Alexander Clark is the Founder & CEO of Starcade Arcade, a VR game studio and design company building titles based on the sci-fi universe of their first game Starblazer.
When did you initially become passionate about VR gaming?
Everyone remembers their first VR experience. For me, my best friend and later cofounder introduced me to the space as a hobby. I was blown away by the potential of the technology. To me, it went beyond gaming and really pushed the boundaries of entertainment by immersing people in new worlds and experiences. It began with a fascination for those worlds, and then an obsession to create some of our own.
Can you share the genesis story behind Starcade Arcade?
Starcade Arcade started with a friendship and love of new technology. My cofounder Brandon Haist used to write technology patents together at our previous jobs and then became inspired to create something of our own together. We both loved strategy games like Starcraft and stories like Ender’s Game but did not see anything like that in VR yet. The more we talked about it, the more we realized that we could create the types of content that we wanted to see in VR. It started with a simple idea for Starblazer, but then grew bigger and further into other games after that.
Starblazer is an ambitious multiplayer strategy game, could you share some details on the gameplay mechanics?
Mastering controls for a real-time strategy (RTS) game in VR has been the biggest challenge for us so far. VR is already an overwhelming experience, so bringing something in as complex as a strategy game can be a lot for users to process. That is why we decided to limit all controls to a single button. An entire game, with all ship commands, strategies, and movement, can be played by just pointing and clicking with a single button on just one controller. That mechanic, plus the fact that we use simple “rock-paper-scissors” logic with the ship battles makes it an accessible strategy game for most people to pick up and play.
So far Starcade Arcade games have been developed in Unity versus other popular gaming platforms such as Unreal engine, what was the rationale behind this?
With all of our partners, we are keen on choosing teams that are passionate and invested in the VR space. Unity has built a strong platform specifically for XR. If you look at the work that they have done building out the XR Toolkit and moving towards simpler cross-platform development, we think that their embrace of the XR space makes developing on their game engine the right choice for our games. As a small indie studio, resources are always limited. The less time we have to spend on the technical piece means more time spent on the creative world building.
You were successfully able to launch Starcade Arcade while maintaining a full-time job, could you share some of the challenges behind this?
The biggest challenge was energy management. Starcade Arcade is 100% bootstrapped and self-founded, but that came at the cost of toiling for 3 years with two separate jobs. Most days I would wake up at 4am to work on our game studio before starting my day as an engineering manager. It was hard not to get burned out or exhausted with the long hours, but the passion for what I was creating on the side kept me going strong. Looking back though, it is insane the amount of hours I was working to make it happen. Now that I’m on the other side of that, I feel like I can finally come back out into the sunlight and enjoy a little more of life.
What advice do you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or game makers?
Make friends and help the community. If you play things too close to the chest, you might miss out on amazing opportunities for your business. No one can do a start-up on their own, so it is important to identify people that you can help on your journey and those that will help you in return. Whether it is influencers that have embraced our games, peripheral partners that push our brand, or advocates that promote us within the larger headset companies, all of those relationships are vital for building a brand. Even past the business sense of it though, you will find yourself with a lot of new friends, which makes the process even sweeter.
Space Slurpies is one of your newest titles, could you share some details regarding this game?
Space Slurpies was inspired by visiting international conventions, like G-STAR in South Korea. We were having difficulties demonstrating our game because of the language barrier. This inspired us to create a game so simple and relaxing that anyone could immediately figure out how to play without us teaching them. The idea of re-creating the classic snake-based arcade game for VR seemed like the perfect concept for this. The final game achieves everything we were attempting to do. Players can move their snake freely just by moving their hand around to eat food and avoid other players. The environments are intentionally vibrant but chill, making for a nice balance of relaxation and energizing. Today, the game is released on all major headsets and is being ported over to all the upcoming mobile VR headsets as well, including HTC’s new Vive Focus 3.
In your opinion, what makes a VR game stand out from the pack?
Right now, there is a huge need for unique mechanics and content that is easy to learn and play. There are certain genres that helped VR break out into mainstream audiences – specifically I’m thinking of shooters, zombie games, and musical beat games. However, if developers are not careful, this space could easily become oversaturated and gamers will start looking for something unique and different. VR has so much potential with how it drives immersion and spatial awareness that I think there are lots of unexplored genres of games that could really make use of the technology.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Starcade Arcade?
One of the things that makes Starcade Unique from other studios is that we are building a collective brand across all of the games. Each of the games that we have made is part of a shared sci-fi universe, with a lot of the same characters and locations seen in all of them. This extends as far as our music on Spotify, with the characters even having their own playlists and content. We believe our games are stronger because they are all connected and hope people get bought into the worlds that we are creating.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Starcade Arcade.