March marks the official eight-year anniversary of Cloudhead Games, the five-year anniversary of Oculus Rift, & the one-year anniversary of our post-COVID-19 world. These three factors had us particularly reflective this month, & before we knew it, we had created a sort of written history for Cloudhead Games that we wanted to share with you.
The early days
As most tech origin stories go, ours started in a garage–literally–as early as 2009 when I was involved in a popular forum for “VR Garage Hackers” exploring homebrew hardware configurations & form-factors. It was there that I met future Oculus founder & Rift designer Palmer Luckey (& even designed the first logo for Oculus!).
Palmer had cracked some fundamentals in his early do-it-yourself kit using off-the-shelf cell phone parts & wide FOV ‘Leap Optics.’ It was a magical combination that excited our small community & eventually garnered the interest of industry legend John Carmack. As momentum built toward an official Kickstarter for the ‘Oculus DK1’, I knew it was the right time to commit to developing content.
This experimental phase paved the way for a successful Kickstarter in 2013 to spawn the first-ever “built-for-VR” adventure game, The Gallery: Six Elements, & the formation of Cloudhead Games.
The formation of Cloudhead Games: exploring the unknown
With no quick Google search to help us, The Gallery became ground zero as we wrestled many development unknowns. The fundamental elements of existing in virtual spaces–such as moving & interacting–were, at this stage, unexplored technical territory teeming with uncharted challenges. Cloudhead brought solutions like snap-turns & teleportation into the limelight, pioneered VR hand-interaction systems utilizing brilliantly forward-thinking hardware from Sixense & Razer, & created one of the world’s first “inside-out motion capture” processes for capturing actor performances while inside VR without a green screen.
We collaborated with other industry leaders & created many tech demos while inching our way ever closer toward understanding VR as a medium. Here’s a Gallery: Six Elements/Air World teaser we did for Oculus, as well as “The Elevator Demo” we created for Valve to reveal the HTC Vive, which took place in the Gallery universe & premiered at GDC in 2015.
Valve prototype hardware. Year 2014/2015.
Everything changed for consumer VR in 2016. Oculus Rift launched in March, HTC Vive would follow in April & would be bundled with The Gallery: Call of the Starseed for nine months post-launch. Met with much critical acclaim, Call of the Starseed represented the combined efforts, experiments, & failures of our early years. It showcased a glimpse of the future of interactive VR design & narrative, & pushed at the edges of what might be possible.
With its sequel Heart of the Emberstone released in 2017, Cloudhead garnered over 30 awards & nominations between the two, including ‘VR Game of the Year’ in 2018 & ‘Best Games Innovation.’
Continued collaboration & innovation
In early 2018, we were once again approached by Valve to work together, this time on their tech-demo Aperture Hand Lab released in 2019. Set in the Portal universe against the backdrop of Aperture Science, we pushed limits on finger interactions with the help of wonderfully quirky robots, further exploring the depths of VR interaction, all while working directly with the writers of one of our most beloved game series.
After the release of Aperture Hand Lab & armed with the knowledge & experience we had acquired over the last ten years, we began very purposeful development on the title that would become Pistol Whip. The previous decade of industry data gathering–our failures, successes, experiments, & endless demoing–had given us a few guiding principles by which we wanted to develop our next title. Some of those included: quick to pick up/understand, rich in replayability, & making players feel like downright badasses.
In late 2019, the same year we began development, we released Pistol Whip with Oculus (& on all major VR platforms) to rave reviews. Pistol Whip would quickly become one of the top 10 “must-have” experiences in VR, winning ‘Immersive Reality Game of the Year’ & a nomination for ‘Immersive Reality Tech Achievement’ from the prestigious DICE awards. Since then, it has consistently remained one of the top sellers on both the Steam (Gold in 2019, Platinum in 2020) & Oculus platforms, & was the sixth-highest scoring PlayStation 4 title by Metacritic score for 2020, non-VR titles included!
Markiplier calls Pistol Whip the “BEST VR game you can play” in YouTube video that received over 2.3 million views.
Pistol Whip proposal video garners over 6 million views on TikTok.
Since launch, we have dropped SEVEN major content updates for Pistol Whip, including five monthly post-launch scene releases, the “Heartbreaker Trilogy,” & our most recent cinematic-campaign containing five linked scenes, “2089.”
