Stephen Rogers told us about the birth of CoasterMania, spoke about the challenges of VR game development, and discussed the game's building mechanics and the first-person and Passthrough modes.
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Hi! I'm Stephen Rogers, the developer of CoasterMania. I've been a game developer for 6 years and have primarily focused on the VR space. As a kid, I was always interested in games and would create concepts in my head all the time. Then, I went to school for computer science and found a job early on teaching inner-city kids computer science for a non-profit. There, I learned Unity and developed my skills while teaching. Since then, I've worked on some exciting projects over the years, including Brushwork Studio, Hands on Deck VR, and PartyLine VR.
This is an old trailer for the game made around November 2022. Visuals, menu, and track creator has been changed since.
When I first started learning Unity, I had just been introduced to the Oculus Rift and was super excited for the future that tech could bring. So, I ended up learning VR development at the same time as game development. One of the challenges and fun aspects of VR development is that it's an emerging and new technology, so there aren't many standards for how things should be done.
Almost every mechanic has to be thought through the lenses of someone who isn't experienced with VR, so a lot of time is spent trying to make things as intuitive as possible. One pain point I've noticed, though, is the iteration time. There's a large disparity between VR and desktop development since you have to constantly put on and take off a headset just to test your game.
I've always been a big fan of roller coasters and theme parks. When playing games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Planet Coaster, I enjoyed the idea of being able to hop into the roller coaster you created and thought it would be amazing if you could do that in VR. So, I researched the VR roller coaster games out there, but I was a little underwhelmed as the sense of creativity from the Tycoon games was lacking.
I made a prototype of something a year and a half ago just to see what it would be like to make a roller coaster in VR, and I thought it was a lot of fun! Unfortunately, I got pulled away to work on other projects. I then came back to it six months ago and reworked the concept to allow the creation of roller coasters that you couldn't experience in the real world, such as jumps and other exciting features, and I thought it had a lot of potential. I've been working on it ever since!
CoasterMania's Building Mechanics
When I originally built the system, you had to pull the tracks out of the menu and snap them into place. However, after receiving feedback, it became clear that it was annoying to keep reaching back to the menu each time you wanted to extend your track. I wanted something that was fun and intuitive to control and thought it would be enjoyable if you could just draw the shape of the roller coaster. So, I made a version of that and really fell in love with the simplicity and freedom it provides.
As for why I chose Unity, it was just what I was familiar with. I feel that Unity is a great platform for VR developers since there are plenty of online resources available for creating things and it has a great community to provide support along the way.
The First-Person & Passthrough Modes
First-person mode was actually one of the first features I implemented for CoasterMania. It was relatively straightforward, just moving the camera into the cart's perspective. One of the challenges with first-person mode is finding a good way to control motion sickness.
That's when I started exploring the Passthrough mode. This mode allows you to see part of your room to give yourself an anchor point in space and make yourself feel more centered. This felt surprisingly good. Then I added the Passthrough mode for track creation and thought it was so much fun. It really reminded me of my favorite toy as a kid, the iCoaster.
As the game keeps getting developed, I want to continue refining this and eventually add more ways to experience the coaster. One suggestion I've seen is remapping your room so you can experience the coaster as a toy perspective in your own room. I think this could be fun but haven't played around with the concept too much yet.
Promoting the Game
When I first started developing the game, I knew that the community was going to be a large part of what made it successful. Early on, I knew I wanted to include a feature for people to be able to share their creations, so that players would have an infinite amount of rollercoasters to try out if they weren't feeling creative that day. I've slowly been growing a community on Discord to help give me feedback and suggestions for what to add to the game. I also opened up the game through a form on the Discord community, which helped tremendously in finding various bugs and providing support throughout the whole process.
This is the most recent CoasterMania post. A large amount of social media following has resulted from it.
Stephen's Future Plans
CoasterMania released on App Lab on March 1. Currently, the game only features Sandbox and Passthrough modes, which which give you complete freedom to create whatever coaster you want to make, whether in VR or AR/MR. During the early access period, I plan on using it as an opportunity to grow the community even more to help me through the building process.
CM has been a solo-project of mine for a while, but as the game keeps growing I would love to add more team members to make the game as good as it can be. My next big focus for the game is Campaign/Puzzle mode. This will turn CM into a puzzle game and add more structure and objectives to what would otherwise be a sandbox game.
Campaign mode will consist of 50+ physics based puzzles to solve where each level you are given a set budget to create a rollercoaster that gets your cart across the finish line. This will help develop some fun new physics mechanics too such as: Trampolines, Portals, Cannons & more! People can follow along with the development process on Discord or the game's Twitter account.