Creating a world of their own, husband-and-wife indie game developer duo, Mike McCullough and Yan Fu have launched the country’s first ever immersive social VR experience in the hope that it will “naturally evolve” into the inner workings of the Metaverse.
Many Worlds VR, a project McCullough and Fu have been working on developing for years, taps into the use of advanced technology of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR).
Fu and McCullough saw the potential this advanced technology had to create a new reality outside of earth.
Unifying VR, the artificial environment created by software, AR, the technology that enhances real life, and XR, the combination of both the real and virtual world, Many Worlds VR began development.
“We created it after pitching an augmented reality (AR) technology demo to Cadbury and Coca-Cola back in 2008 where we leveraged some clever AR framework developed by HitLabNZ in Christchurch,” says Fu.
“We also see a near future where lighter and more stylish XR technologies will make physical screens and TVs redundant, a similar societal shift the iPhone created,” adds Fu.
Both Fu and McCullough believe that the world of AR, VR and XR is heading towards potentially changing the world and immediately worked on adopting the technology to create “a foundation” for the advanced tech.
“That foundation is Many Worlds VR.”
The idea to create a VR game came after they were both blown away by the level of immersion games with the technology has, compared to mobile VR technology after purchasing an HTC Vive headset in 2016.
“We were so energised that the next morning Mike hooked it up to our game engine to see if we could create something ourselves. By the end of the day, we had a snowy fantasy forest scene created and I felt a physical chill down my spine when I reached out to touch one of the snow particles floating around me,” she says.
“That was a magical experience. To create such an immersive world like that out of your imagination is simply amazing. We were hooked.”
Competing against popular social VR experiences such as VRChat and RecRoom, the couple says that Many Worlds VR offers a high-quality experience catered to a mature user – something the existing platforms lack.
“VRChat is an open platform that relies heavily on its user-generated content – which has some large pros and cons attached to it. It has a rapidly growing and vibrant community, but it also has substantial issues with censorship, safety and an environment that generally feels off-putting for most people, especially women,” they say.
“RecRoom on the other hand brings a more curated, fun and healthy energy that is full of tonnes of unique VR multiplayer gaming experiences – but it resonates with a very young audience.”
Meeting in the middle, Many Worlds VR is promising to create an engaging, fun and safe environment, not just becoming a social game but also a suite for professional features.
To create the game Fu says the development of Many Worlds VR “is an inherently hard thing to do”, adding that it took a lot of resources, perseverance and a “huge commitment of time”, especially for games that worked with the advanced technology.
She adds that for VR games in general, because the technology is fairly new to the gaming industry, there was “no well-trodden path or rule book to follow”.
“As we are developing Many Worlds VR we have had several fundamental shifts in hardware, frameworks and XR industry standards which are still shifting, even today,” she says.
Each shift with the technology, causes a major rewrite in their development process.
“VR hardware is still evolving, but we are very excited about where the technology will be soon,” she adds.
Added on to the complex development of a VR game, Fu and McCullough dedicated the game to becoming a multiplayer social experience, making the project a larger production for just a duo.
“It has been a massive undertaking and it really is just our passion for it that keeps the product moving forward each day,” says Fu.
Many Worlds VR is a game in an expanding multiverse of worlds, allowing users to create avatars, meet people, play mini games, build a home and explore the VR world.
The game allows users to explore virtual realities from deserts, lakes, Chinese pagodas and many more while players can play games such as chess, basketball, axe throwing, sword fighting and more.
“We plan to continually expand the current social product, including the mini-games and all new world which Yan is building now,” says McCullough.
Fu is the creative lead of Many Worlds VR, working as an artist for the environment, world build and prop maker and creating all 3D assets of the game.
Meanwhile, McCullough is the creator of the player avatars and handling the coding of the game mechanics and servers.
“We will also be releasing a professional version of the platform called Many Worlds VR Pro. It is a separate app built on the same code base but provides professional features for hosting live performances, events, business meetings, team collaboration and presentations,” adds McCullough.
Fu and McCullough see Many Worlds VR being a “key component” of the Metaverse as it becomes more mainstream, ultimately seeing it as a “natural evolution” for the game.
Despite their concerns about the Metaverse and Web 3.0, the couple are still optimistic that the “right structure and standards will win out in the end”.
“It is inevitable that the internet will be replaced with a new immersive 3D framework in the future, so our hope and our direction is for that network to be fully “open”, ethical and where digital currencies, if needed, are able to support it effectively and efficiently,” says Fu.
With the creation of Many Worlds VR, Yan Fu and Mike McCullough hope to inspire future game makers within New Zealand. With this in mind, the couple hope they can also inspire the government to “substantially boost its support for the gaming industry”.
“New Zealand creatives are uniquely gifted and have so much to offer, but other countries see it and they are pretty keen to take that talent off our hands,” they say.