On the pulse of crowdfunded gaming

Sunken Places

Classroom Aquatic: Kickstarting an immersive dolphin school simulator

Posted by Marcus Beard on February 6, 2014 | Jump to 1 comments

Everyone always focuses on the positives of being a dolphin.

It’s not all gleeful chirping, wondrous exploration and frolicking in the water, though. Dolphins didn’t get so smart by playing around all day.

Classroom Aquatic drops players into the highly challenging world of dolphin school. The only problem is that as a puny-brained human, there’s no way you’re able to keep up. You’ve got to cheat.

After making a splash in various online outlets, Sunken Places has launched a Kickstarter to turn its Oculus VR Jam game into a fully fledged release, complete with more classrooms, more mechanics and of course, more tests. The developer let us in on some of the reasoning behind the undersea stealth-trivia adventure.

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How did the team meet and come up with the scenario?

We heard about the Oculus VR Jam, and came together to work on the three-week game competition.

Early on, we came up with a lot of ground rules for our game’s design: we wanted the main mechanic to based around looking, we wanted to minimize the in-game movement of the player and we wanted to make a beautiful environment. After we had those bullet points worked out, we started throwing ideas against the wall.

It must have been 3 AM, and we had all been there since noon. We were all physically and mentally exhausted.

After a pause, one of our team members made the comment, “It’d be cool to make a game where you’re swimming with dolphins … Dolphins are so smart … God, humans are so stupid …” We wrote it down because we thought it was a funny statement.

The next day, it came to us.

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Were you surprised by people’s reaction to the game?

We were all surprised! We hadn’t won the VR Jam, and it hit us all pretty hard. Even though we all loved the game, we had to consider the possibility that it wasn’t for everyone. When we got accepted to MAGFest, we were happy about that, but none of us expected hour-long lines!

What are some of the most interesting cheating strategies you’ve found?

I think some of the funnier strategies are when people actually try to take the test. Lots of players get a good peek behind them, or make good use of the erasers, but sometimes they try to deduce what the answer would be. They want to try their best to be as moral and upstanding as possible.

They all fail.

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How is the full version going to be expanded? What new mechanics will you add with 10 months of development?

We still want to keep those three points intact: We want it to be about looking, to minimize movement and have wonderful visuals.

We love the surreal ocean/school environment, we love the gripping fear of our stealth and sneaky subversive play and we’d love to tell a story about what it’s like to be at this school — not just taking tests, but a whole host of activities that you’ll have to cheat your way through!

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From a developer standpoint, what’s important to you for the consumer release of Oculus Rift? Do you think many developers are truly tapping into the potential of the device?

It’s scary to design for a new medium or tech, but there’s also a conservative safety net that can trap you into skeuomorphic designs. The Oculus Rift isn’t a computer screen, but people still design for it as such. Although a designer should be familiar with what works or what’s popular on other platforms, designers should always look at the medium first and foremost to dictate design.

Theater isn’t television, books aren’t radio dramas and traditional mouse-and-keyboard monitor games aren’t Oculus Rift games.

What are you enjoying most about the game, the Kickstarter campaign and the community?

Its a wild, exciting ride, and an uplifting business experience.

We aren’t sinking everything we have into immediate development; we’re showing an idea directly to our potential customers and asking, “Would you be interested in this? Would you like to see it expanded?” That accessibility and direct communication helps us as developers make the game(s) that people want, and helps the consumers support the games they want to play. We get as excited as our fans do!

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If you’re intrigued by the thought of a plethora of school-based dolphin activities, you can download a free demo (which includes a non-Oculus version) from Classroom Aquatic‘s website. You can secure the full game, due for release December 2014, for $15 on Kickstarter.

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