Which project are you most proud of?
Virtual Reality and the Unknown.
Hello there! I'm going to talk a bit about which project I'm most proud of and how it helped me deal with the unknown. 🧭
I already had tried Virtual Reality games at Holocafe when they opened their first pop-up store in Düsseldorf and was intrigued by the potential of this new medium. When I heard a small team was working on a VR prototype and looking for people to test the experience I signed up within seconds, this is how I entered an ancient Egyptian pyramid. Choosing my full-body avatar and equipping it already felt like an experience, unlike anything the entertainment world had offered before. I was staring at my virtual body and those of my fellow players in excitement, ready to explore catacombs and solve riddles.
Tomb Raider has been a franchise that stayed with me most of my life and being in this pyramid dressed like the archaeologists we know from films I felt like Lara Croft. Escape the Lost Pyramid inspired by the world of Assassin's Creed was the first VR experience I tried that changed my view on VR and its collaborative, immersive, and comfort potential. Basically the next day I crafted my resume and applied to become the project's producer finalizing Escape the Lost Pyramid and supporting the development of two more; Beyond Medusa's Gate and Prince of Persia: The Dagger of Time.
The picture above is actually an in-game screenshot. I'm dressed in blue, high-fiving our tester. Working on those three VR experiences was the most fun I had in game development so far. Compared to other AAA projects our team was small and due to being quite a niche offered a lot of freedom for experimentation on how to use this new medium. On the production side, I had to learn to let go because there was almost no knowledge of how to design experiences like this and make them comfortable for a very broad audience yet.
Dealing with the Unknown
As a producer (and this is my own personal opinion), this was scary at first because there was so much unknown to deal with but this actually taught me my strengths which are focusing on creating a project as a team, solving challenges, coaching and facilitating processes which allow for more freedom to experiment. All things I'm better at and enjoy more than having long task lists and pondering excel sheets with lots of numbers.
One of the most important factors that helped deal with the unknown was having team members with experience you can rely on. This took a lot of stress away from me and words can simply not describe how grateful I'm for having had the chance to work with this team. With every challenge thrown at us, we grew and learned a bit more about ourselves and the projects.
It was also important to start out with a mindset allowing for fast iteration times and change or cut content early but also dare to reduce scope late where needed. Iteration speed and focus testing of our ideas were the keys to helping us answer open questions quickly, reducing unknowns. This meant we had to ensure an always playable build and basically enlisted the whole studio to become our testers. This had a great unexpected side effect. Almost every person at the studio knew what we were working on, saw the improvements we made between iterations with their feedback and as a result cheered us on in the process. This taught me as soon as you have something testable let people play and have a process for quick iteration, often we had someone test and the next morning design had already made adjustments in the current build.
In the beginning, I kept the planning as simple and less intrusive as possible. High-level sticky notes of our main features, a few details where needed, and an owner for each of the notes. We set rough goals by when we wanted to answer certain questions we had and how we got there was in the team's hands. We definitely sacrificed accurate planning and detailed documentation for iteration speed. Luckily our stakeholders were okay with us giving them a rough plan and also cared more about us being aware of our challenges and how we planned to answer the open questions than giving them estimations. The fact that they could play the build and regularly see our iterations helped in building the needed trust as well.
I'm thankful for all the lessons learned from those three VR escape games and the fact that they opened up this new medium to so many people. This is why I'm proud to have been part of this project.
What project is the closest to your heart and why?
Where you can play the VR Escape Rooms:
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