Space Pirate Arena: The New Room-Scale PvP VR Game Hitting the Oculus Quest
About 6 months ago, I stumbled across a very interesting Youtube video of two people, wearing Oculus Quest headsets, playing a player-versus-player shooting game in a warehouse. The two players battled each other in a virtual environment, with virtual obstacles and weapons. I was blown away — I knew this was going to be a game changer for the VR community and the Location Based Entertainment (LBE) industry.
The video was released by video game developers I-illusions. They are best known for Space Pirate Trainer — a super successful VR game available on all VR platforms. The video was titled, “Space Pirate Arena”, and it was footage from a new game, of the same name, that I-illusion was developing for the Oculus Quest. I was convinced this was the modern version of lasertag that my friends and I loved so much as children — and I wanted to know more.
Over the next few months, I searched for updates on Space Pirate Arena every so often — but there very few, if any, until now…
One of the lead developers behind Space Pirate Arena, Chris Hanney, was recently interviewed on The F.Reality Podcast where he discussed Space Pirate Arena and his work with I-illusion. Hosts of F.Reacly, Mike, Nathie, Zimtok5, and Rowdy Guy, asked some great questions about Chris’s experience as VR game developer, the history of I-illusion and of course the developer’s highly anticipated new PvP VR game, Space Pirate Arena.
Mike: You’re kind of veterans in the VR space. You were there from the very very beginning of consumer headsets being available to buy and with it space pirate trainer. So maybe you can tell us about how I-illusion started and how you were kind of sold on the idea of VR and the development of Space Pirate Trainer?
Chris: Before we double down on us being veterans like we still feel like new kids on the block because this tech has been going back for decades and we were not there from the launch of DK1. I mean we were there as customers, we weren’t there as developers like CloudHead who we look to as absolute gods in this field. They’re the team behind The Gallery and Pistol Whip. They have been doing amazing stuff since long before we were even considered in VR. So we’ll go back to our story. I-illusion started when maybe 12 years ago Dirk V Welden, you can find him on Twitter (@quarkcannon), started playing around with a very early version of Unity. I think it may be more like version 0.3 or something, trying to make simple games on his relatively early Mac. Like we’re talking 2005 maybe 2006, just making games he’s really interested in snowboarding games and just trying to make something fun. Then the iPhone came out and that’s when his first game came out. He launched a game on the very first month of the iOS App Store and from there he sort of kept on toying around and then released a game in 2013, which is sort of when I came into the company and helped him out with a steam release called Element4l, 9 years later I still look back on that game as a beautiful moment of platforming indie game play. From 2014–15 we were focusing on iOS games or mobile and then out of the blue, this little company called Valve contacted us with a HTC Vive. It was even before that it was an early prototype of the Vive and that just rocked up on Dirk’s doorstep and within a few weeks he had made his first first-person shooter. That’s when he called me up to say, “Chris I’ve got this really weird prototype of this weird tech that arrived two weeks ago can you look at it?” And it blew my mind, it still blows my mind every time I step into an experience in VR, it still blows my mind. My first moment in VR was playing Space Pirate Trainer, it was early, it was very early but it was a lot of the core gameplay was there at least the hints of that came gameplay was there.
Mike: It’s really interesting to see that you guys, like Hyperbolic Magnetism, BeatGames before they changed their name, were also developing iOS games prior to getting to VR — it’s interesting that you had that kind of similar start. It’s interesting that Valve got in contact with you and obviously saw your creativity from the iOS development and the Steam game and said “Look we’ve got this new hardware”, which was obviously developed in combination with HTC, “Can you make something cool with this?”
Chris: Hats off to Valve. Chet (Faliszek) from Valve is was one of our heroes. They said don’t meet your heroes but I urge you to go out and meet him sometime if you’ll meet anyone else again. He put up with us for a long time and Valve really helped us find our feet. And so we’re really proud and happy to call them our friends… The first few months of our Vive experience was epic. We went from an iOS developer to overnight a VR developer and then we’ve been pretty much full-time game making ever since the Vive launched.
Mike: And how was that for you, like you know, launching as one of the first sort of lineups for the Vive? When that came out how was that for you in terms of success? Were you happy with the sales numbers and the performance and stuff like that?
Chris: We were really lucky to come out at a time when there wasn’t much competition and we’re really lucky to come out of time when we had an opportunity to get to just ride the wave of Vive’s success ’cause quite a lot was sold in the first months. It was quite a lot of anticipation for that so we were quite happy to but we were so excited just for the tech to exist that we weren’t worried about numbers. We were still, I was still, still technically am sometimes, doing consultancy work but at the time it wasn’t about “Can we make money from this game?” It was, “Let’s just keep on doing crazy stuff. Let’s make some fun,” which is the mantra for our company still. We are doing this full-time now so this is our company. This is how we pay our wages but it’s still like the core requirement for what we do in VR and all we’re doing, you know jobs, is to enjoy it.
Chris describes what Space Pirate Arena will be like:
Mike: Could you give a little synopsis of what Space Pirate Arena is and how it’s kind of evolved from (Space Pirate Trainer) trainer?
