GBR Interview: Theresa Duringer, Co-Founder of Temple Gates Games

GBR had a chance to sit down with Theresa Duringer, Co-Founder of Temple Gates Games to learn more about the company and their new VR game, Bazaar that recently launched for Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

A VR immersive adventure game, Bazaar was originally created for the 2015 Oculus VR Jam in June and won a Silver Award along with prize money. Players are able to explore a mystical world while riding a magic carpet and along they way they collect objects the help them navigate through the experience.

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 GBR: Congratulations on the release of Bazaar for Gear VR. How have you found the VR development process for to be overall? What has been the most challenging aspect?

VR has been the most exciting medium I’ve ever developed in.  Armies of developers have proven out solutions on traditional platforms, making innovations few and far between.  As a developer on PC or console, I’m usually following someone else’s path because the chance that forging my own will be better is slim. With VR, we are those initial trailblazers.  We may be struggling, and we may be blind, but we’re making incredible discoveries that will shape the future of gaming’s newest frontier.

The most challenging aspect is the lack of established relationship between the player and the medium.  When I play a console game, I know X means select, or B means back, or on a PC game, space is jump.  None of that exists in VR, partially because there is no input standardization, and partially because there hasn’t been a generation of content to establish these expectations.  Everything I want the player to do in VR is much harder and more frustrating than I predict it to be.  I’m forced to throttle back on difficulty to prevent players from giving up.  I’ve started to think of VR design kind of like driving a stick.  The more I can reduce the friction of confusion, the more of a strategic challenge I can gas in.  But it’s a tight balance and I have to measure difficulty in gradually, because I’m making discoveries as I go on how to keep it intuitive.

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GBR: Tell us a little about Temple Gates’ team. How many people have been working on Bazaar and how long has the development taken?

We’re five industry vets who’ve worked on quite a few titles at various companies together.  A few of us worked together on AAA games like Spore and Diablo, but we’ve also created some indie hits like Plants Vs. Zombies and Cannon Brawl.TempleGamesGroupShot

Development has been just shy of six months.  We started this game as a one month entry for the Oculus VR jam.  Being winners in the jam gave us the validation to explore this thing further.  Since then we’ve completely gutted the core mechanic, but the heart of the game has stayed in tact.  Part of this is because we were able to get away with a more challenging puzzle once we’d made innovations on intuitive controls.  For example, we’ve implemented a “vegas dots” system, where beads of light animate and draw your eye in a particular direction, similar to the lights you would see around a vegas marquee.  Implementing solutions like this helps us manipulate player gaze, an important tool we used to guide focus and keep the game fun.

GBR: Where did the story and idea for Bazaar come from? Can you give us some background on the inspiration?

Everything in Bazaar grew out of one core mechanic, which involves our flying carpet.  In my first VR demos I kept bumping into coffee tables.  It was so frustrating!  When a VR game is so enchanting or vivid that you want to move around and explore it, you need to give the player a vehicle for exploration.  Framing the camera over a flying carpet sets the expectation that the player will be moving through the world without needing to move their legs in real life.  During the VR jam I’d also visited a Turkish lantern shop in Carmel by the Sea.  The imagery, shapes, and colors reminded me of something out of Araby by James Joyce, and I knew I wanted to capture that sense of wonder.  Combining our movement mechanic, and this Turkish architectural influence, we found inspiration in ancient Assyrian mythology.  This game gave us the chance to portray a fantasy world with some Middle Eastern inspiration in a positive light, and hopefully deliver content that’s inclusive and compelling.

GBR: What’s next? With the release what are the next steps for you?

We’re working on a patch targeting performance improvements.  It’s like dinner before dessert, once we’ve gotten this done we can get to the fun stuff: more features!  We want to include an achievement system that will harmonize with our procedurally generated labyrinth levels to deliver the most replayable content in VR.  Also we’re excited that new features will be rolling into the Oculus SDK and we’ll be implementing gameplay to take advantage of these.

GBR: Do you have any advice for developers starting their VR projects or who are looking to get started?

As a game jam junkie, I recommend that folks jump into VR with a bite-sized project.  This will give them a chance to get a flavor of VR dev with low commitment.  They can take some chances and experiment, since the cost of participating in a jam can be as low as a couple days and maybe some pizza.  Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam are great to get started with.

Our funding has been a bit piecemeal.  I’m a serial contest entrant and have won nearly a quarter million dollars in prizes for games I’ve worked on.  Most recently winning 50k in the Oculus VR jam was a nice little windfall.  Also, part of the awesomeness of working on a small team is that you can get a nice big slice of the pie.  My last game, Cannon Brawl, has been on sale on Steam, and I worked on that with one other person.  We split the profits and ongoing sales have enabled me to work on new projects.  We’re also self funded, since the founding members of Temple Gates Games have injected our own capital into this company.  We keep overhead low because as founders we don’t draw salaries.  We’re working on this because we believe in VR and we believe in what we can do with it.  It can be a bit terrifying to have no income, and on my last game I burned through the runway I saved up working at Maxis.  Now with a steady income from sales of my previous game, I can be a bit more relaxed and focus confidently on the game at hand.

GBR: Anything else you’d like to add?

Follow our dev blog at TempleGatesGames.com

Follow us on Twitter @Temple_Gates

See you in Virtual Reality!