Smash Hit Plunder: The Story So Far!

By Louise on January 17th, 2018

Triangular Pixels began life as a company in 2014, when Creative Director Katie Goode and Technical Director John Campbell fulfilled their dream of shifting from AAA studio game creation to making their own independent games. Thanks to clever business decisions and saved funds the partners moved to Bude, Cornwall, to concentrate on making exciting virtual reality games suitable for all players and ages.

 

Smash Hit Plunder, which is due for release this year, has had an interesting development history. The story started in 2014 when Katie and John realised that their dream for Triangular Pixels was to make a truly social VR game – the kind of game that couch friends could get in on. We wanted to make a game that would feel tactile (smashing!) and immersive (plundering!) with a medieval pixel-art arcade theme. The story behind the game is that the player is a VR Mage on a magical quest to unlock their ancestral home, which has been locked down by a devious debt collector, Mordred – and the only way to pay him back is to loot your own castle for treasure!

 

Here’s a very early image of the game in development….

Early Stage

 

After 3 weeks of crunch prototyping and development Smash Hit Plunder was first trialed at LadyCade on 18th July 2014. Initially, the game was intended for release on the Gear VR, using a 2D shared screen to draw in external players and viewers. We had a great showing at GameCity in Nottingham that year, too. Here you can see the VR player using the Gear and the social screen demonstrating their actions for everyone to enjoy. At this point, the 2D screen was essentially a map screen showing what the VR player was doing:

 

GameCity

 

 

By May 2015, the game was really beginning to expand and push at the limits of VR capabilities and the platform we were targeting, so we started trying to find a platform and a partner that really fit with the game. We saw the possibilities with PlayStation VR: how it was a system designed for the living room with sofa multiplayer in mind – fitting exactly with our passions for the game. We made the big step to change platforms and focus only on PSVR. We were then very proud and excited to receive support from Sony! So in October that year, development shifted to PSVR – a great business move as the PSVR is the highest selling VR HMD at the moment!

 

Holidays were hard to take, and every day off we had from full time positions at other studios were used on development for Smash Hit Plunder. However in September 2015 we justified a ‘game dev holiday’ where we had a month off Smash Hit Plunder to work on a new platform, HTC Vive, and project – Unseen Diplomacy. The game went on to be a huge success – being nominated and winning multiple awards for our first ever release, which raised the company profile.

 

2016 was spent porting, designing and developing the game into a fully-fledged adventure game specifically designed for PSVR. Going from a Mobile VR prototype to a console VR game also meant a change in direction and scale. We added story, dungeons, spirits to either make friends with or fight, and the 2D TV screen (social screen) became a whole new area we were finally able to focus on.

 

The social screen now shows what’s happening with the VR Mage in real time:

Social Screen

 

Not only that, but multiplayer modes were added – these were then properly refined in 2017 and include 2 player co-op, and 2 manic versus modes which means friends can play along as a Goblin using a PS4 pad and viewing the social screen. We added three more game modes: scavenger hunt and treasure rush set you the challenge of finding enough items within a specific time limit, or of finding that one piece of very special treasure, and free play which lets the player explore (and smash!) at their leisure.

 

Smash Hit Plunder has a full cast of spiritual characters – both friend and foe – and the player’s Grandma is always about to help guide the VR Mage to success.

 

Grandma (2)

 

 

2017 was a whirlwind of development and business growth and we announced the game at Paris Games Week in November. Thanks to local funding support from Cultivator Cornwall and students from Cornwall College we created our very own trailer from scratch:

 

 

And now it’s 2018! We have a full team working on the game – design, code, art, audio, production and music, and we’re looking forward to releasing this year!

 

 


Best Game Developer Award for us at the Cornwall Edge Awards!

By Louise on December 1st, 2017

Best Game Developer Award for Triangular Pixels at the Cornwall Edge Awards!

 

1st December 2017, Bude, Cornwall

 

Thanks to hosts Cornwall Live, last night we were absolutely delighted to be awarded with ‘Best Game Developer’ at the Cornwall Edge Awards. We’re based in Bude in Cornwall, are proud to be fully independent, and are therefore very grateful to have been recognised for our recent successes.DP57v2rX0AAWMnU

We’ve been deeply involved in the Cornwall technological scene, including showing at events, hosting work experience students, and working with Cornwall College to produce a trailer for our forthcoming game Smash Hit Plunder. We used this trailer as part of Sony’s Paris Games Week launch announcement and are now looking forward to releasing the game in 2018.

 

We’d like especially to thank Cultivator Cornwall for their business and financial support, and Sony, Valve and HTC for providing the means necessary to create cutting-edge virtual reality games. Special thanks are also due to Transform Cornwall for vital business mentoring, keeping us fully independent and able to continue to working on transformative, fun and engaging new games.

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The Macro Producer: What do indie studios think about producers?

By Louise on September 18th, 2017

The role of the producer within a game studio can be pretty contentious. Where big studios utilise product owners to hold budgets and manage the development time of medium to large games, the need for a production role in indie studios is less established. (more…)


The Dyslexic Games Designer – How my hidden disability gives me my designer abilities.

