April 24, 2023
I still don’t really feel like a game developer, even though I’ve been doing it full time for over a year. When I first started working on the game that would eventually become Gorilla Tag, I wasn’t intending to make something that over 4.5 million people (and growing!) would be playing. I’ve been a VR enthusiast since the early days (I went halfway with a roommate for a DK2), and a lot of the early stuff was cool, but Echo Arena was the first game that really made me certain VR was going to be transformative. I got so into it that I started competing, which I had never done before, and my team, Eclipse, ended up winning the first two championships (shoutout to my teammates, iShiny, Palidore, and Simeon).
I was just a gamer who loved VR and wanted to try making something myself. I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to approach building something of my own: I wanted the movement to be fast, responsive, and be powered by directly interacting and pushing off the environment.
The first prototype of walking, running, and jumping with your hands turned out to be fun, and then I tried adding tag and it was REALLY fun. I just wanted to share it and hoped that I’d be able to get enough people playing so there’d always be at least one full room going. There’s a few more than that now (almost 1.5 million players a month!), which I still find incredible, especially since Gorilla Tag is not on the official store and players have to know about it to find it.
I’m not even sure the movement is the best part of Gorilla Tag. Another aspect that I think is critically important is how I tried to build the world to be as grounded as I could. If you wanted to play in the forest, you shouldn’t have to load a menu and choose that level, you should be able to just walk there. If you needed to change a setting, there shouldn’t be a laser pointer that lets you press options on a floating 2d screen, you had to walk over to the in-game computer and press the little buttons on the keyboard.
When I played Echo, it still strikes me how different the experience of loading into the lobby, floating over to an in-world terminal, pressing a huge button that gives a satisfying little rumble when it’s pressed all the way in, and then being able to hang out and meet people while you were waiting for a game to start. This really impressed on me how important it was for things made in VR to all work towards that feeling of being in a plausible, alternate reality. These are the things that I feel are at the heart of Gorilla Tag, and I want to push them forward as much as I can.
I want to keep experimenting and exploring these concepts in Gorilla Tag. I want to keep building a world where it feels like you aren’t playing a video game, but you’re visiting a place that’s alive, real and changing. I want to add new places, new systems, new ways of interacting with the world, and I want to keep building that as a place we can all be in together.
I’ve been really struggling keeping up with doing all of that. I’ve had some support, especially from my community moderators, and help with in-game music and art, but for the most part, it’s just been me, which has meant I can’t push the game forward as much as I’ve wanted to.
Joining me today as partners at Another Axiom, I want to introduce David Neubelt and David Yee.
I know David Neubelt best from his time at Ready At Dawn as one of the leads and original team members from Echo VR. I still remember being excited to meet one of the developers when I first played the Echo VR beta, and I cannot overstate how thrilled I am to have him join the team. He’s not only bringing over 17 years of game development experience, but also a passion and understanding of VR that I think is extraordinarily rare and valuable. I really can’t wait to see what we can build together.
I similarly first met David Yee from those early Echo VR days. During his time at the Oculus Studios team, he worked on a lot of projects, collaborating with developers to innovate on new things in VR. He was one of the driving forces behind-the-scenes with the VR League, and we kept meeting and talking at every tournament we both showed up at. We talked a lot about VR, including the new (at the time) games he was working on, but we also somehow kept ending up talking about his time on EverQuest from years ago. I’m incredibly grateful to have someone who has so much experience and breadth of knowledge, who understands what we’re trying to build and can focus all our energies in the right direction.
Together, our passion is towards building what we’re calling diegetic VR. Instead of treating the game world like a video game you boot up and play, we’re building Gorilla Tag in a manner that makes it feel like it’s a plausible, alternate reality that could have existed if the rules of reality were just a little bit different. The experience we want people to have is to make it feel like the virtual world is a real place. A good example for what we mean is that we’re making as few concessions to 2D mechanics or UI that pulls the users out of the experience as possible, which really amplifies the experience.
Social VR is also a key part of the experience, and we believe that the feeling of interacting with someone in VR is second only to real life. VR can give you that sense of belonging and community in a way that really can’t be done in any other medium. A huge part of this is making sure there are enough tools and features in-game that let you connect with other people freely, but also let you feel safe. This is another area where we’re going to be devoting a lot of focus.
I also think one of the biggest draws for the game has been that it’s felt like kind of a live experiment. I’ve worked on a bunch of different things and tried to keep updates coming pretty often, even though things have slowed down recently as I’ve been focusing on trying to get a business built up around the game that will let things grow faster in the future.
You’re going to see us working on bigger things including game modes, maps, and mechanics. And, in the spirit for how I’ve been making the game, we plan on sharing and getting your feedback along the way. We’re excited to experiment with the new slingshot that we have in Beta and want to release it soon. We’re starting work on new environments and updating the layout and flow of the world that we have today. We’re working toward a substantial update as we look to release on the official store and other platforms.
At the same time, we know there’s a lot of work that needs to get done immediately. To that end, we’re going to get back to a regular cadence of updates. We’re going to work on getting more comfort and safety features for interacting with people. We’re looking at ways to encourage the mod community and giving them a place to play without affecting the experience of other players.
We’re trying to be ambitious with our plans. We want the game to grow organically, and keep the focus on making the game as good as we can make it. To do that, we’re actively looking to grow the team and beginning to work with more people to match our scale to our ambition.
Thanks for all your support so far for the game, it’s consistently blown me away how much people are connecting with it, and how much energy and passion there is around it. I’m really excited to be expanding things and I absolutely cannot wait to get to working with these guys and see what we can make.