Roberta experimenting with VR

Roberta Williams, trying the VR version of the game

I am doing the coding on the desktop version of the game. Meanwhile, Cidney Hamilton, a software engineer who worked with some other Sierra alumni, Lori and Corey Cole, has been working on adapting the code to run on the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset.

Converting the game for VR has been far more work than I originally thought. We’ve mostly been struggling with two issues.

1) Frame rate. Marcus has been generating incredible graphics and a beautiful 3d Universe. But, both he and I are working on fast PCs with high-end 3d hardware. The Quest 2 is an incredible device but in order to fit within its memory and performance constraints, we’ve had to redo many of our graphics, keeping the beauty but reducing the number of polygons. In reality it is a good thing and has boosted the frame rate for both the desktop and VR versions of the game. 

2) User interface. The biggest issue, and the one that has Cidney working late on a Friday night, and as I type this, sitting at her computer on a Saturday morning, is the user interface. At the beginning of the project I didn’t really “get” the differences in controlling a game using a mouse or joystick, as opposed to controlling it via the hands (or wands) that one has in a VR world. I also underestimated the issues associated with motion sickness. Rapidly turning the world around you can quickly make a player nauseous. Poor Cidney has had to endlessly experiment with various methods of moving through our 3d world, some of which were enjoyable, and some of which quickly resulted in extreme disorientation and dizziness. 

The good news is that we are focusing on these issues early in the project and knocking them down one by one. And, of course the “better news” is that we are liking the end result. We just produced a playable demo of the first 5% of the game that we showed a small audience under non-disclosure. It’s still not at a level that I’d be willing to show it in public, but for us it was a major milestone.

I’m still not sure when the game will be ready, or when we’ll have something to show publicly. We’re having fun making the game, and it is looking better by the day. Our team is tiny, so we can’t always move as fast as I’d like, but major forward progress is steadily happening. 

Ps In the picture above you can see Roberta playing the VR version of the game while on our boat. Roberta and I spend most of our summers living on a small boat cruising randomly from place to place. We consider our boat a portable home, and love that we can change the world around us anytime we want. We cruised over 20 countries on our last boat and have a new boat we are breaking in now. We are looking forward to many more real-life adventures in the future!

24 Responses

  1. Good things to come Ahoy !
    Dear Kean & Roberta,
    I am so happy and excited that you guys are back in the saddle.
    VR is a tough nut (especially the UI / UX of it ). But I cant think of better creators to give it a shot.

    Onward ho ->

    1. Realistically — no. We’re paddling as fast as we can, but are at least a couple months behind our original schedule. My current best guess is Spring of 2022. My hope is that we are moving faster now. We’ve been fighting a lot of user interface issues that once we resolve give us the formula we’ll apply throughout the game.

      Marcus was also slowed down a bit trying to figure out his workflow for getting graphics in and out of the game, so that he could quickly patch art when needed. The team at Unity Software have been very helpful in guiding us. Their support is awesome!

  2. Wonderful to hear that great progress is being made! Thank you for updating us, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to trying it when we can.

    Very respectfully,

  3. From what I can find about this game: Very cool! And a day 1 buy for me for my VR set.

    Thanks for the update, and keep them coming.


    Ernst Wendrich

  4. I’m going to assume that you’re not going to get seasick anymore. Are you also immune to VR sickness? The best way to move as a character in a VR game is to move/throw an curved arrow to the target point and then be beamed right there. You can check it out in the free “VRChat” for the Oculus Quest.

    1. Agreed. We did that for a while, and may need to go back to it. We are experimenting with other options and hopefully will find something better .. but, “teleporting” the player to new locations may turn out to be the best alternative. We shall see….

  5. Love to see Roberta and Ken taking on a new project. My first Sierra game was LSL1. Found it near my dad’s computer. What is this? We were kids but we would bruteforce the age-check questions until we could play.

    LSL, Space Quest, Kings Quest, Police Quest, Gabriel Knight and Phantasmagoria are good nostalgic memories of my childhood/adolescence. There were some good LucasArts games in that era as well.

    The LSL series was personally my favorite though. As I got a little older I personally bought copies of LSL6 and LSL7 (or my parents did for me), excited by the prospect of a new narrative with better graphics and audio. Those are still my favorite Sierra games though Roger Wilco is also a favorite character.

    I’ve watched some documentaries on youtube about Sierra and read your latest book on the history of the company Ken.

    It all brings back nostalgic memories when home computing was more rudimentary and also more exciting. It was in its infancy but changing so rapidly you had to buy a new machine every two years or less just to keep up with software requirements.

    Thanks for the memories.

  6. The original King’s Quest on the IBM PC Jr was the first game I ever played. Most of my formative years were spent playing your games. I’m very excited to see you folks working on something again. Best of luck to you, hope all is well. Take care!

    – Tom

  7. “I also underestimated the issues associated with motion sickness. Rapidly turning the world around you can quickly make a player nauseous. Poor Cidney has had to endlessly experiment with various methods of moving through our 3d world, some of which were enjoyable, and some of which quickly resulted in extreme disorientation and dizziness.”

    I hope you will be giving the player options on movement, as the thing about VR sickness is that it works differently for different people. For instance, for me, NOT being able to turn the world around rapidly and smoothly is what makes me nauseous. Another thing that helps for some people is limiting the field of view while moving, tunnel vision, but again that makes things worse for me and other people.
    Many games thus offer options, like choosing between teleport and smooth movement, turning on and off tunnel vision, etc.