By Katie on March 30th, 2017

Many of you will not know that I carry a hidden learning disability – Dyslexia. It can affect my daily life, it affected my education, and has shaped me as a person. I wanted to write up this blog post so I can share with you that having this disability isn’t necessarily a negative, and if you are affected – to give you reason to keep pushing and show you you can still be a successful designer.

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World’s First VR Tracked Cat! Vive Tracker VR Pet Hacking

By Katie on March 15th, 2017

We’re starting a little side project, thanks to the trackers HTC have sent us!

 

The VR tracked pet! (/small child)

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Triangular Pixels visit Confetti!

By Louise on March 14th, 2017

Last week we had the pleasure of attending Confetti’s 2017 ‘Industry Week’. Confetti is an Institute of Creative Technologies, and Triangular Pixels went along to showcase Unseen Diplomacy. The industry week is all about bringing real-life experience and technologies to Confetti’s students, and our live VR game certainly helped that!

 

The green screen, although not necessary for the game to run, added to the atmosphere and looked very cool.

The green screen, although not necessary for the game to run,

added to the atmosphere and looked very cool.


Unseen Diplomacy is a social game designed to make the most of space and audience interaction. Confetti was a perfect place to do this because their students are becoming specialists in the creative industries and we were glad to talk to them about our VR work.

 

The two days were very busy – we estimate Unseen Diplomacy had about 1 player every 5 minutes for 7 hours, and the queue was always full. Unseen Diplomacy encourages different interactions with the game and how the player gets through the space, and we were impressed with the new techniques people tried (like throwing keycards to flip switches!).  

 

Everyone had fun watching, too, with friends encouraging each other.

 We also had some excellent player reactions!

We also had some excellent player reactions!


We had groups coming into discuss the game and how it’s different to other games. We talked about how its development story and about what it means to work in VR – hopefully inspiring further innovation.

 JohnConfetti

If you want to bring Unseen Diplomacy to your event or exhibition, get in touch!


Unseen Diplomacy nominated for a BAFTA award!

By Louise on March 9th, 2017

Thursday, 9th March 2017

Exceptional news for the Cornish Games Industry – Triangular Pixels, VR games studio from Bude, has had their game “Unseen Diplomacy ” nominated for this years BAFTA Award for Games Innovation.

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Movement in VR: Environmental Redirection

By Katie on February 24th, 2017

 Moving in an unlimited sized virtual space, using entirely one to one movement in VR

 

Unseen Diplomacy casts you as an elite member of The British Espionage Tactical Initiative, defeating the plans of evil-doers around the world. With a real-life obstacle course created by the Vive’s incredible virtual reality environment, you will run and roll, sneak and solve your way through volcano lairs and moon bases.

 

But one of the most innovative ideas Unseen Diplomacy demonstrates is the ability for players to move around a gigantic environment, completely one to one, with no player affecting artificial ‘navigation methods’ such as teleporting.

 

In this blog post we discuss where the idea for the game came from, and how we came up with the ‘Environmental Redirection’ that allows players to navigate a potentially limitless space, and be the spy they wish to be.

 

 

Why does artificial navigation exist?

 

So to understand why Environmental Redirection is so different, you have to know why artificial navigation in VR currently exists. At this time, there is no consumer device that can track you around the world – only the HTC Vive can offer up to 3m x 4m play area. The game concept you create has to keep players inside this area somehow.

 

So how are players to navigate a massive world, if they can only walk in a 12m2 area? More often or not, the game gets players to artificially navigate themselves, by performing an action which will move the player’s avatar somewhere else in the virtual world.

 

In flat games, this has been done with FPS gamepad controls for years – but due to a combination of VR feeling so real, and a mismatch of forces you experience in the VR world and the real world, this can be really uncomfortable for players and will make them feel ill.

 

To get around this rather than use FPS controls, the most popular choice for VR games at the moment is teleportation, but there are others out there. We’ve looked into some before and discuss them here.

 

The problem with every kind of artificial navigation is that it’s always fake, not what humans experience in real life, and potentially still make people feel uncomfortable. If the player isn’t moving themselves around the environment naturally then it could always cause issues.

 

What is Environmental Redirection? Why is it different?

 

For this blog post, I actually had to reach out and ask people what they would call what we invented! Environmental Redirection is a short way of saying ‘rather than messing with player’s avatar in VR, we mess with the environment around them’. This is a radically different approach than in other navigation methods to date, which are all affecting players avatars.

 

Players move as they do in real life, by walking, running, rolling – however they wish. There’s no teleporting, no FPS controls, no portals, just themselves. This means artificial navigation methods, that can trigger sickness, are not at all in the game. Also, non-gamers take to the game a lot quicker, as they just behave as they do in real life – without any special rules.

 

How do you mess with the environment to make it feel bigger?

We split up the player area available into four quadrants, let’s just say 4 rooms for now. Each room is blocked off by a door. When you open a door, the room in front of you loads. When you step into that room, the door shuts and the room you just left is loaded out. This means you can walk in circles, going in and out of lots of small rooms, with those rooms taking up the space previous rooms were in – ‘non-euclidean space’.

