With a number of relaxation or ‘virtual tourist’ style apps in VR, what can you do to be unique? Nature Treks VR might have the answer. We talked to developer John Carline about it.
Hello John! Please introduce yourself.
I’m John Carline, developer of Nature Treks VR (on Twitter @NatureTreksVR) and I do, well, pretty much everything on the project. I’ve been in the games industry for over 15 years, during that time I’ve held senior art positions for several large studios, namely lead artist at The Creative Assembly and Lead Environment artist at Pandemic Studios. After several large (and often stressful) projects and some international moves I decided I’d leave big studio life, move closer to family and start one of my own. So far it’s been working out, financially it’s been tough but quality of life has been much more rewarding.
Tell us in a few sentences what Nature Treks VR is, and what you can do within it.
Within Nature Treks VR you can freely explore nine diverse environments from baking hot beaches to snowy hills. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s perhaps not so important what you do with Nature Treks, but how you feel. We all live very busy lives now and I believe it’s important we get some time to reflect, so perhaps we don’t always need to be struggling to find the next thing to ‘do’.
Nature Treks VR is devoid of timers, health bars, un-lockables or objectives that you might find in ‘normal’ games. There is no pressure, it’s an escape from all that. However, I believe that even the twitchiest of FPS gamers will get something out of the Nature Treks VR experience, providing they go into it with the right expectations. It’s something you can step into for five minutes or get lost in for an hour. Either way you’re mostly likely going to remove the HMD feeling ‘better’ than you did before.
However you can to interact with, create and influence your environment using the ‘creator’ orbs. (More on that later!)
What was the origin of Nature Treks VR? What made you decide to create it?
In around 2011 I created a piece of software called Nature Treks – Healing with Color. I was quite jaded with mainstream games after coming of off several large AAA productions. So, I started to think about using my knowledge in a more positive way. My wife works with adults with learning disabilities and we often talked out their limited freedom of choice in regards to when and where they go out. Nature Treks – Healing with Color was a combination of a nature simulator, color therapy and relaxing music.
The original was rough around the edges but had a positive response, with several thousand free downloads in the first week. After that I remade the project assets, cleaned up the mechanics, got some professional VO and released a ‘deluxe’ edition with a couple more environments (five in total). It sat on my website and was available to download for free – I’ve no idea how many downloads it had, it wasn’t marketed. I also ported it to iPad, where it can still be found.
Around that time I moved onto another project (Oriental Empires) that required my full focus so Nature Treks was left abandoned. I’d always imagined a concept like Nature Treks working well in VR and during 2016 I began to get emails asking if there were plans for a VR version. I kept the name but completely rebuilt the project from scratch. It’s had a lot of attention put into it, hopefully that shows.
What was added to Nature Treks VR with the ‘Creator’ Update? What can someone ‘do’ now?
The ‘Creator’ update adds an interactive, creative and dynamic element to the experience. In each environment, you have a ring of ‘creator’ orbs that are unique to that location. Many of these will allow you to throw a seed that will instantly grow, this could be a tree, bush, flower, rock etc. Creating your own space in Nature Treks VR is hopefully a relaxing process in itself, it won’t have you fiddling around with a complex UI. However, there are also many other elements, you can create a ‘kaleidoscope’ of butterflies, or perhaps a swarm of fireflies. You can throw suns or galaxies that burst and expand above you. You can control the time of day or summon the weather, be it rain, lightning or snow.
What animals and creatures do you encounter in Nature Treks?
There are quite a few, including… elephants, lions, rhinos, stags, hippos, zebras, bears, rabbits, foxes, whales, boars, wolves, sheep, cows and crocodiles, as well as a variety of fish and birds.
Do you see Nature Treks VR becoming more about ‘relaxation and exploration’ or ‘creation and construction’?
Nature Treks VR is used by a broad range of people, so I want to be careful to keep consistency. At this stage, I’d probably say you can expect greater diversity that will take the form of new locations, new animals, new audio etc. One thing that I am looking at is the introduction of a ‘special memorable event’ in each environment. What if you picked up a mammoth tusk up in ‘White Winter’ and suddenly an enormous herd of mammoths came thumping past? Some of these encounters might step outside the realms of our reality and give you a taste of what’s to come next.
You set me up for our last question – what’s next for Nature Treks?
I’d like to take the Nature Treks VR experience and evolve it into the f
antastical, abstract and at times surreal. However, that will most likely take the form of a separate project.
Thanks for talking to us, John!
Nature Treks VR is available on Viveport.