Chris: Space Pirate Arena comes from it’s core roots of us wanting to play “big” Space Pirate Trainer. It’s like, when we had just shipped Space Pirate Trainer on Oculus, this was late 2017, its Oculus Rift. This is way back. This is old people talk… Remember when the Oculus Rift and Touch came out. We shipped that and then in the months afterwards we took some time off because it was exhausting. That hall 2016–17 year of this, finishing Space Pirate Trainer and then shipping… then we spent, let’s say three months are just sort of exploring new ideas and one of those new ideas that came out of it was multiplayer or two people in one space, as bigger spaces we could get with Windows Mixed Reality headsets, just exploring “hall scale” we called it back then. So when we got those headsets they were the most freeing devices we’d ever seen, like there is no limit and how much tracking. In the Quest there’s a 10 meter by 10 meter limit, which is 32 feet by 32 feet, but on Windows Mixed Reality it doesn’t have that limit, you can keep on going. It has a wall recommendation, like not bigger than “this”, but you can keep on walking on that cliff house in reality.
Mike: So you were experimenting with two-player local multiplayer before Quest?
Chris: Yeah… Before we heard of the hardware of the Quest we were working on Space Pirate Arena… we found that co-op was fun but we really do the enjoy player-versus-player because it just created so many different things and we are especially into colocation.
Mike: I take it, at this point you’re using Windows MR headsets with backpacks or something?
Chris: Everything from a surface pro to a laptop in our backpack.
Mike: That’s the best so cool and I take it you were like doing this in like warehouses?
Chris: Now we haven’t shared any images of this but we’re getting close to sharing images of our place. I’m showing some like in our arena teaser. Last year we showed a bit about our warehouse but back in 2018 we had this we hired a warehouse that was scheduled to be demolished I think in six months from now and so nothing could be put in there. No shop was gonna move in there because it was a shopping center that was just abandoned and so we wrote to the city hall and said, “No one owns this place, they’re ready to destroy it, can we hire it basically?” So we got it for a really cheap but it was a dusty stink hole but was perfect for testing hall-scale VR. So we’d run around with these Windows Mixed Reality headsets just getting dust everywhere and we could only play for about 20 minutes before we had to leave and breathe oxygen. But that was the genesis of Space Pirate Arena; running around this dusty abandoned supermarket with Windows Mixed Reality headsets, just slowly getting covered in dust.
Zim: What version of what Mixed Reality headset did you go for?
Acer for sure, yeah hundred percent. The blue one that makes you look like you’re an alien from a really cheap 1970s sci-fi home. Yeah it is such a portable I still stand by that is one of the best headsets we’ve had. Like it’s not great, I mean as VR content consumption goes, it’s not that great, but you can throw that in a backpack and go.
Chris’s reaction to when Oculus first announced the Quest:
Mike: When Oculus announced Santa Cruz (the Quest), you’re like, “Hey, this is gonna be like an amazing platform for this.”
Chris: I’d say when it was first announced like we weren’t particularly, well I didn’t believe it would work, okay. I mean the tech was so future that I was like, let’s wait until we try it and then we tried it and it was a slamdunk — like this tech is ready. Let’s go!
Mike: But I guess, like you know, it would be difficult to release that for PC VR headsets right now due to the limitations of people having the hardware to do it wirelessly in a warehouse environment unless it was an arcade of course?
Chris: Releasing Space Pirate Arena on the Quest is already difficult. So the strategy for release is complicated but we don’t see any limitations on what platform it goes to. Having two people in the same room with a wireless Index, which doesn’t exist, a backpack PC running Index, could happen. As a big company we haven’t actually done that but we could have done that, but the Quest is so much easier so we just have been focusing on that.
Mike: Do you think the model, maybe in the future, could be that you could license this out to arcades to create something on a PC scale?
Chris: Yeah. We see it like two strands: One a consumer Quest of version and a high-end for LBE. A lot of LBEs would want a cheap option as well so having a Quest available to them as well for a commercial licensing is definitely a possibility.
Chris on the number of players that can play Spare Pirate Arena:
Mike: So with the Space Pirate Arena, how many players can you play at the same time?
Chris: So, the only limiting factor is space, a physical space. So the Quest build we recommend… 10 meters by 10 meters, having two people running around is amazing, having four people, it can get a bit crampy, and having eight people is just silly… it’s just less running and more just game over… all those eight people, like most will be just dead within seconds.
The group also discussed the networking technology behind Space Pirate Arena and how the game will address players who try to walk and shoot through walls.
Watch the entire F.Reality podcast episode for more information on Space Pirate Arena and other VR news.
It was not stated when Space Pirate Arena will be hitting the Oculus Store but Chris said the game is ready to go and that release plans are in the near future. I’m really excited for this one and I’ll be keeping my eye out for any new updates.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back for more VR, AR, and XR content!
Update: Nathie (@NathieVR) recently visited Chris on location and was given the opportunity to play Spare Pirate Arena! Check out his recently released video, “Space Pirate Arena On The Oculus Quest Will Blow Your Mind!”