That time I demoed Virtual Skeality to a bunch of people

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An Excuse

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, my worst habits can be thought of as the friends I met along the way.

Case in point: I'm pretty damn good at maintaining inbox-zero across all of my email accounts. Google's excellent (and soon-to-be-unceremoniously-discarded) Inbox app has been the secret to my success, allowing me to quickly and easily do-delegate-defer-delete my way to peace of mind.

Except.

There's this specific category of things I haven't figured out how to resolve — things I want to do, but it's never the right time — and so I perpetually keep punting them down the field week after week.

This post is one of those things. The event I'm going to describe here took place nearly a year and a half ago, which is ancient history in game-development terms. But I want to make sure I write about it here, because I think it contains some important lessons I can carry forward with me as I figure out where I'm going next from here.

Okay, so: Here's a story about the time I shared a VR game I made with a bunch of people and a lot of people liked it.

Skeal: A Primer

I'm not a particularly well-known game developer by any stretch of the imagination, but there is one game I made that bubbles up in the zeitgeist every now and then. That game is Skeal.

Skeal is this weird, weird thing. It's a dumb idea that I fell in love with instantly and built over a single weekend in the throes of a nasty fever and yet—

and yet

people still play it. Often.

Skeal's been played by somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people. Which is nuts to me, given that I've done zero marketing for it and, again, there's the whole built-in-three-days-while-sick thing.

It also resonated with some critics, becoming something of an annual tradition at Rock Paper Shotgun and, in a move that still bewilders me, it found a home on PC Gamer's top 50 free games list.

Like an evasive parent, I like to say that I appreciate all my games equally. But honestly? I don't like Skeal all that much. It's rough, it's half-baked, and it's extremely clear that I couldn't write C# to save my life in 2014.

I don't like Skeal. But I do love Skeal.

To me, Skeal represents the first time I followed a silly idea that resonated intensely with me and my sense of humor to its logical conclusion. And it worked. It really worked. Its continued success is proof of that, to me. Statistically speaking, at least one person has downloaded and played Skeal since I started writing this article.

The Origin Story of Virtual Skeality

So, you know Skeal? Anyway, I took that game and put it in VR, and that's Virtual Skeality.

I mean, ok, I also did some fun, dumb stuff to spice it up for Maximum Immersion. Like:

  • I made some 3D models of ski poles and glued those to the player's in-game hands
  • I added motion controls so you ski by moving your body (this was amazing and dumb and I love it)
  • I redid all of the flags because sometime between Unity 4 and 5 they decided to introduce massive, breaking changes to how cloth bodies work, thanks Unity, love u

Demoing Virtual Skeality

Back in October 2017, I hauled my gargantuan desktop PC and Oculus Rift to a work event where I was given some cordoned-off space to demonstrate Virtual Skeality to my peers. I figured a half-dozen people would show up, we'd all have a good time, and then I'd go join in the festivities elsewhere.

Instead, something like 30 people signed up to play the game, and I was demoing it for a solid three hours.

Across the board, people loved it. Most people had never used a virtual-reality headset before, so this was probably kind of a strange introduction for them. But regardless of their familiarity with the hardware, almost everyone "got" the joke of the game and had a smile on their face.

There were some huge bugs surfaced during the play sessions, too. For reasons I didn't understand at the time, occasionally left/right tilt controls would get reversed. That was a bummer, but most people adapted quickly and still had a good time.

After the line was exhausted, I packed up my PC and went home for the night. I was physically tired from standing, explaining, and gently guiding Rift-wearing folks away from walls and people's drinks, but none of that mattered — I was thrilled at how many people enjoyed this thing I made.

Demo Early and Demo Often

I recently realized that this was my first time demonstrating a game I'd made for an audience. I've since had the opportunity to do this a few more times at events like the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and PIGSquad meetups, and each time I learn a lot and feel reassured about the quality of the work I'm doing.

But there was something so fundamental and crucial about that first demo session with a janky VR experiment actually going well. It flipped a switch in my brain, in a sense. I knew people liked Skeal, but seeing people line up to play something I'd made and each have fun with it convinced me that my gut was right all along — that I actually can create positive and novel experiences to share with others. And that's honestly about as close to a mission statement as I've ever had behind my game-making practice.

Anyway. That's the message here. If you're making something for public consumption, don't wait to share it with other people! See what they think; see what resonates; take notes on what doesn't land just yet. Feedback isn't always palatable, but it can't hurt you in the long run.