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MATRIX is Digagami’s Exclusive interviews with Influencers, Streamers, Game Developers, and Gaming Enthusiasts!
Digagami has an exclusive interview with game developer, Blake Zonca (Founder of Black Box VR Lab), on his Upcoming new game called Crunch Element in VR!
Briefly explain your journey into the gaming industry?
“I can remember gaming since I was very young. It started out with those Plug & Amp games. Then I was playing Star Wars TV games, and then naturally progressed to browser games, consoles, and finally “real” PC gaming. Gaming presented me with problem-solving scenarios which I became infatuated with, and still am to this day. Solving unique problems that video games presented was much more stimulating than the typical problems many 6-7-year-olds encounter. Growing up I never had the opportunity to walk over to a friend’s house to play games since I lived too far. Luckily, that was when multiplayer gaming was truly viable with real-time voice chat.”
“There was something intensely magical about talking with friends about playing before heading home from school, telling everybody to get on Skype/Discord, etc, then all loading up a game when we got home. I remember the hours of excitement and screaming each night during a match of League of Legends or what fun indie game we would get involved in for that week. I have trouble believing my friends and I would be as close as we are now without gaming; it truly brought us together. My journey into game development emerged parallel to my gaming journey. I began tinkering with Unity3D about 6 years ago in middle school and developed an on-and-off learning curve, learning the ropes by completing tons of test projects.”
Have you made any games prior to Crunch Element?
“I have made more unfinished projects that I can count, and I would encourage beginner developers to do the same. I read a quote that goes something like, “Your first ten games will suck — so get them out of the way fast,” which I would have to agree to some extent as it describes my development history. I’ve dabbled in everything from standalone PC projects, mobile Apps, to VR games, and each project was an extremely valuable learning experience. None are currently available publicly, and Crunch Element will be my first “real” published title.”
What inspired you to make Crunch Element?
“The short answer: I didn’t see what I wanted in the VR medium so I created it. The long answer: I got a Vive headset around Christmas time a few years ago, and putting it on shook me to my core. As a gamer, I thought I had a grasp on everything gaming related until I actually had the headset on. No amount of watching VR gameplay videos does the experience justice; it literally adds another dimension. I knew this was going to be big and change lives. I also knew I had to start developing for VR.”
“I was ecstatic to find that Unity3D, the game engine which I had been using for the past 4 (at the time) years, offered easy to use features to begin VR development. I wasted no time and began brainstorming. Most VR games seemed too linear compared to the non-VR games I was playing at the time, and I wanted to create something that gave the players a real sense of freedom. The movie John Wick Chapter 2 also came out at the time, which inspired the underlying theme for the game: to make the player feel like an action hero. Many ideas for the game have come and gone, but that underlying theme remains. I found through testing and talking with others that a breach and clear VR game is perfect, and would be unique for the platform.”
How long was the entire game development process and what did you learn?
“Although I’ve always joked about using a time tracker while working, I’ve never got around to implementing one. I can safely say I’ve put hundreds of hours into development if not thousands, and I can truthfully say I loved almost every minute of it. In fact, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else most of the time. That is actually one of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned: love what you do. If you truly love what you do, putting in the time and energy doesn’t even feel like work, you look forward to it.”“I’ve also learned that if you don’t write out a clear vision, goals (of all sizes), and deadlines, it is VERY hard to make the progress that you are really capable of. Also, do not listen to the naysayers (including the one in your head). There’s a saying that “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will” and it’s true. Try and fail rather than not try at all. If you fail then you know for a fact it did not work. Just take a detour and keep moving. You will be surprised to find out what actually works and what doesn’t.”
What can Gamers look forward to when playing Crunch Element?
“Gamers can look forward to fast-paced infiltration gameplay which offers more freedom and unique mechanics than typical VR shooters on the market. They can expect a single player mode where they can experiment with mechanics and infiltrate a large array of unique compounds. After the initial single player launch and gameplay is optimized, players can expect to jump into a hectic 3v3 attack/defend style multiplayer match with destructible compounds.”
Does Crunch Element have a storyline or one coming in the future?
“There is no linear storyline that progresses as the player moves through single player, but I aim to build a world in which the game takes place. My goal is to have elements of this world permeate into the player’s experience, making them feel as if they are stepping into an actual world when they put the headset on.”
Are you currently working on another game or idea while making Crunch Element?
“No. I’m fully committed to Crunch Element at the moment.”
Which factors do you consider when evaluating game design features?
“The biggest factor is empathy, seeing the game and its features through a player’s eyes. It’s hard to do sometimes when I have the nearsightedness of working on a feature for hours and hours, which is why watching players experience something for the first time is invaluable and most of the time reveals something I was completely blind to. A more right-brain approach is to evaluate features based on my intuition. This “gut feeling” approach works well in order to make sure something looks or feels just right. A gut feeling can be strengthened by playing good games and asking questions of other players.”
Do you plan on expanding your Black Box VR Lab team in the future?
“Yes, but not at the moment. Eventually, I plan on expanding the team in the future, especially as the scale of projects increases.”
Are VR Games your primary focus, or will you venture into other genres also?
“Virtual Reality is my primary focus because I believe that is where the frontier lies, which is a big driving force for me.”
Are there any aspects of the gaming industry that you feel need to be improved?
“I don’t believe anything specific needs to be improved about the industry. I’m just excited where it will go in our lifetime, especially with emerging technology such as virtual reality, and gaming itself (I’m looking at you, Stadia). Being a part of all this as a developer is the icing on the cake.”
If you had to pick a favorite game, which would you choose and why?
“Space Engineers. It’s everything I wanted in a game. So much so that I had to uninstall it, because I don’t think I would do anything else (such as make Crunch Element). Everything that my DNA and upbringing predisposed me to like exists in the game. The hours of problem-solving, the exercise of freedom and exploration, space/the unknown, resource management, building, etc. It’s all there. Outstanding work by the devs. I really respect their work and it is insanely inspiring to have seen the progress firsthand through updates throughout the years. Check it out on Steam, you won’t regret it.”
If you wish to know more about Blake or Crunch Element, contact him on Twitter here. As for his game, it’s on Steam here!
What do you think about Crunch Element? Let us know down in the comment section!
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