 

Space

 

It’s not quite that simple though – if you just did that you would know you’re walking in circles in a tiny space! So we resort to some really smart level design to stop that from happening;

  • We distract the player in every room with ever something visually intensive or a cognitive challenge – this means the player subconsciously forgets where they came from and increases the chances that they are moving around within a room.

 

UD Lights

 

  • We have a particular arrangement of rooms which means that in a special room type, the player actually ‘backs up’ on them self and walks through the same door they came in from. This means you are not always walking in the same direction around.
  • We have lifts, which means you also go in and out via the same door, again – stopping the same direction around.
  • We make sure to give the player a sense of location as soon as possible – so the second room is always a ‘vista’ room.
  • We create rooms that are much bigger than the tracked area, but still actually only have platforms where the player can walk that are within the tracked area.

 

UD Lights2

 

Where did the idea of Environmental Redirection come from?

We didn’t set out to create a new form of navigating in VR, it sort of happened out of the blue. Back on 14th July 2015 Bossa, HTC and Valve came to London to do a Vive Jam. Hardware was really hard to come across, and we wanted to experiment – so we went along to that. The challenge was ‘to use the room space’.

 

It was just John Campbell and I, and while John was testing out the SDK – I was tasked to create a game idea. I didn’t really have long as we only had two days there. I remember sitting in the tracked area, thinking ‘well, it’s a big tracked space, but it’s still not a very big room’.

 

I had a big mix of ideas, from being Godzilla to having some sort of cute virtual pet. I kept coming back to the Crystal Maze through – a UK TV show back in the 90’s in which there was a series of rooms with a mix of physical and logical tasks for a player to do, which other people helped out on a monitor while powerless to physically help.

 

Crystal Maze

 

 

Looking around, many of the other ideas were coming up with some very pretty ways to pen you inside the space a little more naturally – either using fences, or you’re on a island or iceberg. In terms of level design, I wanted to break that up somehow, I wanted players to forget entirely where they are and not for them to know which wall was inside or outside their tracked space.

 

So the first thing I did without any code was to just model a crawl space air vent – some other way of moving, some way of getting players to be really physical, and it was a hit! It felt so good, my mind was going crazy! The mixture of actually getting to do that in a game, crawling on the floor, and having the real feedback of the floor on my arms and knees was incredible.

 

Katieflor

 

 

So I go report back to John, and we start talking about how we’re going to extend that space – because in 3m x 4m you really don’t have much space to have a big vent. This is where we come up with the idea of having quadrants, and loading in and out rooms in front and behind of the player.

 

Our Jam game was born, The Hatton Garden Heist. Created in less than 24 hours it was an utter hit with the other attendees and with the BBC which happened to come along.

 

Hatton

 

 

What about Unseen Diplomacy?

We both always wanted to make a installtion game. We’ve been going along to gaming events, playing various really crazy one of games using specialist hardware – and wanted to do the same. Games like Johann Sebastian Joust and Line Wobbler: A one-dimensional dungeon crawler, were so cool. GameCity in Nottingham and the National Videogame Arcade (NVA) was the perfect arena for us.

 

The people at the NVA were so brilliant to us the year before, we wanted to make a game for them. The idea of Unseen Diplomacy was born. They would give us a spy-like giant room, spy actors, and theme up the space – and we would bring along a social VR game that allowed friends and family to play together.

 

So we looked at The Hatton Garden Heist and Crystal Maze again, and came up with Unseen Diplomacy. We showed it for a week at GameCity, and it went down so well – everyone was super happy with it, and we basically left it as it. Our live-theatre like social VR experience mixed with a VR assault course had done its job.

 

GC

 

That is – until the press caught hold of it just before GDC this year, and Valve said they wanted to show our game at GDC. The game went a bit viral, and even though it was just the core single player experience we were showing – people still loved it and were begging for us to release it. We were scared to though – it wasn’t long and it needed the large play area as we had designed it just for one event, it didn’t feel up to our AAA standards and were afraid of the reaction. We talked to Valve and some other friends – who convinced us to launch it. So, on the Vive launch day – we also launched Unseen Diplomacy.

 

What’s next?

 

Even though we’re a tiny little microstudio, we’re actually working on another VR project – Smash Hit Plunder . Unseen Diplomacy development was our summer holiday! But with the success of Unseen Diplomacy we’re looking at how we can grow and support the title in the future, as it already has such an amazing community of fans.


Triangular Pixels 2016 Roundup

By Katie on December 19th, 2016

Hi everyone! It’s time for a round up of the year.

This year has been the ‘big launch of VR’ which everyone has been waiting for. It was a big year for us too, with a game launch and awards.

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Cornish VR Studio, Triangular Pixels, Wins Develop Games Industry Award

By Katie on July 18th, 2016

Punching well above their weight, two-person startup studio Triangular Pixels has taken home an industry coveted Develop Award for ‘New Studio’, winning over some very tough competition.

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