From classroom to VR: the making of Boom Beat

Modern game development can allow almost anyone, with enough effort and some talent, to create a game and publish it. Around the world people interested in designing games are now also able to choose to make immersive, virtual reality titles – and through places like Viveport, publish them to the world. Boom Beat is one of those titles, created by two UK-based students. We reached out to Quinn Nolan and Jacob Williams to talk about their experiences developing a VR title.

Hello to you both! Please tell us who you are, and what you did on Boom Beat.

Quinn: Quinn Nolan, QA, Design and Marketing Lead on Boom Beat.

Jacob: Jacob Williams, Lead Developer on Boom Beat, making all the back-end functionality and optimising the game for VR.

Tell us about your games development education. What did you study? Was making games an ambition for you?

Quinn Nolan

Quinn: We both just finished studying a course in Computing and Games Development at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom.

Jacob: I have wanted to move into games development for a few years, I took a college course in Computing for two years before this where I learned some basic programming and learned how to make games using XNA, which I really enjoyed.

Quinn: Video games have been my passion since I was a child, and I’ve loved playing them throughout my life, however I didn’t consider games development as a career opportunity until it came time to choose a degree. Once I realised a working on games was not a mere dream, and something I could actually achieve, I immediately applied for the course.

Do you feel your course helped you in development? Did it give you a general head start, or do you feel you could have ‘done it yourself’?

Jacob: I think our course has prepared us really well for the games industry. Not only have we learned a lot of great skills, such as modelling, programming with numerous languages and how to use a game engine to make games, but we have also produced a lot of games and prototypes we can use as portfolio pieces. The team that taught us were also very encouraging and have a lot of ties with the industry, meaning we were able to get current information on how the industry works rather than outdated info.

Quinn: As Jacob said, there are many skills required in order to create a game, and fortunately our course allowed us to become a jack of all trades. Additionally I think learning these skills through education definitely has some advantages over attempting to teach yourself, in particular as the projects you are creating don’t have to be successful or marketable, you can focus on improving each separate area one by one, rather than attempting to tackle an entire game while you are inexperienced.

Tell us about Boom Beat.

Jacob: Ever wanted to actually interact with those levers, pull chains and spinny things you see in games? How about some upbeat music to perform a fireworks show to? Now we’re gonna rush you and see how you do under pressure. Maybe you can even beat your friends high scores in some local hotseat multiplayer.

Quinn: Boom Beat is a great game for both beginners to virtual reality and experienced VR users, the simplistic controls allow the goal of the game to be quickly understood by anyone, while the rapidly increasing speed can prove a challenge to even the fastest players. This makes it the perfect game for groups and parties.

Where did the initial idea for Boom Beat come from? Did it come from an assignment or an idea you had, or was it more practical?

Quinn: We knew we wanted to create a VR game going into one of our modules, as it was an area neither of us had experience in and we wished to learn more. After exploring other VR games, I quickly realised that the best often got players involved by making them physically interact with objects in engaging ways, and our game was no different. Inspired by toys such as Bop-It that are so enjoyable due to the physical act of hitting an object, we designed a button, lever, crank and pulley mechanism. They were chosen as they ensured that each action the player had to perform was different and fun.

What was the most difficult part of creating Boom Beat for you?

Jacob Williams

Jacob: The biggest pain was attempting to optimise the game even though, it turns out, it didn’t need it. We use a lot of particles for the fireworks and a lot of light sources so I originally thought this was causing some issue, and spent days trying this and that to improve the frame rate. It turns out, however, the issues we were having only occurred when we ran the game inside Unity. As soon as we made a build, the game ran so smoothly it was unbelievable.

Do you have a musical background that aided you in creating the musical aspects (rhythm, feel and music) which drive Boom Beat?

Quinn: I wish! Unfortunately neither of us had much music experience to rely on when starting development, and in initial prototypes of the game we had created a rhythm game with no music. While eventually we reverted this decision, the focus of the game remained the same.

Which games, apps or ‘other stuff’ have inspired you the most in creating Boom Beat?

Quinn: Boom Beat was inspired by various games, both inside and outside of VR. For instance the rhythm aspect of the game we closely examined the success of the Guitar Hero franchise, and how their use of a physical guitar controller made the game much more appealing. Additionally the local multiplayer aspects of the game were inspired by early arcade titles, as both the games endless mode that gets harder as the player goes on, and the high score leader board were created due to our liking of similar arcade models that allowed friends to compete.

Was it difficult to balance the creation of Boom Beat with your class work, or did it all work out well together?

Jacob: The main reason we started work on Boom Beat was for one of our assignments. Our initial release on was created at the end of one of our modules during the first half of the school year, which we then carried forwards for another module during the second half. The first module was all about creating a pseudo-business and releasing a product under that business, while the second was about building ourselves up as professionals and improving our career aspirations, so we decided to take Boom Beat forward to an official release on Viveport. Unfortunately, we weren’t actually graded on the content of the game, so it’s been a bit of an odd process making the game as kind of an assignment but not really.

Quinn: Well while we weren’t graded directly on the game, it does serve as portfolio piece for both of us very well, and demonstrates our ability to create games within VR.

What future plans do you have – will you expand upon Boom Beat, or is it on to the next project?

Quinn: We’re not quite sure about future plans, we do have some ideas for how to expand Boom Beat but we’re waiting to see what’s next for both of us before we decide on our next move.

Do you think VR development will increase in popularity in college programs? What role do you see college students having in VR’s future?

Jacob: I certainly hope so! I really enjoyed working on this project and learned so much from it. I know we weren’t the only students working on VR project either and some of the ideas others had were very interesting. I would love to see more VR development going on in college and university programs in the future.

Quinn: I think every student should at least learn the basics of VR, it’s popularity is expanding rapidly within the games industry and it’s applications are limitless. Additionally as it’s a brand new genre, many programmers have no experience within the field, meaning if students can learn early they’ll be able to apply for jobs in the growing VR market.

What advice would you have for other aspiring content developers, whatever level they may be at?

Quinn: Never be afraid to ask questions, within games development there are a thousand different elements you have to consider, and a million things that could go wrong. If you have an issue chances are you’re not the first person to do so, and there are a lot of people out there happy to help. Also focus on improving your own skills before trying to make the world’s best selling game, great games don’t just happen by chance, and while a game not immediately succeeding can be frustrating, you can use that experience to grow as a developer.

Jacob: Make the game that you want to make, but make sure you get feedback from others. There are so many things that you miss as a developer that you pick up on just by watching others play your game, let alone what they spot. Also, if you get an opportunity to develop for VR, take it, even if all you make is a silly prototype where you throw random assets around. I have learned so much from making Boom Beat for VR that I know I can take onto other 3D and even 2D projects.

Thank you for talking with us, gents! Good luck with future development!

Boom Beat is available on Viveport, and as part of Viveport Subscription. Quinn and Jacob studied at the University of Plymouth in the UK – course details are here.

Are you a student working on a VR project for HTC Vive? Do you teach a VR course? We’d love to hear from you. Contact Viveport through Twitter, or send a PM to Rockjaw on our official forums.