At long last Frogworld is available for early release on Steam. As the first NatureSims™ volume, Frogworld represents the beginning of what I hope will be a long series dedicated to bringing users closer to nature by experiencing the lives of some of our most intriguing animal cousins in an immersive, first-person format that is only possible through virtual reality (VR).
In its current state (v. 0.8.9), Frogworld, presents players with a fully playable game featuring three levels, each filled with unique obstacles and natural predators. The game takes around 45–60 minutes to complete.
The idea for Frogworld was inspired by my endless hours as a child playing in swamps, rivers, and lakes in Minnesota, searching for frogs, turtles, and other wildlife. The environmental design is based, in part, on my backyard in bucolic Maine (minus the pollution, thankfully).
Early development of Frogworld was also generously supported by the Oculus LaunchPad program.
Why a frog?
Being a frog in real life would be terrifying…so why be one in VR?
Because it’s fun…and hopefully thought-provoking too.
We’re used to experiencing the world as a human — with a human’s scale, body, habitat, and place high up in the food chain. In Frogworld, players step into an unfamiliar body in which they learn first-hand about the natural world and the impact human behaviors have on our animal cousins, all the while gaining new insights into how the reality we experience is shaped by our place in the environment and broadening our perspectives about what it means to be human.
The ultimate goal of the application — as well as future releases — is to build empathy for nature through engaging gameplay, with an experience that is half videogame, half nature simulation. Just as VR apps can serve as “empathy machines” for people, helping users view the world through the eyes of another person with a different experience of the world, NatureSims™ is about creating applications that delight players while celebrating the natural world and serving as empathy machines that connect us more broadly to the animal kingdom.
How can I play?
The Early Release version of Frogworld is available now on Steam for $14.99.
The current build has been fully tested with the Oculus Rift/S Touch. Controller support for the Valve Index and HTC Vive has been built-in, but is currently untested. Full support for these controllers will be added in a subsequent release.
What’s next for Frogworld?
I anticipate the full release to be available on Steam and Oculus in 3–6 months. The focus of my development between now and then will be on:
- Performance improvements
- Improved visuals and natural environments that are more realistic and immersive
- Improved player movement mechanics
- Improved spatial audio
- More obstacles and predators
- Full support for Vive and Index, in addition to Oculus Touch (currently fully supported)
One of the primary challenges for Frogworld has been finding or developing custom assets that are suitable given the scale of the minute protagonist on my indie (i.e. shoestring) budget. While high-quality environmental assets (terrain textures, plants, rocks, etc.) for games are quite easy to find, it is much more difficult to find assets that are both suitable for VR and can be scaled way up such that a plant that appears small to a human can now tower above a little bullfrog without looking stretched and terrible.
The environmental quality in Frogworld has come a long way, as you can see from this gameplay trailer from August 23, 2019:
However, there’s still a long way to go to achieve the quality I hope for. Supporting the application now will help raise the funds to get there!
What comes next?
Not so interested in frogs? Would you prefer to fly than hop?
Frogworld is just the beginning. I am already working with a local conservation organization and scientists on an exhilarating followup for vol. 2, featuring all new animals & ecosystems.