GeekFest 2015: Martin Wheeler Interview

Martin Wheeler talks to about the challenges of game development

Martin WheelerMartin Wheeler has been in game development since the 1980s, and has seen the industry shift and change. He is currently working on Solstice, an ambient puzzle game designed for a controller-free experience, using the Oculus Rift, a Virtual Reality platform that has changed the nature of play in the last few years. Wheeler first started experimenting with the Oculus for his previous game, Vigil, that was put on hold due to a lack of funding. “I got the Oculus Rift [Developer Kit] 2 earlier this year and…we thought we should look into this [for Vigil, a first person game]. As soon as I tried it…it’s almost like this really is first person and I think that’s the whole thing – there’s never really been any first person games until VR has come along.”

Besides the new technical advances with Virtual Reality, Wheeler also brings up tools such as Unity and Unreal, saying “it’s a great time to be making games in terms of the tech”. He adds, “going right back to the 8-bit [era] you had to make a game fit into 48k and everything had to be written…from scratch. It’s so much easier to get things up and playable.”

It is because of this ease in changing game mechanics that it is possible for Wheeler to be able to work on Solstice single-handedly, allowing him to easily iterate upon the way the game works. In Solstice, the player moves around an abstract space and connects obelisks to each other, the connections represented by blue light beams. In a week, Wheeler was able to go from only allowing the player to move between fixed points in the game world to being able to move around freely. This is a far cry from his days working for Virgin Games, in the 1980s, still a teenager. “Before, once a system is in place…you can’t go beyond that because it means a total rewrite.”

Wheeler got his start early, and has been making games since he was 14. “I would just make a game programmed in ZX Basic and send them off and I got a couple of games accepted by Virgin Games. So straight from school I went on to making games for Virgin, so by the time I was 18 I’d had 2 UK Number 1 games.” Despite leaving Virgin at 19, he stayed in the game industry until the early 2000’s, when he moved to Berlin and focused solely on making electronic music, tied to Soma Records under his moniker Vector Lovers. After 6 years, Wheeler said that he “got a call completely out of the blue from a company called Jamber”. Working in Berlin, this introduced him to the world of mobile games. He soon returned to the UK and made two iOS games: Surveillant, a puzzle/stealth game set in a dystopian world, and Go Robo!, a runner with Wheeler’s own music, that expressed his love for the aesthetic of the late 1980s. He then spent time working on Vigil, which he lost the rights to when the publisher pulled out, as well as prototyping other games, such as the music-driven game Sonaris.

“And that’s kind of leading up to here.” Although Wheeler is working on his own on Solstice, he is looking to get some help to polish it for a hopeful release date of around May next year.

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