ideas to customers early, take their advice, and then build a product that meets their needs. You can build something even better by combining customer insights with your original vision.
- Start prioritizing the key MVP features sooner, rather than later. It is easy to get caught up on details before you have perfected the core gameplay. Focus on what is most important.
- If you are not great at doing something, then do not be afraid to find someone better than you who can do it instead.”
So what is next for Starcade Arcade?
“We are not the kind of people that stick to one genre, so we plan to branch out into different styles of gameplay and game types. We still firmly believe that VR is the future and will continue making VR games. Also, we want to stay rooted in the Starblazer universe that we created. You may have noticed that Virus Popper features a few guest cameos from our previous game. I can guarantee that the future titles that we are planning will sit in the same universe as well that we are building for Starcade Arcade.”
With the library of games and experiences for Virtual Reality growing, what would you say to someone on why they should play Virus Popper?
“We are encouraging influencers and streamers to play Virus Popper in order to help share some of the positive messages that can keep people safe right now – like social distancing, proper handwashing, and covering one’s mouth when coughing. Even if you are not an influencer or streamer, we believe that Virus Popper is worth trying out because a lot of people have been having fun playing it, it is easy to pick up and learn quickly, and most importantly – it is free!”
I really want to thank Brandon Haist for setting up setting everything up and to Alexander Clark for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk about his experiences and to give us a cleaner look into Virus Popper.
To learn more about Starcade Arcade, please visit their site, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, follow them on Instagram, follow them on Twitch, join their Discord, and subscribe to their YouTube Channel.
In case you missed the trailer, please enjoy…