Current-day Cloudhead Games
Today, the Pistol Whip team is hard at work on our next massive update, slated to be our biggest yet! Not only will it feature an all-new five-scene cinematic campaign we are chompin’ at the bit for folks to try, but it will also contain the game-changing Concierge system which will allow players more options for making their Pistol Whip experience their own. While I can’t say much more here, y’all can lasso some more explosive details on this update in the near future.
Beyond Pistol Whip, Cloudhead Games has grown into a diverse team of 27 passionate VR pioneers & counting, all excited by the current state of VR, its future, & its promise. The challenges of the last year have also evolved the studio into one that is fully remote, a change that came… surprisingly easy for us thanks in part to our recent success, & the creation of Cloudhead Labs.
With our recent success, we have been able to start an experimental division that we call Cloudhead Labs. This is a small group that gets to work with prototype hardware, explore game mechanics & new ideas.
As game designers, the challenges presented with interacting long distances in this new covid-created space were not novel to us, & so who better to solve them? Enter what we call a ‘workplace MMO.’ It is an “all-day” digital work environment that enables deep social cues, company culture, collaboration, & play between you & your co-workers. It is a workplace MMO for having fun & getting stuff done! It works in both 2-D on your desktop & in VR/AR when it makes sense.
While ensuring Pistol Whip has a dedicated team building new content, 2021 also marks the year that we launch “team B” into our next big game! But, well, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves while taking a look back.
We will say this, though, after eight years of discovering & developing, one thing is certain: we’re just getting started!
Celebrate with us!
To celebrate the eight-year anniversary of Cloudhead Games, we’re putting everything we’ve created on sale!
Stay tuned to socials for updates on our upcoming sales for The Gallery Episode 1 & 2 as well as Pistol Whip!
Links found in this blog
“Aperture Hand Lab on Steam.” https://store.steampowered.com/app/868020/Aperture_Hand_Lab/.
“Best 0f 2019.” The Year’s Top VR-Exclusive Experiences as Measured by Gross Revenue, Steam, https://store.steampowered.com/sale/2019_top_vr/.
“Best of 2020.” The Year’s Top VR-Exclusive Experiences as Measured by Gross Revenue, Steam, https://store.steampowered.com/sale/BestOf2020?tab=3.
“The Best Videogames of 2020.” Metacritic, 04 January 2021, https://www.metacritic.com/feature/best-videogames-released-in-2020.
“Cloudhead Games – Blink Teleportation (VR Locomotion).” YouTube, August 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwZt2jRE8PY.
“Cloudhead Games – Virtual Reality performance Capture – HTC Vive and Perception Neuron.” YouTube, January 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R0TVLGne3U.
““CloudHEAD” The All-Day Remote Office: Part 1.” Cloudhead Games Blog, October 2020, https://cloudheadgames.com/fear-loathing-collaboration-tools-2/.
“The Elevator Demo.” YouTube, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9oO1OszqB4.
“FIVE YEARS OF VR: A LOOK AT THE GREATEST MOMENTS FROM OCULUS RIFT TO QUEST 2.” Oculus Blog, https://www.oculus.com/blog/five-years-of-vr-a-look-at-the-greatest-moments-from-oculus-rift-to-quest-2.
“The Formation of Cloudhead Games.” YouTube, May 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV-tOsUSBFw.
“The Gallery: Call of the Starseed – HTC Vive Launch Trailer.” YouTube, March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S04hsMVcqCQ.
“The Gallery: Heart of the Emberstone – VR Launch Trailer.” YouTube, October 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GAJ4krEetU.
“The Gallery: Six Elements / Air World Teaser.” YouTube, August 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwpj63pvXR0.
“The Gallery: Six Elements (Opening Sequence).” YouTube, October 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erWJreUgOQY.
“Pistol Whip on Oculus Quest.” https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/2104963472963790/.
“Pistol Whip on Steam.” https://store.steampowered.com/app/1079800/Pistol_Whip/.
“Pistol Whip – VR Launch Trailer | Oculus Quest, PC VR.” YouTube, September 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUwzpaReU5g.
“Sixense Enterprises Inc.” Leading developer of immersive computing solutions for products across industries, including healthcare, training, and education., https://www.sixense.com/.
“This is Real – Cloudhead Games.” YouTube, June, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prTjVs1VnFk.
“this is THE BEST VR Game Right Now.” YouTube, Markiplier, November 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u06mVEievME.
“Virtual Reality PROPOSAL!! 🌹.” TikTok, February 2021, https://www.tiktok.com/@jordanflomfitness/video/6927712030405283077.
“VR Comfort Mode Explained.” YouTube, April 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp0eMNSVtZA.