After 12 years designing warthogs and battle rifles for Bungie’s Halo series, former art lead Tom Doyle quit his job last April to join what he calls the “VR circus.”
Doyle, and several other Bungie, Sony and Valve employees, have big ambitions for their little startup, called Endeavor One. They say they want to help shape the burgeoning industry and bring to virtual reality some of what worked so well in Halo.
First up: Creating a sense of motion “and have that feel awesome.”
The seven-person company is self-funded, “so thank goodness Master Chief was good to us,” Doyle joked.
He remembers the moment he first started believing in VR. He was invited to test the new Vive headset that Bellevue-based Valve is building with HTC. The demo showed him floating on a cube above a massive pit. Doyle walked to the edge, looked down and felt his heart sink as he jumped off.
“I knew then I wanted to keep walking off the cube,” Doyle said. “For a game developer, VR is like a new form of canvas or paint.”
Endeavor started as a side project, as Doyle and a group of friends started playing around with VR development on Sundays.
Eventually they realized they had built something pretty cool, and he and co-founder Sherry Floyd, a former Sony employ, decided to turn it into a company. They were joined soon after by Niles Sankey, who was a design lead for Bungie’s Halo and Destiny franchises.
“There’s all this new interest in VR — it just felt like a historic opportunity for us to make our mark and make it now,” Doyle said. “We feel like groups like ours can help VR stick.”
Endeavor’s first game, released on Valve’s Steam platform today, is called Jump — because that’s about all there is to it.
I got a chance to play Jump inside Doyle’s townhouse in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood today — also known as Endeavor’s worldwide headquarters. I affixed an Oculus Rift headset, grabbed an Xbox controller and was told “‘A’ makes you jump.”
That’s about all I needed to know.
Each level is set in one of five cities: Philadelphia, Detroit, Seattle, New York City and Tokyo. The goal is to jump from one building to the next, eventually making it to the highest point of the map. When you play in Seattle, for instance, you’re trying to make it to the top of the Space Needle.
In my efforts in Philadelphia — a city I’ve never visited — I didn’t make it very far. I fell trying to leap onto a skyscraper, barely missing the edge. It was freaky falling in this virtual environment, watching as the building passed by. My knees nearly buckled.
Doyle says they intentionally simplified a classic jumping game because just stepping into the VR world is already overwhelming enough for players.
The concept is so ridiculously simple that it wouldn’t work on any other platform. But in virtual reality, it taps into what Doyle calls a “power fantasy” to feel like a superhero gliding across a city skyline.
I felt that during my time with Jump. For the first time since I started test driving VR apps like this, I didn’t feel like it was a demo to show off the technology. I felt like I was playing a video game — and I really wanted to win.
Jump — admittedly — isn’t the kind of game you’ll play for hours. I felt a little queasy by the time I took the headset off and there isn’t much to do in the form of leveling up or game progression.
But Doyle said that wasn’t the point. Right now, he’s focusing on solving small VR problems and delivering fun app-style games.
Jump costs $9.99 and will be available for Oculus, Samsung GearVR and HTC’s Vive.
Doyle also gave me a quick preview of Endeavor’s next game — a multiplayer dueling game that aims to make VR less antisocial, much like Halo did with the explosion of online play.
That game is being built for the Vive and will come out sometime before HTC and Valve release the hardware around mid-2016.