Head First into Virtual Reality: Local Gaming Company Takes on Cutting Edge VR technology

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With the clock counting down, there’s only 30 minutes before a bomb goes off. The only way to deactivate it is to solve logical puzzles and get the heck out before it all gets blown to kingdom come. That’s the premise of Escape!VR, a new virtual reality game developed by Viktor Jónsson and Peter Dawe.

They are the co-founders of New Island Studios, a local video game development company. The pair started work on their game back in August 2016, incorporated their company in October, and released Escape!VR in December.

Before Escape!VR, neither of them had made a video game. “We kind of did it so we could start our own company afterwards,” Jónsson said. In fact, they were both just about to start their final year of a five-year-long degree in mechanical engineering at MUN, but they realized engineering wasn’t for them. Instead, they wanted to go into the gaming industry.

“We both love video games, so we just took it upon ourselves to try to learn some of the stuff. And then we liked it, so we kept going,” Dawe said.

With Jónsson as the game designer and Dawe as the programmer, they split the rest of the work between them, which included art, sound, and administration. Everything but the voice acting was done between the pair. “I guess the thing is, we just weren’t really confident in either of our voices,” Dawe said. They found a guy on the internet to do the voice work for $40.

“We wanted to try to make this game … as lean as possible. Just trying to do all in-house, pretty much everything,” Jónsson explained.

“Basically, use as little money as possible to make it,” Dawe added

Completely new to game design, they got some guidance from Clockwork Fox, another local game development company. They also dropped by the live-action adventure game Escape Quest for inspiration when it came to designing Escape!VR’s locked room scenario.

Their game is played on platform called Gear VR, a virtual reality headset that hooks up to a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, a technology developed in partnership between Samsung and Oculus. Escape!VR can be downloaded from the Oculus Store app for $2.29.

Due to a non-disclosure agreement with Oculus, Jónsson and Dawe can’t say how many people have downloaded the game since its release, but Dawe said “It’s a better number than we were expecting.” Though it’s not enough to financially support themselves yet or pay off any student loans, “We’re pretty happy with how it went for our first game.”

Dawe and Jónsson were even able to use their company as their last engineering work term through MUN’s Centre for Entrepreneurship. They have finished writing their final exams and want New Island Studios to be their full-time jobs and are planning on making an expansion pack for Escape!VR. But the goal is to come up with new games in the future.

New Island Studio’s focus will be on virtual reality games, Dawe said. In the gaming industry, VR is what everyone’s talking about.

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Elizabeth Whitten

Elizabeth had an MA in Anthropology before she decided journalism school would lead to a far more lucrative deal. So now she has another degree and writes in St. John's.

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