    1. Great point. We’ve been working hard on the nausea issue and believe we have an approach that works .. but, as you said, what works for one person may not work for another.

      I’ll keep that in mind…

      Thanks – Ken W

  8. Hi Ken.
    Thanks for doing us going back to the Quest times. Believe it or not, I learned english playing Larry, Police Quest, Space Quest, Gabriel Knigth and all the Sierra Games. Now my kids (10 and 12 years old) are playing some Sierra Games too.
    I´m very anxious to know the story of the game and watch some screenshots. When do you can tell us more about it?

    Regards from the end of the world, Chile-Southamerica.

    1. . When do you can tell us more about it?

      I wish I could say what we’re working on now, but for a variety of reasons I need to keep it secret.

      My guess is that it will be November before I can talk freely about he project ..(Or December)

      -Ken W
      PS Thank you!

  9. It’s so cool seeing Roberta testing out the game in VR! What I loved about past Sierra games is the way the UI/UX was designed in a fun and interesting way for the games that were being made (one of my favorites being Phantasmagoria). I often wondered what you and Roberta would do to tackle the challenge of designing that for VR, as it’s still very much a big experiment that UI/UX designers are still figuring out how to make it natural and usable for VR. I’m sure your team will do great in finding a solution.

    I was reading the challenges you were having for the FPS issues and having to scale back the graphics and I was wondering if you were planning on making the desktop PC version of this game playable on PCVR headsets or if the VR will be exclusive to quest. Because you could possibly have the best of both worlds in terms of graphics quality and performance with PCVR and give the user control to tweak it more for graphical fidelity or performance. It would also open that option to quest headsets as well as I know plenty of people who have powerful PC’s and use their Quest as a PCVR headset.

    I also want to mention that my family and I are huge fans of Sierra adventure games and we are all eagerly awaiting more news to come from this game, and we will probably end up buying multiple copies of the game 😀

    1. Greetings Alex:

      We’re trying to share as many graphics as possible between the Quest 2 version of the code and the PC version, but there are some cases where we can push harder on the PC side and give better graphics. We don’t want to “hold back” on any platform when more could have been done. Specifically, there are times when “more polys” or “real time lighting,” “post processing” or just more scenery can make a difference in how a scene looks.

      And, it isn’t as simple as saying, “These are the graphics for VR and those are the graphics for PC.” Within VR devices, some have more horsepower than others, and within desktop computers, some have more powerful graphics cards than others. And of course, machines rise in capabilities from year to year. We really need to design the graphics so that we are flexible in what we show based on the capabilities of the machine we are running on.

      All of that being said, we are a small team. Marcus, who is leading the art effort, is doing an incredible job. But, we are competing with products that have insane budgets. I have a small, highly talented, team who are excited about doing something great. But, anyone buying my game expecting that we will have the best graphics in the industry will be disappointed. We can’t win that battle. We simply don’t have enough a large enough team or enough budget. Hopefully this is the first in a long line of games, and with each successive game we’ll get larger budgets to work with.

      Personally, it doesn’t bother me that we may not have a multi-million dollar budget. If I want realistic graphics I can always watch a movie. We’re making games, not movies. I’d like to be judged on whether people enjoy playing the game. The metric for me is whether or not people play the game with a smile on their face.

      Making a game fun is more a design issue than it is a budget issue, and Roberta has an amazing track record as a designer. Each time we’ve given her a piece of the game to play she has kicked it back to us and insisted on wrecking our day by making us change how the game plays. She is very picky and knows what she wants, and when she thinks something should be different, she isn’t shy about saying so.

      Best wishes! – Ken W

      1. Thank you for the comment Ken! I find it very interesting to read about what goes into making a game. I agree that graphics don’t make the game, and I really didn’t mean to sound like that it was all that matters. I was just mostly curious if the VR was exclusive to Oculus. Regardless, the part about the game that has me excited the most is how your team tackles the design challenges for it, especially in VR. Reading how involved Roberta is in the design decisions of the game has me even more excited! I’m looking forward to seeing more news about the game and hoping that the game is available for all VR platforms.

  10. Super cool. Serious fan since the early 90’s. If you guys need a tester or some positive words, I’m here for you.

    Excited to see what you come up with!

  11. Super cool. Serious fan since the early 90’s. If you guys need a tester, a hand anyway I can help, or some positive words, I’m here for you.

    Excited to see what you come up with!

  12. I could go into a lengthy story about how you guys influenced the trajectory of my life in so many ways but I’ll gladly settle for knowing that I am able to personally reach you and tell you thanks for all of the hard work and dedication it took to make that impact on so many. As a kid I dreamed that I could turn my creative talents into some way of becoming a part of your team, but as I was becoming an adult you were ending your career in the gaming industry and I had to find a more accessible means of making a living.
    I ended up becoming a contractor in the construction industry, a real estate investor, & an entrepreneur at heart and have found success in many ways. So I would like to offer my services if ever they are needed. I would also like to make you aware of the substantial tax credits & benefits that could be used by y’all in Louisiana that are focused on your industry. It is something that would be worth looking into if you end up continuing on this path once again. I would love to help out in anyway needed and hopefully one day our paths may cross.

    1. Thank you! I’m pleased to say that Roberta and I are happily retired. We are indeed working on a game, but that’s 100% because we’re having fun making the game. All of those things I used to think about with Sierra I hope never to think about again (managing employees, hiring/firing, dealing with lawyers and accountants). At this point I don’t want to think about much except writing and debugging code. I recognize that sooner or later I’ll need to think about how to distribute the game .. but .. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

      Congrats on your success!
      – Ken W

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