Andreas von Lepel is the developper of the successful mobile game series “Freeze”, with millions of download. In May 2018 he released Pirate Flight on PlayStation VR and later integrated the 3dRudder as a motion controller.
About Andreas von Lepel, designer, programmer & publisher of Pirate Flight
Andreas von Lepel has been developing games for more than 35 years out of passion. Graduated with a master degree in Rocket Science, he’s CTO at a tech company in the daytime, and a game developer at night.
In 2012, he teams with Jonas Schenk under the private label ‘Frozen Gun Games’, and together they release “Freeze! – The Escape”, a successful mobile game series with more than 14 million downloads, followed by “Freeze! 2 – Brothers” in 2015.
In 2017, Andreas starts working solo on his next project: a flight simulation game for PlayStation VR. Pirate Flight was released worldwide on the PlayStation store in May 2018.
About the Creation of Pirate Flight
In 2017, when I started to work on my next game my objective was to create a game for PlayStation®4 published worldwide in many languages (always aim high). And as a passionate hobby pilot (flying paragliders, gliders and single engine airplanes) I wanted to really be inside of my plane, so naturally I had to do it for PSVR.
Pirate Flight is all about having fun flying a little yellow plane through golden rings, race other planes (and dragons!) and shoot balloons. As a solo Indie developer I cannot compete with AAA titles regarding content, artwork, sound-design or production values. So it needs to be all about having fun, because if this is the main focus you can rock the world even with some tetrominos falling down a well (think “Tetris”).
My project seemed a big and satisfying challenge – at that time I didn’t have the slightest idea of how challenging this would prove to be.
The first step was to get accepted as a PS4 developer by Sony, it took me four months to become an official PS4 developer and to get the designated DevKit-hardware. Then from this moment and until the game was released, I guess 70% of my time I spent creating the game, 30% I had to invest for publishing the game across three big SONY territories SIEE (Europe), SIEA (Americas), SIEJA (Japan).
I created the game using the Unity SDK and I coded and tested everything myself working as game designer, programmer and publisher. I bought and used many assets from the Unity Asset Store, so I gave special thanks in the credits of my game to all these gifted developers and artists.
During the development phase one of my biggest obstacles to overcome was the frame rate. Most of the PSVR games use 60 fps but for a flight game I really wanted to have real and honest 90 fps. So I only had about 11 milliseconds for the game logic and to render each frame. This is not much, think about how far you can see the landscape in Pirate Flight, I don’t use fogging to reduce the visibility range because that would be bad for a flight game.
Even testing and polishing the game took much longer than expected. SONY has a workflow in place where they check each PSVR game multiple times to ensure maximum quality: your game is not allowed to drop below the designated frame rate even once during playing!
But in the end everything worked out and I release Pirate Flight VR on PlayStation in May 2018, followed by two updates that improved lots of stuff (like the complete artworks) and added new features asked for by the community. So let me say a big thanks to all the gamers who played my game and gave me all the feedback I needed to improve it even more!
About the Integration of the 3dRudder
Just a few weeks after the official release of Pirate Flight on the Playstation Store, I got an email from the 3dRudder company asking if I would be willing to integrate the 3drudder as a PlayStation VR motion controller into my game. I said “Yes, can I start today?”.
Before I got the email I knew nothing about the 3dRudder. But when I got familiar with the features of this foot-powered motion controller it made immediately sense to me and I wanted to integrate the device into my game as soon as possible!
It took me about two days to familiarize myself with the very nice 3dRudder-SDK, to implement it and to fully test the game and integrate the feedback from the 3dRudder team. They had very sensible suggestions about the turn and roll rates.
I needed a bit of help from one of their engineers (as the very first developer to integrate the 3dRudder, I had an early beta version of their SDK), and I enjoyed working with him -and the other members of the 3dRudder team- a lot!
The Benefits of the 3dRudder
Flight games in VR have a big problem with people encountering simulator sickness, the simulated movement (vection) plays havoc with your inner ear and balance senses. Some users can stomach it, some cannot. I hoped that using your feet to control the plane instead of the controller thumbsticks would counter this some way.
In my personal experience using the 3dRudder helped with simulator sickness. I’m a good test case because in spite of being a hobby pilot flying real planes I experience simulator sickness as soon as I do some more aerobatic flying (rolls, sharp turns, etc.).
The simulator sickness won’t go away completely when I use the 3dRudder device, but I now can fly for a longer time and enjoy it more. And without aerobatics (with the default VR Comfort Mode enabled in Pirate Flight) I can now fly for hours without any trouble.
The 3dRudder is an essential piece of hardware for passionate VR gamers, especially for games like shooters or flight simulations. It’s a smart controller of very good and robust quality. I hope and expect many games will support it in the future.
I think the 3dRudder device will be big in the VR community of PC gamers, it will find many uses in professional industry cases and it will be a very good controller for people with disabilities.
Projects for the future?
I’m keeping on working with VR. I switched from developing with Unity/C# to using the Unreal Engine 4 with C++/Blueprints, it’s the tool of choice (e.g. for the automotive industry). And I enjoy working with UE4 and VR a lot. I recently got approved by Unreal as a PS4 developer so I got my own special version of the Unreal Engine 4.
Right now I’m looking into opportunities to work full-time in professional VR/AR field. I did small projects on my own, now I want to be part of much bigger projects that (ideally) will shape the world.